Report of Biblical Studies in Mission (BISAM) Convener 2004-2012


1] 2004 Port Dickson Conference: There were no prepared papers read and discussed during the BISAM sessions at the Port Dickson IAMS Conference in 2004. We split into groups, each with a Bible passage on the theme of the Conference – integrity of mission. A separate two-day meeting of “core members” was held immediately after the IAMS Conference. Those present decided to re-own the direction mapped out by BISAM over the previous eight years, namely:

“The BISAM project seeks to study collaboratively, in the true spirit of mission, the various ways in which the Bible is used today in mission, and the multifaceted questions which it raises among peoples of different race, sex, class, culture, creed, faith and social location… the Project operates on an inter-disciplinary basis… The Project remains ever open to new ideas and suggestions from IAMS members and friends, especially where these suggestions are related to real life concerns in one’s concrete social context.

” Over the years the BISAM network has been conscious of the need for deepening awareness of the interpretive methods we use; of the need for ongoing studies of how the Bible is actually used in specific contexts by faith communities; and of the need for the development of creative imagination in “weaving together” the story of Jesus with stories of people in a particular context. This is both the rationale and the spirit of these BISAM sessions.”

2] 2008 Balaton Conference: The IAMS Executive apportioned 30 conference participants to the BISAM Study Group. Thus, many of the papers read were not biblical, although all were on the theme of the conference. Discussions were lively, yet unfocused. It was strongly recommended that in future only BISAM papers should be presented in BISAM sessions.

3] 2012 Toronto Conference: Eighteen BISAM presentations have been prepared for this Toronto Conference – seven hailing from the Americas, five from Asia, five from Africa, and one from Oceania. There are two women presenters and 15 men. Finance was a major factor in preventing a number of BISAM members coming from the Southern Hemisphere, including a number of women who had been busy preparing papers.

BISAM HISTORY 1976-2012: A 8,500 word history of the first 35 years of the BISAM Study Group has been published as an appendix in the official history of IAMS by Gerald Anderson is being launched during this Toronto Conference.


Until now inter-conference research projects have kept BISAM alive between conferences. Originally, it was these very projects that were discussed during BISAM sessions at IAMS Conferences. More recently, as this time in Toronto, BISAM sessions have taken up the Conference theme.

1] Post-Port Dickson Conference Project (2004-2008)

We decided to complete one ongoing project and to embark on three others, each with its own coordinator. They are:

1.                  Exercises in Missiological Readings.

2.                  BISAM Mission Study Group on the Integrity of Mission

3.                  A Preliminary Bibliography on the Use of the Bible in Grassroots Communities/Churches.

4.                  Edinburgh 2010: The Use of the Bible in Ecumenical Documents

In fact, only the ongoing project, redesigned, was undertaken under the direction of the BISAM coordinator. The focus of the papers was on “power” and “the other”. We sought culturally-conscious readings of both the biblical context and the author’s context with an emphasis on mission. The audience was that of Mission Studies, i.e. IAMS membership and the academic community and not the more general audience as originally envisioned at Geneva. The author should explain why she/he chose (was led to) that particular text. We aimed for a “representative” selection of books from the Bible as long as they are read in the context of burning issues (“power” and “the other”). Missio Dei implies a sharing in the others’ movement “outwards”, reaching out and aware of God’s mission. Each one is part of a missionary community. (Summary descriptions of mission are found in WCC, Evangelical and RC documents). We project respected a diversity of approaches whether textual or inter-textual. We were aware of issues of religion and culture, power and seekers. These issues are not only outside but also within Church communities.

Six of the papers were published in Mission Studies (23/1, 2006). However, none of the proposed three new projects of Port Dickson saw the light of day. The coordinator learnt that enthusiasm during a IAMS Conference does not necessarily translate into a successful inter-conference research project. A single project is more feasible.

2] Post-Balaton Conference Project (2008-2011): With great excitement we decided to research “Bible, Nation, Empire: The use of the bible by scholars and by local congregations“. Rationale: A key theme throughout the Hebrew-Christian Scriptures is that of “nation/ community-building”, first by the Hebrews and Judeans, then by the Judean and Hellenistic Apostolic Communities. In biblical times community/nation formation took place within the context of oppressive empires. Today at local, regional and global levels we are working to rediscover and recreate community as some nations are merging into larger blocs and others seem to be systemically failing, all this happening within the context of a global economic and political “empire”. Nurturing faith communities is central to mission; this is taking place within the wider context of national and empirical power. How does the building up of faith communities relate to “nations” and “empire” – both in the bible and in our contemporary contexts?

How do we understand specific biblical texts within their own nation/empire contexts in the light of our own nation/empire contexts?

This project elicited seven papers. Three of the papers focused on the topic, namely “Exorcising the Mind: Practicing Justice in a Disordered World”, by Dario Barolin (Argentina); “Payment of Taxes to Empires and Governments: The Mathean and Abokobi Communities (Matthew 22:15-22)”, by Eric Nii Bortey Anum (Ghana); and “Creating a Space for the Others: The Minorities as a Challenge to Church and State”, by Johannes Nissen (Denmark). For further details visit the BISAM page on the IAMS website.  These papers remain on the “waiting list” of possible papers to be published in Mission Studies. We might well wish to explore alternative sites for publication, whether in print or electronic.


1] THE BISAM NETWORK: Since Balaton (2008) the BISAM network has increased to 60 members of whom 18 are living in Europe, 14 in Africa, 9 in Asia, and other 9 in Latin America, 6 in North America and three in Oceania. There are 13 women and 47 men. More women members and an increasing membership from the South, in particular Latin America, would make the BISAM network further representative of the present state of biblical and mission studies today and better reflect the membership of both IAMS and the global church.

The network communicates via electronic mail, the BISAM Page on the IAMS website, and more recently via BISAM updates in the e-newsletter from IAMS President and Executive Committee, IAMS Matters. Owing to the policy of Brill Publishers, we have lost our information slot in the journal Mission Studies.

Over the years the BISAM network has been conscious of the need for deepening awareness of the interpretive methods we use; of the need for ongoing studies of how the Bible is actually used in specific contexts by faith communities; and of the need for the development of creative imagination in “weaving together” the story of Jesus with stories of people in a particular context.

Like other study networks involving international co-operation, BISAM has been subject to many vicissitudes. Not all that has been attempted has been completed. And yet for all its fragility in practice, the flowering of a vision of what can and needs to be learned about biblical studies in mission through a sharing of insights and experiences among a network of committed academia and the grassroots, from different cultures and social and gender contexts, and from a whole range of ecclesial confessions, still captures the imagination. A few students and colleagues of Marc Spindler, BISAM’s very first coordinator (1976-1988), are still part of the network, while younger scholars from Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Oceania now openly converse with more seasoned academics both within and between cultural domains. Ecumenical Protestants, Evangelicals and Catholics now exchange insights with Pentecostals and Independents. Study sessions during the quadrennial assemblies are necessarily spirited, while, understandably, collaborative projects between conferences tax the energy and perseverance of the coordinator.

Looking back, the drawn-out crisis as BISAM shifted from the classical heartlands of biblical scholarship and mission thinking in the outward-looking churches of Europe and North America toward a whole range of daring, liberative, intercultural readings in the South simply mirrored the changing membership of IAMS-and of Christianity-as a whole.

One term not referred to in BISAM documentation is “postcolonial,” and yet key characteristics of postcolonial readings of the Bible seem to pinpoint what engages BISAM, namely, multicultural readings by academics and congregations that emerge from both local and global contexts, readings that bring out inconvenient truths that recognize the complex nature of studying the Bible in mission. As BISAM enters its thirty-sixth year, so it is quietly playing its part in “de-centering universal and trans-historical values of Western categories of knowledge,” while articulating readings from the margins, together with those of the mainstream. To quote John Roxborogh: “BISAM is central to working through what it means to be local and universal and to face the challenges of competing hegemonies of method and conclusion.”

Question: Do we wish to continue with the BISAM network over the coming four years? If so we might wish to revisit, rearticulate and re-own the vision/mission of BISAM.

2] New Inter-Conference Project: If we decide to continue with the BISAM Study Group, we need to decide whether we wish to undertake a BISAM research project before the next IAMS Conference due in 2016. If we do, then it should be

– relevant to (dovetail with) the biblical-mission studies of a good number of members;

– realistic in its objectives given our individual workloads;

– able to excite a sufficient variety of members in the BISAM network to make it worthwhile.

Such a BISAM project would need to be presented to the IAMS Executive for approval.

3] New BISAM Coordinator: Also, if we decide to continue with the BISAM Study Group, we need to propose one or more names for the IAMS Executive to choose and appoint a new Coordinator/Convener.

It has been an enriching eight years. Thank-you.

John Prior, BISAM Coordinator/Convener 2004-2012.






1.       As planned, BISAM presenters divided into two parallel groups at Knox College, the one chaired by Gerard Goldman, the other by myself. Seventeen of the eighteen presenters came, together with a number of other IAMS participants. Having parallel groups allowed for three 30 minute presentations for each one-and-a-half hour session, leaving just one for the final session which allowed time for a concluding business meeting.

2.       Of the seventeen presenters, eight are presently based in the USA, two each in India, Indonesia and South Africa, and one each in China, Nigeria and New Zealand. One, Gladys Ogedegbe, inexplicably never made an appearance. Virtually all have had long cross-cultural experience which influenced the intercultural readings they presented.  Five have been active in previous IAMS Conferences, others were new to BISAM. Only two were women; more women and men presenters from Africa and Asia would have taken part if they had been able to access a travel and conference grant.

3.       Both Gerard Goldman and myself were delighted with the overall standard of the papers most of which we deem worthy of publication. Prior to the conference, paper abstracts had been emailed to all presenters and posted on the BISAM page on the IAMS website, while some presenters had already circulated their complete (draft) paper. Thus 15 or so minutes was sufficient for the actual presentation (some enhanced with electronic media), the remaining time open for comments and questions. In this way we commenced a number of conversations, some of which will surely continue over the coming months.


The final hour of the Saturday afternoon session on 18th August was utilised as a business meeting.

BISAM and IAMS Conferences

1.       While everyone was extremely appreciative of the Bible Studies by Danny Carroll on Thursday and Saturday mornings which generally speaking dovetailed with many BISAM presentations, and, further, were greatly encouraged by his active participation in two of our own sessions, the question was raised of why BISAM was not involved at any stage in the preparation of biblical input for the conference.

2.       While participants in the BISAM Study sessions learnt much from the variety of approaches to the topic of migration and margin/centre dynamics from biblical perspectives, nobody else at the conference is aware of what we had learned together. We also learnt nothing of what took place in the other Study Groups. Could there not be a way of letting each of the Study Groups “report” to (or “feed into”) the general assembly towards the end of the conference? While each Study Group has its own page on the website, these are generally accessed by their own members. A presentation to conference participants might well have encouraged other IAMS members to take an interest in one or other of the Study Groups. It would also link the study sessions to the other elements of the conference, rather than running somewhat autonomously as at present.

NEW BISAM Convener/Coordinator

Before the business meeting, participants had been encouraged to read the mini-history of BISAM towards the end of Gerald Anderson’s history of IAMS (Witness to World Christianity, pp.157-178) in order to consider where BISAM is at present, and where it might venture in the coming years. The coordinator emphasised that whether BISAM thrives or withers (as with other study groups) is entirely in the hands of interested IAMS members. All present strongly supported the continuation of BISAM.

Having served for two periods from 2004 to 2012, John Prior declined a further four-year term. The assembled members then unanimously proposed vanThanh Nguyen as the new convenor. [vanThanh Nguyen, S.V.D., S.Th.D., is associate professor of New Testament Studies and served as chair of the Bible department at Catholic Theological Union, in Chicago, Illinois. He is the book review editor of New Theology Review. He has published numerous articles and book reviews. His forthcoming book is entitled, Peter and Cornelius: A Story of Conversion and Mission (2012). Email: ]

At vanThanh’s request, we also proposed a three-person team to work closely with him, namely, Sarita Gallagher (George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon, formerly PNG & Australia), Amy West (Senior Scripture Engagement Consultant for SIL International, formerly Philippines) and Elisabeth Glanville (Fuller Theological Seminary).

Appreciation was expressed to the outgoing coordinator both for his patient work over the years and for his researching the history of BISAM.

The BISAM Page

As Mission Studies no longer publishes study group reports or ongoing discussions by study group members, the BISAM page on the IAMS website will be utilised more creatively by the BISAM network, both for examining issues and clarifying its changing role in IAMS and the wider evangelising community.

BISAM Inter-Conference Project

Those present gave strong support for an inter-conference project over the next two years. Topics taken up should continue with, and deepen aspects of, the Toronto theme of migration, human dislocation and the Good News: Margins as the Centre in Christian Mission.

BISAM and the Upcoming 2016 IAMS Conference

When the theme of the next conference has been communicated by the IAMS Executive, BISAM will immediately engage with it, as it has done with previous conference themes, through emailing and the BISAM page, and possibly also through online “partnerships” between biblical scholars and missiologists.

Publication of Papers

Lack of any guarantee that papers might be published, is a major drawback in attracting creative scholars whose academic career depends upon publication in peer reviewed and accredited publications.

To date, BISAM has relied upon International Review of Mission (first issue of 2002; the editor, Jacques Matthey, was active in BISAM and the papers dovetailed into CWME concerns) and Mission Studies (second issue of 2006; the editor, Lalsangkima Pachuau was present at BISAM sessions in 2004). Meanwhile just two of the Balaton BISAM papers were published in Mission Studies (2009).

For the past two years three papers from the previous inter-conference project (The Bible and Empire) are waiting for review by the editors of MS.  We now have between ten and a dozen of the 17 Toronto BISAM papers ready to be edited for publication. They would form a splendid book given a willing publisher (and the availability of a printing and distribution grant).

Publication is vital if BISAM is to continue to attract first-rate scholars willing to put in time to research issues on Biblical and mission. Clearly BISAM needs to explore other sources for publication, such as book series such as those attached to organisations or journals. Some present agreed to undertake such explorations.

Toronto, 18th August 2012.

John Mansford Prior, svd