Review: Global Evangelicalism

Global EvangelicalismGlobal Evangelicalism, Donald M. Lewis and Richard V. Pierard, eds. Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press, 2014.

Summary: This collection surveys the global growth of evangelicalism from historical and theological perspectives, including case studies of growth in each region of the world, and special concerns of ecumenism and gender issues.

One of the most surprising things for readers not familiar with the global growth of evangelicalism is that it is indeed a global phenomenon and not confined to Europe and North America. Indeed, the populations of those who would identify with evangelical Christianity outside these two areas actually exceeds that of those in the West.

This work explores this growth from a historical, theological and regional perspective. Part One of the book includes an essay defining evangelicalism by Mark Noll, where he surveys our understanding of evangelicalism in its global manifestation, centered around four hallmarks of conversion, The Bible, activism, and crucicentrism. Beyond this there are wide variations in terms of fundamentalists, the pentecostal movement and various cultural expressions. William Shenk then considers the theological factors behind the expansion of evangelicalism including pietism, personal renewal, voluntary societies and theologies of mission. Finally Donald M. Lewis looks at the relationship of globalization, religion in general and evangelicalism. One of the themes that comes up here that recurs in the regional studies is the indigenous character of many evangelical movements. Given their origins in non-state-sponsored voluntary associations in many cases, these have succeeded, especially in places like Korea and China in establishing powerful indigenous movements where Catholicism and other mainline churches have not.

Part II then includes regional case studies of Europe and North America, Africa, Latin America, Asia, and Australasia and the Pacific Islands. Each explores the history of the growth of evangelical movements in these regions, the challenges faced, and particularly the challenge of indigenization, and the current situation throughout these regions. I would say these treatments, while including some self-critical material, tend to make the “best case” for evangelicalism–which perhaps may make up for its under-representation in religious scholarship.

Finally, Part III considers two issues. David Thompson explores ecumenism and interdenominationalism in the evangelical movement. The picture broadly speaking is the grow of organizations like the Evangelical Alliance within evangelicalism that spans evangelically rooted denominations while, until recently, eschewing broader ties, the recent exceptions including the work of Billy Graham, John Stott, and the Lausanne movement. Sarah C. Williams then addresses the record of evangelicals around gender issues. The stereotype is one of conservative patriarchy, but while acknowledging the presence of this, Williams presents a much more nuanced picture ranging from the initiative and leadership of women in the Sunday School movements of the nineteenth century, and more interactive ways in which men’s and women’s identities have been constructed.

I found this a highly readable collection of essays that spoke with a consistent voice. It was illuminating to see how often there was an early emphasis not only on Bible translation, but on translation of major cultural works into English. Likewise, the development of Christianity in each of these parts of the world that is culturally distinctive and indigenous, paints a picture of a global Christianity that is not a western export but many faceted mosaic of distinctive expressions of commonly held truths. Some scholars might find this overly sympathetic, or perhaps even biased by the scholars’ evangelical convictions. But perhaps this is necessary to balanced scholarly approaches that read into the history things like cultural imperialism even where the praxis has been otherwise.

The work is a great resource for anyone wanting to survey the growth of evangelical Christianity throughout the world. It includes a glossary of terminology that might be unfamiliar (I think this is a must in this kind of work) and helpful bibliography after each chapter for further study.

One thought on “Review: Global Evangelicalism

  1. Pingback: The Month in Reviews: August 2015 | Bob on Books

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