Review: From Jerusalem to Timbuktu

From Jerusalem to Timbuktu

From Jerusalem to TimbuktuBrian C. Stiller. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018.

Summary: A book that surveys the global explosion of Christianity, identifying five drivers of growth and five other factors that weave through these drivers.

Brian C. Stiller serves as a global ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance, an umbrella alliance of evangelical organizations serving 600 million evangelical Christians globally. This places him in a unique position to discuss trends in the expansion of global Christianity from Europe and North America to the global south over the last fifty years. This growth accounts for the title of his book. He writes,

” With the surprising growth of the Christian community globally in the past fifty years, the demographic weight of Christianity in Africa and Asia has pulled this global center south and west. Demographers now place the center of population density of Christians in Africa.

The metaphorical center of world Christianity has literally moved from Jerusalem to Timbuktu in the nation of Mali. This is not merely some clever title—it is a remarkable sign that points out what we otherwise might miss. Long a city name used as a metaphor for a far-away and unreachable place, today Timbuktu signifies this massive shift, as the location of the center represents a mighty upsurge in Christian faith around the shrinking globe”   (p. 11).

Stiller’s book is not one focused primarily on the statistical shift but rather the factors that he believes have driven this global growth. He identifies five drivers:

  1. An awakened appreciation and experience of the person and work of the Holy Spirit. He sees this as expressive of longings for a deeper life and experience of God as well as a reaction to modernist rationalism that precluded the power of God. While this led to renewal movements in Europe and North America, Pentecostal Christianity was a major factor in the growth of movements in the global South.
  2. Bible translation. The concerted effort to translate the Bible into every language not only has preserved these languages and the culture they reflect, empowering its people, but also unleashes the inherent power of scripture to lead people to Christ.
  3. Indigeneity. Increasingly, nationals have stopped relying on Western personnel and have shaped national movements reflecting their own culture, often resulting in explosive growth, as in the example of the East Africa Revival.
  4. Re-engaging the public square. Paralleling the experience of Western evangelicalism, there has been a movement from simply a focus on inner change and eternal life to the social implications of the gospel message. Examples include Kenya’s president Daniel Arap Moi, and a growing representation of evangelicals in Brazilian politics.
  5. A focus on wholeness–a vision of the gospel concerned with all of life, and one that looks at systemic issues as well as personal redemption, one that fosters, for example in Africa “virtuous cycles” that result in both personal and economic development.

Cross-hatching these five drivers, the author sees five other factors that he delineates in his final chapter. Three of these, he calls “enablers,” which include prayer movements, women in ministry, often on the frontiers of mission advance, and worship. The other two are issues, arising at times from global missions growth, and sometimes from other factors–immigration, including refugee immigration, and persecution (including the sobering statistic of over 5,000 martyrs from the “top ten” countries in 2014 alone, probably a conservative figure).

The section on worship seemed oddly out of place with this focus on indigenous and culturally-rooted ministry. The discussion here focuses on the contemporary Christian worship movement in its Western expressions. The absence of discussion of Latin, African, and Asian examples of worship music and practice was surprising to me.

Overall, this is a tremendously positive and encouraging account. Stiller mixes judicious use of data with numerous illustrative examples drawn from throughout the world. Most clearly, Stiller’s account, along with those of researchers like Philip Jenkins, makes the case that Christianity is a global faith no longer dominated by white westerners, a fact that many American evangelicals and others who discuss the evangelical movement are woefully unaware of. In particular, it seems that we may need to listen to the voices of Pentecostal movements and what they are learning about the Holy Spirit.

The epilogue of this work notes that the dominance of the West in global Christianity has shifted to the global South and that this challenges those of us in the West to exercise humility in learning from our fellow Christians in these countries. Stiller suggests that the situation in some of our “Rust Belt” communities may be more analogous to parts of Africa, and that ministry approaches developed in these countries may have an impact in our communities. I find myself asking what might we learn from Christian migrants from these countries. What may our congregation learn from the Ghanaian Pentecostal Church (in Columbus, Ohio!) who shares our building? Will we rejoice in the global growth of Christianity? Are there lessons we might learn about engaging the public square and the wholeness of the gospel from these movements? And will we move from being patrons to partners in the spread of Christianity?


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.


2 thoughts on “Review: From Jerusalem to Timbuktu

  1. Pingback: The Month in Reviews: March 2018 | Bob on Books

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