Review: A Survey of the History of Global Christianity, Second Edition

A Survey of the History of Global Christianity, Second Edition. Mark Nickens. Nashville: B & H Academic, 2020.

Summary: A study of Christianity from its beginnings to the present, tracing its global diffusion, and the resulting diversity within the big “tent” of Christianity.

One of the dangers of our “presentism” and “individualism” is that Christian history often reduces to what is in the Bible and my personal story. Many of us don’t even know the story of our own church body. That being the case, we miss the sense of a vast, 2000 year story in which we are caught up, and one that touches every continent on earth. This text, which may be used for introductory college or seminary courses in global church history, or in an adult study group serves as a good place to start in filling that gap and enlarging our vision of Christianity beyond our own experience and “tribe.”

This survey is organized in five sections:

  1. The Early Church: 30-400
  2. Medieval Christianity: 400-1500 (in two parts from 400 to 1000, and 1000 to 1500)
  3. Pre-Reformers, the Protestant Reformation, and European Christianity (1500-1900)
  4. American Christianity: 1500 to the Present
  5. The Global South

There are several features that make this a readable and easy to follow resource. Each section offers an introduction to the whole and each chapter includes an outline of topics to be covered, helpful if you want to zoom in on a particular topic. Along the way, there are quotes and explanatory sidebars that helpfully illuminate the text. A link is provided for each section offering a supplemental timeline on the author’s website.

I thought the first section quite helpful in covering the rise of the church from a network of local bodies to the institution it became after Constantine. There is good discussion of the canon, doctrinal issues and the early councils and creeds The second section extends this with the seven ecumenical councils, the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible, the challenge of Islam, the rise and decline of the papacy, the earlier breakaway of Oriental Orthodoxy, and the later schism between the eastern (Orthodox) and western (Catholic) churches. The section ends with key elements leading to the Reformation: early reformers, the printing press, and the rise of the universities.

The main subject of third section is an account of the different reformation movements and figures in Germany (Luther) and Switzerland (Calvin), the Anabaptists, Mennonites, and Amish, and the persecutions they faced, and the Church of England and other Protestant movements that arose, as well as the Catholic Counter Reformation. I perhaps should mention at this point that it is evident that the history reflects a Protestant point of view, but not tendentiously so, with fair descriptions of Catholic belief and practice.

In the section on American Christianity, I appreciated the focus on colonial and frontier religion, the rise of revival movements, a good amount of material on the black church, as well as the rise of Catholicism with southern and eastern European and Irish immigration and the rise of fundamentalism. The post World War 2 rise of evangelicalism is traced as well as coverage of the rise of pentecostalism, televangelism, and the Christian right, but there is no mention of Reinhold Niebuhr, or the later rise of more progressive forms of neo-evangelicalism. There is very little about the complicity of churches in slavery (apart from divisions in northern and southern denominations) and the only treatment of Native Peoples are the missionary efforts of David Brainerd and Jonathan Edwards

The last section was on the church in the Global South. The author provides a chart showing the number of Christians in each part of the world (leaving out Europe) showing the majority of Christians in the Global South. Yet the coverage of the history of these churches was only 25 percent of the text and confined to a single section. One strength is showing how mission movements transitioned to indigenously-led churches that often became mission movements themselves. A chapter is devoted to the history on each continent, with a fair amount of detail on movements in particular countries (for example, the churches in India tracing their roots to the Apostle Thomas). Good coverage is given to the rise of global Pentecostalism. Apart from some discussion of liberation theology, there is little on the church’s involvements in movements seeking justice. There is nothing on Samuel Escobar and Rene Padilla and other evangelicals who pressed the cause of social justice in Latin America, nor the role of religious leadership in ending apartheid (or the collapse of communism for that matter). Nor was there any coverage of the Lausanne movement, one increasingly shaped by concerns of the Global South, or of Pope Francis, the first Latin American pope.

What is not here suggests an avoidance of controversy and a conservative rendering of recent history. It also suggests a history still dominated by the West, in its focus on mission movements and their indigenous offshoots. There is no acknowledgement of nor engagement with the discussion of post-colonialism in the Global South. While a history cannot engage or critique such movements, their existence is also a part of the fabric of this history. This is regrettable, because the author renders historical accounts well, and a text like this could enjoy broader circulation if it told a broader story. It is especially useful for its concise but detailed history up through the Reformation but I would recommend supplementing it with other texts on American and Global South church history.

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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.

Review: A Multitude of All Peoples

A Multitude

A Multitude of All Peoples: Engaging Ancient Christianity’s Global IdentityVince L. Bantu. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020.

Summary: A well-documented study of the global spread of ancient Christianity, controverting the argument of Christianity as White and western, and contending for the contextualizing and de-colonizing of contemporary global Christianity.

Often in Christian witness with people from Western countries, the challenge is whether someone can believe intellectually or volitionally, or dealing with ways they may have been put off by the church. In other parts of the world, or with people from those parts of the world or from minority cultures, the issue is that Christianity is thought of white and Western, and it would be an abandonment of one’s culture to believe. In significant part, this arises from mission efforts that have been both culturally captive to the West, and often been the Trojan horse for colonizing efforts.

This book addresses this challenge in several ways. One is that it traces how the early church in the West diverged from other believers in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. The fusion of church and state that began with Constantine marked the beginning of the separation from churches in the East. The framing of orthodox Christian belief at Chalcedon in Hellenistic language distanced believers who spoke of Christian faith in different heart languages.

Then in successive chapters Bantu traces the indigenous Christian movements in Africa, in the Middle East, and along the Silk Road. The exclusion of Miaphysites, those who would say that Christ exists as one person and one human-divine nature, separated the Africans and others from the West. What Bantu shows is the vibrant indigenous churches that developed in each of these parts of the world–the Copts in Egypt, the Ethiopian Church, the Maronites in Lebanon, and the Armenian Church, the early church in India tracing its origins to St. Thomas, and churches along the Silk Road.

The book summarizes the history of each of these indigenous movements that at one time, or even down to the present have been a vibrant Christian presence (consider the 21 Coptic martyrs brutally killed in a videotaped Isis message). The history is accompanied by images of church buildings and artifacts from these churches. The history and archaeological evidence make a strong case for the trans-cultural, global character of early Christianity that existed from the earliest centuries through the first millennium, long before western mission movements.

Likewise, the history of the interaction between the early churches of the West, and sister churches in Africa, the Middle East and Asia offer lessons for today. Chalcedon, from the perspective of these churches, rejected their understanding of Christ and the Christian faith, insisting on a Hellenistic framework for this belief. Bantu shows how indigenous churches responded to the rise of Islam, and sometimes were able to frame Christian faith in ways that were doctrinally sound and yet sidestepped the controversies surrounding God and his Son.

At the beginning of the third millennium of Christianity and the unprecedented global spread of Christianity, the message of this book more important than ever. At times, churches outside the West still struggle under Western theological and cultural domination. In other places, indigenous leadership is framing culturally contextualized yet theologically faithful approaches that advance the gospel. Will Western churches relinquish control in the former instance and affirm and learn from the latter? This book both offers historical evidence that indigenous churches may thrive, and that Christianity from its very beginnings was not exclusively white and Western.

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

 

Review: Christianity in the Twentieth Century

Christianity in the Twentieth Century

Christianity in the Twentieth CenturyBrian Stanley. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018.

Summary: A thematic account of the development of global Christianity during the twentieth century.

It is no small challenge to write a one volume history of Christianity in the twentieth century. The Christian faith has truly become a global faith, represented with indigenous churches on every continent, expressed and experienced in as many or more ways than there are countries in the world, and facing varied internal and external pressures leading to adaptation and change.

Brian Stanley has approached this task not by trying to write a series of chapters on regional histories, or denominational histories, or theological history, but by identifying fifteen themes running through Christian experience over the last hundred years. Each chapter develops a particular theme, sketching some of the global developments, and then offers two case studies, usually specific to two different countries or regions. In the course of this study, Stanley not only touches on fifteen critical themes or trends but also shows the development of Christian faith in every part of the world in its multiplex variety.

In brief, here are the themes covered:

  • Responses to World War I
  • Christianity and Nationalism
  • Prophetic movements
  • The Persecuted Church
  • Belonging and believing
  • Ecumenism
  • Christianity, Ethnic Hatred, and Genocide
  • Christianity in Islamic contexts
  • Christian mission in the modern world
  • Theologies of liberation
  • The church addresses human rights, racism, and indigenous peoples
  • Gender and sexuality
  • Pentecostalism
  • Eastern Orthodoxy
  • Migrant Churches

As mentioned above, each theme chapter is illustrated by two case studies. For example, in looking at Christian faith and nationalism, Stanley takes the contrasting cases of Protestant nationalism in Korea, and Catholic nationalism in Poland, developing the role of the church in the movements for national autonomy in each country, as well as the uneasy alliance of Christianity and nationalism more broadly. However, in the chapter on Christian mission, he considers first the Second Vatican Council of 1962 to 1965, and two contrasting gatherings of Protestants at Uppsala in 1968, focused more on the social dimensions of Christian faith, and Lausanne in 1974, focused more on the conversionist aspects of the faith, albeit with a strong witness for justice concerns by Christians from the majority world. I was somewhat surprised that little was said about the subsequent Lausanne movement or the efforts to identify and reach unreached people groups, a missiological development from this movement.

One of the observations I made while reading is that some themes felt like well-known territory, with names, issues and movements I was well familiar with. Other chapters, like the one on Orthodoxy, for example, surprised me as I learned of Orthodox movements in Africa, and how significant diasporas have been for the development of Orthodoxy in western Europe and the United States. I’ve recently become more aware of Ghanaian Pentecostalism in my own city and this book filled in context of the development of Ghanaian Christianity as well as Pentecostalism in other parts of the world. Numerous leaders of significant movements in twentieth century Christianity were mentioned that I had not heard of, conveying what a far-flung, diverse, and global movement Christianity has become.

The author opens and closes the book discussing the renaming of The Christian Oracle as The Christian Century. Was the twentieth century a “Christian century.” A simple answer to that question is not possible in the author’s estimate. In absolute numbers, no century has witness greater growth, and yet the world’s population has grown faster. In Europe, North America, and Australasia, the church has been in retreat, except for the immigrant churches that have come from South and Central America, Asia, and Africa. Secularism and persecution have attempted to undermine the church, have made significant inroads, and yet not succeeded, and sometimes resulted in a resilient and more robust faith. Christians have both played pivotal roles in justice movements, and been inextricably involved in ethnic hatred and genocide. Great progress has occurred in some sectors toward Christian unity, even while indigenous and immigrant churches assert their own autonomy and major bodies are riven over questions about human sexuality.

Rather than offering a triumphalistic account, Stanley offers a cautionary tale inviting the reader to reflection, summarized in his closing question of “whether Christianity has converted indigenous religionists or whether indigenous religious and cultural perspectives–whether these be African, Asian, Latin American, or even white North American–have succeeded in converting Christianity.” In raising this question, I think he has identified one of the critical issues facing Christians in the early twenty first centuries, questions that ought send us to our knees, turn us to our Bibles, and challenge us to listen to the prophetic voices that speak the uncomfortable truths we need to hear.

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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.

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?

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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.

 

The Month in Reviews: October 2015

I began October with a review of a book talking about the common ground between the philosophy of Ayn Rand and the Christian faith. I celebrated the work of Ohio novelist and agriculturalist Louis Bromfield, reviewing two of his narratives of his work to restore Malabar Farm in nearby Mansfield, Ohio. Faith and doubt were also themes of the month as I reviewed a book on eight adults who believed and the place of doubt in Christian experience. And I looked at the challenges facing the Western church as it relates to Christians throughout the world and how that changes our paradigms for mission and even how we think about who gets to define Christianity. With that, here are summaries of my reviews with links to my complete reviews:

soul of atlasThe Soul of AtlasMark David Henderson. Lexington: Reason Publishing, 2013. Is there any way to reconcile the thought of Ayn Rand and the Christian faith? Through a personal narrative of dialogues with his two fathers, one a Christian, and one an adherent to Ayn Rand’s philosophy (Objectivism) the author explores what possible ground could exist between Objectivists and Christians.

unfinished odysseyThe Unfinished Odyssey of Robert Kennedy, David Halberstam. New York, Open Road, 2013 (originally published in 1969). This is a classic account of Robert Kennedy’s last campaign tracing his decision to run, primary campaigns and evolving political vision that ended on the night of his primary victory in California.

Pleasant ValleyPleasant Valley, Louis Bromfield. Wooster: Wooster Book Company, 1997 (originally published in 1945). The author, a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, narrates his return from France to the area he where grew up, his purchase of several worn out farms, and his pioneering efforts in sustainable agriculture that restored the land to fertility, bringing health not only to the land but to those who made it their home.

Overturning TablesOverturning Tables, Scott Bessenecker. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014. Scott Bessenecker argues that Western missions efforts are often captive to corporate culture and practices inconsistent with efforts to reach across cultures and to the marginal peoples outside the corporate world.

Abusing ScriptureAbusing ScriptureManfred T. Brauch. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009. The author explores the different ways we misread the Bible and consequently interpret and apply it in ways that abuse both the intent of the text, and sadly, in some cases the people with whom we apply these texts.

Mere BelieversMere BelieversMarc Baer. Eugene: Cascade Books, 2013. Can individuals seeking to live faithfully to their calling change history? These profiles of eight British believers demonstrate that “mere believers” can indeed have a transformative influence in matters both of the heart and of the intellect.

To Whom Does Christianty belongTo Whom Does Christianity Belong?, Dyron B. Daughrity. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015. This book argues that when one speaks of “Christianity” this must be understood in global terms in all of its diversity of expression and not simply in the forms we Westerners are most accustomed to.

Questioning Your DoubtsQuestioning Your Doubts, Christina M. H. Powell. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014. This book comes out of the world of academic research and proposes that the process of questioning our doubts as well as our faith builds bridges of understanding deepening both our exercise of reason and confidence in our faith.

Malabar FarmMalabar Farm, Louis Bromfield. Wooster: Wooster Book Company, 1999 (originally published in 1948). Malabar Farm continues the story begun in Pleasant Valley of the author’s efforts of restoring a worn out farm to productivity, covering the years from 1944 to 1947 and going deeper into his philosophy of agriculture and the all-important matter of the soil.

Theology of IsaiahThe Theology of the Book of Isaiah, John Goldingay. Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press, 2014. Taking the book of Isaiah as a whole and as it would have been read by its first readers, Goldingay both considers the theologies present in each major section of Isaiah, and traces the theological themes emerging from the book as a whole.

Best Book of the Month: I’m going to go with Louis Bromfield’s Pleasant Valley. I loved his descriptions of restoring the land, building the “Big House” and his stories about other farmers. I think Bromfield’s farm books deserve a wider reputation for their path-breaking descriptions of early sustainable agriculture practices. I also deeply appreciated his love of the hill country of north central Ohio, which I also consider among the most beautiful parts of the state.

Best quote: I’m going to go with Bromfield’s description of his neighbor Walter Oakes and his love for “My Ninety Acres”:

“As I watched that big work-worn hand caressing that stalk of corn, I understood suddenly the whole story of Walter and Nellie and the ninety acres. Walter was old now, but he was vigorous and the rough hand that caressed that corn was the hand of a passionate lover. It was the hand that had caressed the body of a woman who had been loved as few women had ever been loved, so passionately and deeply and tenderly that there would never be another woman who could take her place. I felt again a sudden lump in my throat, for I knew that I had understood suddenly, forty years after the woman was dead, one of the most tragic but beautiful of all love stories. I know now what Robert’s strange remark about Nellie and the ninety acres getting all mixed up had meant. Robert himself must once have seen something very like what I had just seen” (p. 154).

Coming Attractions: Look for my review of The Fellowship, Philip and Carol Zaleski’s book on the Inklings, which I’m a good way through. I also am currently reading a book suicide from a pastoral counseling perspective, a novel of Frederick Buechner, and a book on Athens and Jerusalem, on philosophy and Christian faith. I’m looking forward to reading a new book on acedia, one of the seven deadly sins and a history of the Great Books movement that arose out of the University of Chicago.

[“The Month in Reviews” serves as a kind of index of all the reviews posted on this blog. By selecting “The Month in Reviews” link on the menu bar, you can explore a nearly complete list of books reviewed at Bob on Books.]

The Month in Reviews: August 2015

This month’s reading began with the adventurous growth of global Christianity and ended with the struggle of an adventurous couple to live in the cutting edge while setting down roots in midwestern America. A couple of my books explored the follow of war–the illusion that World War I would be over before the leaves fell in autumn and the kind of frenzy of rhetoric and aroused passions that prevailed before the American Civil War. Back to back, I read a book for entering college students on academic faithfulness, and a guide to meaningful retirement. Mixed in this month was a book on mentoring, a collection of Charles Spurgeon sermons, and more! One of the more unusual was a gift from my wife–the story of a cattle rancher in the Great Plains that converted to buffalo ranching. I enjoyed it so much I immediately started reading the sequel.

Kingdom without Borders1. Kingdom Without Borders, Miriam Adeney. Adeney, a professor of global and urban ministries, chronicles the global spread of Christianity through stories of sacrificial and courageous Christians in the Majority World.

Prophetic Books2. Interpreting the Prophetic Books: An Exegetical Handbook, Gary V. Smith. This is a concise guide for those preaching from Old Testament prophetic texts covering issues of genre, themes, interpretation, preaching, and contemporary application.

Relational Soul3. The Relational Soul, Richard Plass and James Cofield. Our relational capacity is essential to being human but often hindered by the false self that struggles with trust, but may be transformed through God’s gracious intervention, often through other people, that allows us to receive the gift of discovering our true self.

Home before leaves fall4. Home Before the Leaves Fall, Ian Senior. This is a new account of Germany’s invasion of France at the beginning of World War I, describing how it almost succeeded and why it ultimately ended in stalemate.

An All Around Ministry5. An All Around Ministry, Charles Haddon Spurgeon. A collection of messages given by Charles Haddon Spurgeon as President of the Preachers College during their annual conferences.

Launch your encore6. Launch Your Encore, Hans Finzel & Rick Hicks. A guide to living purposefully from 60 onward, which many call “retirement” but the authors consider our “encore”.

Learning for the Love of God7. Learning for the Love of God, Donald Opitz and Derek Melleby. Written for undergraduate college students who are Christians, this book explores the idea of academic faithfulness as an integral part of the student’s discipleship and how this is cultivated.

Ecstatic Nation8. Ecstatic Nation, Brenda Wineapple. Ecstatic Nation explores the period of 1848-1877, and the heightened feelings and frenzy of a country contending over slavery, going to war with itself, and then engaging in the conflicts of westward expansion and Reconstruction.

Deep Mentoring9.Deep Mentoring, Randy D. Reese and Robert Loane. Deep Mentoring proposes that the development of Christian leaders of integrity is a lifelong, God-driven process that mentors play a crucial part in through attentiveness and focus on the spiritual and character formation of rising leaders.

Global Evangelicalism10. Global Evangelicalism, Donald M. Lewis and Richard V. Pierard, eds. 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.

Buffalo for a Broken Heart11. Buffalo for the Broken Heart, Dan O’Brien. Part memoir, part nature-writing, this book describes the story of a cattle rancher who hits bottom, and makes the transition to herding buffalo for economic and ecological reasons.

This ordinary adventure12. This Ordinary Adventure, Christine Jeske and Adam Jeske. The Jeskes describe what happens when their quest to live a life of “amazing days” meets up with the realities of returning to suburban America, parenting, regular work–and routine.

Best Book of the Month: Dan O’Brien’s Buffalo for the Broken Heart stood out as a spare but compelling account of ranching in the Great Plains, weaving ecological insight of the symbiotic relationship of buffalo, land, and other creatures in the Great Plains, and the human community trying to eke its life out on this unforgiving land.

Best Quote(s) of the Month: I’ll give you two, the first being from O’Brien’s book:

“Was the increase in bird life on the ranch a partial result of a different, evolutionarily more compatible kind of grazing? Did the buffalo’s way of moving quickly from one part of the pasture to another affect the grass more positively than the wandering of domestic livestock? Was the entire matrix of the ranch’s ecosystem improved by the simple conversion back to large herbivores that had evolved to live here? In my heart I was coming to believe that the answer to all these questions was yes. I wanted to shout it to the skies, but I had learned long before that when profound questions are asked of the heart, the answers are best kept to yourself” (p. 168).

The second was from Spurgeon:

“We must cultivate a cogent as well as a clear style; we must be forceful. Some imagine this consists in speaking loudly, but I can assure them they are in error. Nonsense does not improve by being bellowed.”

Look for reviews in the coming days of a book on evangelical universalism (is this an oxymoron?), a historical fiction piece on the battle of Agincourt, the sequel to Buffalo for the Broken Heart. I’ll also be wading into some essays on the works of C.S. Lewis, and the Zaleskis’ The Inklings. With his passing, an Oliver Sacks book just found its way to the top of my TBR pile as well.

With cooler days approaching, I hope you’ll find some good books to curl up with along with a warm drink!

[Links in this post are to the full reviews in Bob on Books. In those reviews, you may find links to publishers websites.]

Review: Kingdom Without Borders

Kingdom without BordersKingdom Without BordersMiriam Adeney. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009.

Summary: Adeney, a professor of global and urban ministries, chronicles the global spread of Christianity through stories of sacrificial and courageous Christians in the Majority World.

Philip Jenkins has studied the spread of Christianity in the southern hemisphere and majority world. For many this is a study of statistics and demographics. Miriam Adeney tells a similar story, not so much through demographics as through people, some deeply spiritual, some taking great risks, and some suffering great loss, and achieving great glory and the spread of the gospel.

In her first chapter, on the spread of global Christianity, she observes:

“…the future global church may not be Western-led, and that’s OK. Let the mantle pass. We in the West can learn to follow, can’t we?” (p. 40).

The remainder of the book is the story of some of those who we may follow, or at least learn to work with in humble partnership.

She begins with the rapidly growing church in China, and the persecution that has and still occurs and the courageous witness of house church leaders and rural pastors. She then alternates chapters on peoples or even continents with themes like “Word” focusing on Ann Judson’s pioneering Bible translation efforts and the continuing importance of this work. She turns to pentecostal Latin America, and then the spirituality of Sadhu Sundar Singh. She turns to the Muslim world, and particularly Iran where there may be as many as 800,000 Christians facing everything from losing their jobs to losing their lives.

She explores the catastrophe of global poverty, the mistakes often made in development efforts and the creative programs that are fostering sustainable development in various parts of the world, particularly uplifting women. Then she tells the stories of Christian mission in the Hindu world and the challenge of contextualizing the gospel without compromising it in this context. She considers “song” and the necessity of music in the heart languages and musical idioms of majority cultures.

She explores African Christians who “go through fire”, facing the challenge of Islam in some countries, the challenge of prosperity gospels in others. Her concluding two chapters center around the death and resurrection life of Jesus–the real thread of persecution and suffering and death that runs through many of these narratives, and the vision toward which the church lives of the new heaven and new earth where the nations are gathering into “the kingdom of the Lord and of his Christ.”

This book is less a tight intellectual argument and more an exuberant travelogue around the theme of the growth of global Christianity. It is not a book of strategy but of stories that challenge, inspire, and exemplify vibrant Christian faith. In particular, it can serve to lift the eyes of westerners caught up in our intramural controversies and cultural captivities to see the moving of the Spirit of God and the faithfulness of Christians. Hopefully this book might awaken us to what God is doing beyond our own borders (and how silly we must look to some of our brothers and sisters). And that would be a good thing.

Review: The Global Diffusion of Evangelicalism: The Age of Billy Graham and John Stott

The Global Diffusion of Evangelicalism: The Age of Billy Graham and John Stott
The Global Diffusion of Evangelicalism: The Age of Billy Graham and John Stott by Brian Stanley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The title of this book proposes an ambitious project and I am impressed with how well Brian Stanley pulls this off in under 250 pages of text. While focusing on the evangelical landscape in the U.S. and U.K.(hence Graham and Stott), he gives us a helpful overview of the global spread of the evangelical movement from 1945 to the year 2000.

He opens with exploring the dynamics of this period–communications, the spread of evangelicalism in the English-speaking world, and the growing evangelical influence of the majority world. He then goes back to the beginning of this period and explores the differentiation of evangelical from fundamentalist in its US, British, Canadian and Australian forms, marked most notably in the US with the establishment of Christianity Today as the print organ of the forming evangelical consensus.

The next chapter on missions, evangelism, and revival focuses on the development of Billy Graham’s global ministry, the World Evangelical Fellowship, the Evangelical Fellowship of India, and the East Africa Revival, and finally the work of Scripture Union in Africa. “Scholarship, the Bible, and Preaching” focuses on the beginnings of an evangelical effort to engage the biblical scholarship of the day and produce scholarly work consonant with an evangelical view of scripture, including the New Bible Commentary. Stanley explores the British controversy over inspiration and the later American one centered around Fuller Seminary over the issue of inerrancy. The chapter concludes with profiling the development of expository preaching as an expression of evangelical biblical conviction in the ministries of Martyn Lloyd Jones, John R. W. Stott, and James Boice.

Chapter 5 profiles the major evangelical apologists of the period beginning with Cornelius Van Til, Carl F.H. Henry, Edward J Carnell, Francis Schaeffer, and Leslie Newbigin. He also cites the philosophical work of Alvin Plantinga, and the appropriation by evangelicals of High Church Anglican, C.S. Lewis, whose approach to the Bible was anything but evangelical. Chapter 6 explores the history of world missions consultations and the increasing social justice emphasis beginning from a bare mention at Berlin 1966, to a greater majority world presence and emphasis at Lausanne 1974 and the increasing integration of evangelism and social justice efforts since.

Chapter 7 covers the global spread of pentecostalism and that rapid growth of pentecostal movements in the majority world. This often gets short shrift in Western contexts but is critical to understanding global evangelicalism. Then the book concludes with raising the disturbing question of whether evangelicalism is simply diffusing, or in fact disintegrating as a cohesive movement with a coherent theological stance. The book ends with the provocative idea that this may not be something decided in the West but in the Majority world.

I found this book a fascinating overview of this decisive period–how decisive, the next 50 years may tell. It makes one give thanks again for the vision and character of so many profiled in this book, notably John Stott and Billy Graham, but also many other scholars, pastors, evangelists and missionaries of this period. At the same time, I think the book shows evidence of, but fails to diagnose the critical issue of the lack of consensus with regard to what is meant by the inspiration, authority, and inerrancy (or infallibility, or trustworthiness) of the Bible that was oft fought over and also the source of an interpretive pluralism that could lead to disintegration of this movement. Does final authority lie with the individual interpreter, within “interpretive communities”, or in the tradition of biblical interpretation? This is an issue discussed at length in Molly Worthen’s Apostles of Reason (reviewed here). Perhaps an exploration of this issue in detail would move beyond the descriptive character of this work and yet this issue is important in what seems a growing movement of frustrated evangelicals to Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy. That being said, Stanley has given us a masterful overview of the development of evangelicalism up to the turn of the century.

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