Reviewed by Robert Sivigny, University Librarian
Given the incredible growth of Christianity in non-Western and southern regions of the world, what will the Christian religion look like as the twenty-first century unfolds? Where will the centers of heaviest Christian concentration be? And most important, how will or how should the Western Church relate to these new Christian populations? Interpreting Contemporary Christianity explores the answers to these questions in light of recent global scholarship and thinking. The first two chapters, by professors Ogbu Kalu and Paul Freston, offer an overview of the major issues, along with analysis of the overall nature of non-Western Christianity. Subsequent chapters by contributing international authors focus on aspects and movements within particular regions, the Philippines, Africa, China, India, and Europe. While some of the essays deal more with past rather than contemporary movements and events, effort is made to interpret their significance for the twenty-first century global Church.
Religions typically grow in one of two ways, either by diaspora migration or by conversion. Whereas the spread of Protestant Christianity in the 18th and 19th centuries was largely an Anglo-Saxon enterprise, today other diasporas, African, Latin American, Caribbean, Korean, and Chinese, are in motion, contributing to a new world-wide Christianity. Unlike the 18th and 19th century movements that were energized by powerful and wealthy countries, these new diasporas are sponsored by marginalized groups reflecting more modest income and power levels. Paul Freston, one time professor of sociology at the Federal University of Sao Carlos, Brazil, and now at Calvin College, comments, “…most proselying today (transcultural or not) is done by the relatively powerless of the world” (p. 36).
In his chapter, “African Christianity, Globalization, and Mission,” Jehu Hanciles, associate professor of mission history and globalization at Fuller Theological Seminary, agrees: “Crucially, this movement (i.e., Protestant Christian missionaries from the Third or Fourth World) boasts neither the educational, economic, nor technological advantages of the Western missionary movement, nor the protection of strong economic and military powers that the latter enjoyed. In acute contrast it comes not from the centers of political power and economic wealth but from the periphery. Its models and strategies must perforce be radically different; more akin to the biblical model in fact” (p. 88).
What should the Western church’s attitude be in respect to the new global Christianity? Professor Hanciles quotes Engel and Dyrness’ Changing the Mind of Missions: Where Have We Gone Wrong?: “The door is slowly but steadily swinging shut on North Americans who are reluctant to recognize that the Two-Thirds World and its churches now lie at the very center of world missions influence and initiative. The need now is to come along-side in a spirit of partnership and submission, participating where we can in an enabling and facilitating manner to help increase the impact of all that God is doing in this era” (p. 87). Did not our Lord say, “yet I am among you as the One who serves” (Luke 22:27)? The Western church needs not only to be informed about, but also to participate in global Christian trends, in sync with the mind and Spirit of Christ our Lord.
Interpreting Contemporary Christianity is a stimulating, significant contribution to global Christian dialogue and will foster mutual respect among world-wide Christian leaders, Western and non-Western.