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14 January 2014

The History of the World Christian Movement

History of World Christian Movement vol 2I had a strange feeling as I read a book about missionary heroes to my children bedtime. Each hero was a white man who had travelled from the West to save the poor natives.

I had another strange feeling as I read a recent book about the Spiritual danger of doing good written by a CEO of a Christian microfinance development charity where we learnt a lot about the author and some famous American friends he had but all we heard about the rest of the world was how grateful they were for American help and how corrupt people were in Africa. So it was with great relief that this volume arrived for me to review.

This book tells a lot of the untold story of global Christianity over the 350-year period between 1454 (just after the fall of Constantinople) to 1800. It’s a tough read but told with a lot of verve and rigor. You will be introduced to new names and new perspectives in the global church that will help western Christians see that we have lots to be ashamed in our history and that we might need a rethink as we uncritically step in as the missionary saviours of the world.

I was encouraged to see so many women named among the heroes and influencers of the church and especially pleased to read about indigenous leaders from around the world taking the lead in the spread of the gospel.

It is sobering reading as sadly the church’s collusion with empire, colonialism and slavery are very clearly outlined. It is also encouraging reading as statements such as “An observer in the 17the century could hardly be faulted for not expecting Christianity to have much of a future in the continent of Africa” when today so much of Africa is full of faithful believers.

This volume combines some fascinating story telling with historical analysis. The individual stories of global Christians humanise the grand and global narrative and provide inspiring cameos of Christian living.

For example: I loved the fact that the beginnings of the African church in West Africa is attributed to evangelical former slaves that came back from Nova Scotia in 1792 or that the key players in the change in attitudes to slavery in Europe were people like Olaudah Equiano and Ottobah Cugoano.
But the global analysis is fascinating too: for example the way that just as Christianity was spreading as a tool of colonial power and control was just the time that Christianity was facing its most radical challenge at its then European base (ie the reformation). Another example was the impact of the Lisbon earthquake had on religious and theological reflection in Europe.

I hope that this volume will be widely read as the story of the World Christian movement is not just the story of white missionaries (grateful though we all are for their grace and sacrifice) but by thousands of our brothers and sisters around the world who inspired by the Spirit and the word of God spread the good news of Jesus in word and deed wherever they were.

First published on krishk.com