Book Review on Christianity reborn: the global expansion of Evangelicalism in the twentieth century

A Book Review on Christianity reborn: the global expansion of Evangelicalism in the twentieth century

Christianity_Reborn_edited_by_Don_Lewis (Cover photo: Five Chinese evangelists in Harbin, China, in 1931)

Product Details

  • Author: Lewis, Donald, ed.
  • Paperback: 324 pages
  • Publisher: Wm.B. Eerdman’s Publishing (May 15 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802824838
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802824837
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.8 x 2.3 cm

I. Thesis Statement

Christianity reborn is one of the most inspiring volumes of the Studies in the history of Christian mission series, which is dedicated to qualitative analysis of global evangelical expansion. As the editor of this book, Donald M. Lewis, professor of church history at Regent College, suggests that evangelicalism as an influential phenomenon has been miserably neglected in Western academia, though virtually it along with Roman Catholicism and Islam can claim the status today of a global faith.

This superb compilation thus collects ten essays in an effort to counteract the false opinions that 1) Evangelical Christianity is a spent force after Victorian era and that 2) it would certainly dwindled after the dismantling of western colonization on the surface of the earth (1-2). The majority of the articles originates from a consultation of the Currents in World Christianity Project (CWC) at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford, in July 1999. Each adds to the cumulative weight that highlights the momentousness of Pentecostalism and the indigenousness of faith as the crucial factors to evangelicalism’s success throughout the non-western world.

map_world_religions (World distribution of Evangelical Christianity; click here for bigger picture.)

II. Summary of Flow of Ideas

Christianity Reborn is divided into five sections: the initial three chapters compose the first section as a prelude, focusing on the historical background of the rise of evangelicalism. The foci of second, third, and fourth sections are geographically narrowed down, offering studies of China, India, the South Pacific, West and Southern Africa, and Latin America. The final section summarily presents a global survey about the viability of evangelical Christianity to create multiplicity of faith communities suited to a variety of ethnic, racial, and geographical locations.

W. R. Ward’s opening study discusses Bebbington’s fourfold characterization of evangelicalism as distinguished by conversionism, activism, biblicism, and crucicentrism, yet further proposes that among 18th century reform leaders the eschatological hope for better times, which later turned out to « evangelical empiricism » as they escaped what came to be seen as mysticism’s « blind alley » (30), should what qualifies the evangelical movement a breakthrough from the common orthodoxy of the day.

MarkNoll2(Caption: Mark Noll, born in 1946, is Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame. A progressive evangelical Christian scholar, he was named by Time Magazine as one of the twenty-five most influential American evangelicals in 2005. His main academic concern is the interaction of Christianity and culture in 18th- and 19th-century Anglo-American societies. After many years of teaching at Wheaton College, Noll joined the history department of the University of Notre Dame as the Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History. He earned his B.A. in English at Wheaton, M.A. in Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and a Ph.D. in American religious history at Vanderbilt University.)

Mark A. Noll’s article examines the systematic dispatch of missionary as crucial factor of evangelicalism’s worldwide expansion in the 19th century (through the founding of the Baptist Missionary Society in 1792 to the Edinburgh Missionary Conference in 1910). By offering case studies, he laments the fact that the elevation of power over principle has made evangelical missionaries conspirator of slave trade and brutal colonization. However, there are unintended consequences caused by missionary movement as the confrontation also led to renewal of indigenous culture.

This observation is confirmed by Brian Stanley’ study, which focuses on the landmark Edinburgh World Missionary Conference. Noting that many projections cast in the meeting was indeed fulfilled, primarily about the fruitful growth of oversea missions, though carried out in alternative forms.

Philip Yuen-sang Leung triggers the second section by describing metaphorically the church development in China from 1949 to 1999. Survived and revived over the persecution, the church divided into two camps with Three-Self Patriotic church like Martha and with the underground church like Mary. The opposition recently has been softened a lot as Martha managed to imitate Mary little by little (p. 107).

Frykenberg’s article, unfortunately, paints a contrasting picture in which tragic misunderstanding led to radical opposition against Christianity by local mobs. Poignant is the remark of a converted Sikh: « Indians do need the Water of Life, but not the European cup. »[1]

Chapters by Jehu Hanciles and Marthinus Daneel on Africa offer fascinating insights into Pentecostal growth in the region. While Hanciles focuses on the tension between African Initiated Churches and the Pentecostal population which underwent a boom in the 1970s and 1980s, Daneel tends to be more willingly making them a match by pointing out their common historical root as results of Christian mission. The final chapter in the fourth section is a fine survey on Latin American Pentecostalism conducted by freston0819_webPaul Freston. His special insights include that « churches which grow most owe little to international missions » (250) and that Latin American Pentecostalism encroaches upon Catholic territory from where institutional Catholicism is weak yet society itself is fundamentally religious (p. 254). As is summarized by Martin at the final chapter, evangelical Christianity is both a manifestation of and a powerful response to modernity, which links the despised peripheries of the North Atlantic to the rest of the world (293).

(Caption: Professor of Sociology at Calvin College, Paul Freston is first-ever holder of the Gary and Henrietta Byker Chair in Christian Perspectives on Political, Social and Economic Thought. Paul Freston is one of the world’s leading experts on Latin American evangelical Christianity. He is a native of England who graduated from Cambridge University, with a B.A. degree emphasizing in Latin American Studies. He received his Masters degree in history from Cambridge, a second Master degree from Regent College in British Columbia, his Ph.D. degree from University of Campinas [Brazial] in sociology and did his post-doctoral work at Oxford University.)

III. Personal Response

This is an excellent volume. Each contributor is an outstanding contemporary scholar with his own expertise. Though the compiler regret of not taking in the phenomenal outcome of evangelical movement in South Korea and in southeast Asia, the overall contribution is remarkable. Understandable is the comment that « any who are tempted to doubt the viability of the evangelical movement should read this book »[2]. However, while some chapters tend to be friendly to common people who simply want to take a look at the currents of evangelical Christianity, there are parts academically obstacular for beginners. For example, Ward’s chapter, « Evangelical Identity in the Eighteenth Century, » goes on so quickly and assumes an abundant literacy of readers on its history. Noll’s and Freston’s essays are so well researched on ostensibly mutual-contradicting facts that it requires reading more than once to get the clear meta-narratives.

IV. Reflection Based upon Other Course Material

In comparison to Jenkins’ the Next Christendom, Christianity reborn definitely refelcts more detail on regional developments since it represents efforts of eleven scholars, many of whom have multicultural background (though only one article virtually originates from non-Western scholar: Yuan-sang Leung of Hong Kong). While both works are making « conversion » and « indigenization » their theological key terms, I believe « salvation » and « truth » shall also be put into our future agenda about world Christianity.

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PS.1 It has been said that solely the ch. 2 and ch.9 wiould be worth the entre book. I add ch.1 as a result of my partiality.

[1] Bebbington, David W. « Christianity Reborn: The Global Expansion of Evangelicalism in the Twentieth Century. » Studies in World Christianity 11, no. 1 (2005): 144.

[2] Hedlund, Roger E. « Christianity Reborn: The Global Expansion of Evangelicalism in the Twentieth Century. » Missiology 33, no. 3 (2005): 351.


2 réflexions sur « Book Review on Christianity reborn: the global expansion of Evangelicalism in the twentieth century »

  1. 真的很好笑,在網上google "African Initiated Church"就找到你這來,我也正在看這本書..大鵬

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