From Jerusalem to Timbuktu: a book review

Christianity began in Jerusalem—the place where Jesus died and rose again, and where the Spirit descended like a rushing wind on Jesus’ disciples. Through much of Christian history, the center of Christianity was in Europe, but in the past century, the church has spread east and south, across Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Today, the geographic center of density for the Christian faith is found in the East African country of Mali, the city of Timbuktu.

4527In From Jerusalem to Timbuktu, Brian Stiller traces the dynamic growth of the Church in the global south, identifying 5 key factors which have shaped the Christian mission (more on this below). Stiller is the global ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance, the former president of Tyndale University College & Seminary in Toronto, and the founder and editor of Faith Today magazine. He is a Pentecostal evangelical engaged in mission and has an eye on many of the trends he describes here.

So what are the 5 key factors that have ignited church growth in the global south? Stiller’s 5  key drivers are: (1) a renewed openness to the Spirit (Pentecostals and Charismatics enjoy the most exponential growth), (2) Bible translations in the language of the people, (3) indigenization of Christian leadership and mission, (4) re-engagement of the Public Square, and (5) a holistic gospel which tackles not only Spiritual issues (getting right with God) but systemic injustice (e.g. global poverty, racism,etc). Stiller introduces these five drivers in Part 1 of his book, explores them in detail in part 2, and the notion of wholeness in mission for part 3 (with an eye toward prayer movements, women in ministry, praise and worship, refugees and migration, and global persecution).

Stiller is well-connected to the worlds of evangelicalism and Pentecostalism with an eye toward their global mission, as both a scholar and practitioner. The trends (or drivers) he identifies have shaped the worldwide evangelical movement and the rapid growth to the south.  Stiller gives a sort of insider perspective on how these drivers have impacted the movement, weaving together statistical data, history, with narrative and personal anecdotes. I found this book well-reasoned, and well-researched, but not a dispassionate account. These are trends that Stiller is excited about, and it is infectious.

Despite the title, there is not much mention of Jerusalem or even Timbuktu. These cities are used symbolically to describe the shift of Christianity’s Center to the south. However, Stiller focuses on what is driving the growth the global church in the Southern hemisphere, not on the movements of the church which took us from the first century in Jerusalem to where we are today. So really the focus is on the last hundred or so years. Most of the trends that Stiller mentions, trace the shift of Christianity from Eurocentric and colonial toward indigenization.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in the global church and mission. I give it four stars. -★★★★

Notice of material connection, I received a copy of this book from InterVarsity Press in exchange for my honest review.

Introduction to World Christian History: a book review

My grad school prided itself on its global Christian impact; yet the church history I learned there was a largely Western story. Certainly there was an acknowledgement  that Christendom’s origins weren’t in the West, and the church in Africa and Asia; yet more time and energy was spent unearthing the European story as the dominant narrative running through Christian history. This made a certain amount of sense. It was a school in the West and the West has pride of place in medieval and modern Christianity; however there was a richer story than the one I was, in large part, told.

4088In Introduction to World Christian History, Derek Cooper explores the global development ‘across time and continents.’ Cooper is the associate professor of world Christian history at Biblical Theological Seminary in Hatfield, Pennsylvania. As such, he is used to introducing  students to the diversity of the world Christian movement. For this book, he utilizes the United Nations Geo-scheme for Nations as a template for exploring Christian history in three periods: the first to the seventh , the eighth to the fourteenth, and the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries.  These division departs between the seventh and eighth centuries in his periods, de-centers the European story. Traditional church history treats the conversion of Constantine and the first Council (both fourth century) as a “watershed moment” in the Christian story (16). However Cooper observes these events may be overstated in global importance, particularly when you consider that the church was never coterminous with the Roman empire and the “councils never represented the whole church” (16-17).

In part one, Cooper explores Christianity in the first to seventh centuries. He begins, in chapter one, with Asia as the birthplace and cradle of the Christian faith, describing the growth of the Christian movement in western Asia (i.e. president day Saudi Arabia and Turkey), central Asia (India and China) and Southern Asia (Iran).  Chapter two describes the deep roots of the African church (Northern Africa like Alexandria, Algeria and Tunisia, and the Eastern African church of Ethiopia. Chapter three examines the European story (in Eastern, Southern, Northern and Western Europe). In the early part of the Christian story Asian and African Christianity loom large.

Part two examines again the regions of Asia, Africa and Europe, this time from the eighth to the fourteenth centuries. While Asian and African Christians were dominant in earlier times, this was a difficult period for both of them (i.e. the spread of Islam and other faiths, the Crusades, isolation of Asian Christian communities). Cooper writes, “Although it is not accurate to state that Christianity died in Asia at this time, it certainly diminished—and fairly rapidly and extensively so” (87). This is true of Africa as well. African Christians suffered severe persecution with the spread of Islam. In some areas the Christian faith was stamped out though a Christian witness remained in both Asia and Africa, though a chastened one.  It is in this era the European story becomes the dominant narrative of Christian history (chapter six).

Part three describes Christianity from the Fifteenth to the Twenty-First Centuries. In this period global diversity explodes in the Christian movement. Cooper lays aside his tripartite division of Asia, Africa and Europe, adding region and scope. He begins with Europe (chapter seven) and traces the growth of  global Christianity through evangelization. He devotes a chapter each to Christianity in Latin America, Northern America, Oceania (Australia and New Zealand, Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia), Africa and Asia.

This is a short book. about 250 pages for all of Christian history. As the title suggests this is an introduction to World Christian history, not the definitive word. By necessity Cooper gives us a bird’s-eye-view of Christianity than a detailed analysis of every region; nevertheless he does give us a more robust sense of the global Christian movement through the ages. Theologians like Thomas Oden and historians like Phillip Jenkins have noted that the center of Christianity has shifted, in recent history, east and south. This is true, and Cooper would concur. However his ‘at-a-glance’ romp through church history reveals that the global character of Christianity is not a recent phenomenon, but one of its persistent features.

This would be a good supplementary text for a Church history class, though it is an accessible read for anyone interested in Christian history. As a student, I would have used this book as a jumping-off-point for deeper research. Cooper uses contemporary names for regions and countries throughout makes this approachable for the non-scholar and ordinary reader. I give this four stars.

Note I received this book from IVP Academic in exchange for my honest review.