In North America, evangelicalism is almost synonymous with Christianity. In some parts, evangelicalism is used interchangeably with fundamentalism. Edited by Donal M. Lewis and Richard V. Peirard, Global Evangelicalism: Theology, History and Culture in Regional Perspective, evangelicalism provides a definition, a timeline history, and a world wide scope to evangelicalism. Some of these details and stories are familiar to Western Christians. The stories from other regions of the world present a deeper and wider movement that reveals the trajectory of Christianity.
Through three sections, Global Evangelicalism presents theoretical issues (chapters 1-3), ground level regional studies (chapters 4-8), and cultural issues (chapter 9-10). Written with “college, university, and seminary students” in mind (13), the presentation can be tedious. Ogbu Kalu’s chapter on Africa (chapter 5) is a prime example. Though loaded with historical details and exceptional insights the chapter drags and is dry. In contrast, C. Rene Padilla’s chapter on Latin America (chapter 6) explores complex issues but the delivery engages. Both chapters represent the amazing resource Global Evangelicalism can be for patient and enduring readers. But this type of writing will turn away non-students and the average laymen.
The opening chapters are some of the most helpful in the entire book. The early definitions of Mark Noll are essential (19-25). Of special note are the “four key ingredients” of evangelicalism: conversion, Biblicism, activism, and cross-centeredness (20). What is interesting throughout Global Evangelicalism is how these “ingredients” have different emphasis and impact throughout the globe. In many ways, American fundamentalism, though evangelical, is outside the norm throughout the world. Similar to Noll’s definitions, Wilbert R. Shenk provides a wide lens view of the historic development of evangelicalism (chapter 2). Starting with root in German (Lutheran) Pietism, this involved political emphasis on not being “state-churches” (42-43). It is also interesting to track this laymen originated movements as it evolved with Weslyan and Dispensational themes. This presented a whole new version of evangelicalism during the North American revivals which many will be familiar (50-52). Many of these insights to the history of evangelicalism help to explain the success of the prosperity gospel, Pentecostalism, and premillennialism across the globe. Most of these movements stem from evangelical revivalism and mission work. Many of these themes find their best expression in Scott W. Sunquist’s chapter on Asia (chapter 7). Sunquist reflects on Pentecostalism within evangelicalism (214-217) and the inherently political nature of evangelical individualism and anti-state tendencies (222-223).
Only Sunquist broaches the cults grown out of evangelicalism (225-228). Though John Wolee and Richard Pierard (chapter 4, “North America”) and Kalu (chapter 5, “Africa”) mention the heretical movements that have grown out of the individual existentialism of many evangelical movements, they never get direct attention. Given that Global Evangelicalism has two chapters that deal with cultural issues, ecumenism (chapter 9) and gender (chapter 10), it is a wonder that the syncretic tendencies of evangelicalism goes without a high view synopsis. This is especially true for North American Christians who continue to deal with directly with Mormon and Jehovah Witness missionaries. Similarly, a concluding chapter that neatly resolves the many themes of Global Evangelicalism is missing. The chapter by Sarah C. Williams on gender (chapter 10) brings the discussion to a conclusion with focused discussion. A chapter of wrap-up or general summary would serve this volume well given the many authors, subjects, and themes presented.
Ultimately, Global Evangelicalism fascinates and covers broad subjects educationally. Though the sheer amount of information makes this difficult to read straight through, the material would excel in classrooms. Individuals in the evangelical tradition will be well served to grasp the wider context of the movement, its current adventures, and its future. Global Evangelicalism will help the church in its current discussion determine the health and detrimental ramifications of evangelicalism .
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Joshua Torrey is a New Mexico boy in an Austin, TX world. He is husband to Alaina and father to Kenzie & Judah and spends his free time studying for the edification of his household. These studies include the intricacies of hockey, football, curling, beer, and theology. You can follow him @benNuwn and read his theological musings and running commentary of the Scriptures at The Torrey Gazette.