Project Update


Among the many breathtaking developments in the post-World War II and the subsequent postcolonial eras few are more striking than the worldwide Christian resurgence. With unflagging momentum, Christianity has become, or is fast becoming, the principal religion of the peoples of the world. Primal societies that once stood well outside the main orbit of the faith have become major centers of Christian impact, while Europe and North America, once considered the religion’s heartlands, are in noticeable recession. We seem to be in the middle of massive cultural shifts and realignments whose implications are only now beginning to become clear. Aware that Europe’s energies at the time were absorbed in war, Archbishop William Temple presciently observed in 1944 that this global feature of the religion was ‘the new fact of our time.’ An impressive picture now meets our eyes: the growing numbers and the geographical scope of that growth, the cross-cultural patterns of encounter, the variety and diversity of cultures affected, the structural and antistructural nature of the changes involved, the kaleidoscope of cultures often manifested in familiar and unfamiliar variations on the canon, the wide spectrum of theological views and ecclesiastical traditions represented, the ideas of authority and styles of leadership that have been developed, the process of acute indigenization that fosters liturgical renewal, the production of new religious art, music, hymns, songs, and prayers—all these are part of Christianity’s stunningly diverse profile.

The Theme

These unprecedented developments cast a revealing light on the serial nature of Christian origins, expansion, and subsequent attrition. They fit into the cycles of retreat and advance, of contraction and expansion, and of waning and awakening that have characterized the religion since its birth, though they are now revealed to us with particular force. The pattern of contrasting development is occurring simultaneously in various societies across the world. The religion is now in the twilight of its Western phase and at the beginning of its formative non-Western impact. Christianity has not ceased to be a Western religion, but its future as a world religion is now being formed and shaped at the hands and in the minds of its non-Western adherents. Rather than a cause for unsettling gloom, for Christians this new situation is a reason for guarded hope.

Today students of the subject can stand in the middle of the recession of Christianity in its accustomed heartland while witnessing its resurgence in areas long considered receding missionary lands, but that is the situation today. In 1950 some 80% of the world’s Christians lived in the northern hemisphere in Europe and North America. By 2005 the vast majority of Christians lived in the southern hemisphere in Asia, Africa and Latin America. In 1900 at the outset of colonial rule there were just under 9 million Christians in Africa, of whom the vast majority were Ethiopian Orthodox or Coptic. In 1960 at the end of the colonial period the number of Christians had increased to about 60 million, with Catholics and Protestants making up 50 million, and the other 10 million divided between the Ethiopian Orthodox and Coptic Churches. By 2005, the African Christian population had increased to roughly 380 million, which is just below 50% of Africa’s population.

Topics and Rationale

A series of studies devoted to World Christianity in light of its non-Western appeal and development would enhance knowledge as well as increase our grasp of a neglected and overlooked theme in the history of the church.

With the enthusiastic endorsement of the editorial office of Oxford University Press, the generous support of Lundman Family Foundation, and the OMSC administration the Oxford Series in Studies in World Christianity got off to a strong start with the publication of the inaugural volume, Disciples of All Nations: Pillars of World Christianity (2008).

The Disciples book has received favorable reviews including a Christianity Today top award for 2008, and Martin Marty’s Top Five Books on World Christianity citation (April 22, 2008). OUP wrote (August 18, 2008): “Beyond the series, have you started to think about your own next book? I’m really thrilled with the way things have gone with Disciples of All Nations, with great reviews, strong sales, and of course the Christianity Today Award. Not to mention the fact that I really enjoyed working on it with you and would love to work with you again. What do you have in mind as a next project?” It is clear OUP are committed to the project, and are thinking of work in the field well beyond the series.

The Oxford Studies in World Christianity Series acquired new impetus recently with the addition of a couple more of titles, the one on World Christianity in America and the other on Latin American Christianity. Edith Blumhoffer of Wheaton College has offered to do a proposal on the World Christianity in America title, while Todd Hartch of the Eastern Kentucky University has presented an outline for the volume on Latin American Christianity. After a successful review of the proposal OUP have offered a contract to Todd Hartch. We will be hearing from Todd on the project itself and on the progress he has made.

I have recently sent the manuscript of Richard Gray’s collected essays to OUP. Under the title, Gray’s Anatomy of Christianity, Mission and the Papacy in Africa, the essays are based on the manuscript Gray had been working on for thirty years and that was left incomplete at the time of his death. I reviewed the manuscript as a baseline for deciding which essays to include in the edited volume. I have also supplied a full bibliography that includes references to collections Gray used in the archives at the Vatican, Bergamo, Venice, Lisbon, among others.

Important to Gray’s approach is his argument that the developments in the African field convinced Pope Gregory XV to establish in 1622 the Sacred Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith, known as Propaganda Fide, an institution that became the most influential missionary organization in the history of the Church. The dogged appeals and unflagging aspirations of the remote, small community of Kongo Christians, with a precarious foothold in the royal family and court, had directly and consequentially contributed to the papal decision to confront the challenge of the overseas missions and the obstacles created by the padroado. In that way, the chequered course of foreign mission had the unforeseen outcome of changing Church policy, and, indirectly, the role of the ancièn regime in the Church. In that way the norms of reform and modernization of mission transcended purely European interests, with interesting long-term consequences for Church-state relations in the colonial empire.

Erica Hunter’s volume, Syriac Christianity: Culturo-Religious Responses East and West, has been completed and is in the editorial process undergoing review. A sample chapter has been included in the package. In her concluding reflections in chapter 14 where she brings the story up to the twentieth century, Erica writes: “By the mid-twentieth century the profile of Syriac Christianity in the Middle East had undergone monumental change: great loss both of life and lands had precipitated displacement and dispersal, that became the catalyst for collateral developments. All denominations now sported large diaspora communities, both in other parts of the Middle East and in the West: in Europe, Australia and North America. A new map was replacing the centuries-old demography; new trajectories were beginning to be forged… To date, more than 200,000 Chaldaeans are thought to be resident in north America making it, in the words of Anthony O’Mahony, ‘one of the most important diasporas of the Chaldaean Church.’” A critical turning point was with the “challenges faced by all Christian denominations following the Allied invasion in 2003.” Theo Calderara, the senior editor at OUP, tells me the editorial process is well advanced and he is going to be in touch with Erica.

I have been in touch with Ryan Dunch at the University of Edmonton, Canada, who is working on the East Asia volume, and he has sent me a sample essay for review. Ryan presented an outline of his ideas at the April, 2010, Oxford Studies workshop where he received a number of helpful ideas and suggestions. Ryan said the prospects of stepping down soon as department chair at Edmonton will allow him to present a proposal before long. Theo has also been in touch with him.

At the April workshop we invited authors in the series to present a report on their book projects. In that connection Allan Anderson participated and gave a report on his volume on global Pentecostalism entitled, Empowered: Pentecostalism and the Changing Face of World Christianity. Allan’s administrative duties as department chair at the University of Birmingham, England, have slowed him down, but he had meanwhile made headway with several chapters already written. A major principle of Allan’s approach is the view that, “The revival movements described in this chapter illustrate that Christian spirituality was no longer to be reflected exclusively through the western church or missionary agency, but could express itself more freely when engaged with local contexts and local agendas.” In the chapter he has submitted for this meeting, Allan notes how Pentecostalism ties into World Christianity, citing David Martin to the effect that “the voluntarism and pluralism born in British and American nineteenth century denominational splits rapidly indigenizes in the developing world, partly on account of its astonishing combination of motifs from both black and white revivalism.” Allan continues: “The various revival movements worldwide, of which the revivals at Mukti in India and at Azusa Street were two of several examples, were part of a series of events that resulted in the emergence of a worldwide pentecostal movement. .. there were equally important forces in several regions [that gave] the emerging movement a local character [and] tempered some of the globalising forces at work… Pentecostalism did not arise in a single event or phenomenon; it was a movement that crossed national and ethnic boundaries and resulted in a plethora of different types of revivalist Christianity in the twentieth century… All over the world untold thousands of revivalists with no known western connections were responsible for the spread of the pentecostal gospel… These various charismatic revivals were not primarily movements from the western world to “foreign lands”, but more significantly movements within these continents themselves. In most cases the revivals were led by local leaders. He expects to have the completed book with OUP by September, 2011.

Andrew Walls has been working on his volume for the Oxford series on Methodism and the Roots of World Christianity. Last year Andrew was on his way to the workshop when he took ill at Manchester International Airport and was ambulanced to hospital. We have the outline of Andrew’s volume, and would make a major contribution to our understanding not just of Methodism but of Christianity’s worldwide character and impact. OUP are delighted to have Andrew join the list, and so am I.


I am assured by the experience of the lively and energetic discussion at this year’s workshop that we should make that a pattern by focusing on books being developed for the series, with authors and prospective authors presenting their work. Everyone at last year’s workshop said the experience was invaluable in giving the authors a unique setting to consider the wider community of scholarship in which their work will be received.

Permit me in conclusion, once again to express my appreciation for the support and encouragement of Jonathan Bonk, the Executive Director of OMSC, Judy Stebbins and their staff. It gives me great pleasure and satisfaction to know that with the official launch of the Oxford Series the Overseas Ministries Studies Center has been recognized as a strategic part of the scholarly endeavor to define and shape the emerging field of World Christianity. I record my heartfelt thanks to all friends and colleagues for their interest and encouragement.