Christianity As a World Religion

An Introduction

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Sebastian Kim, Kirsteen Kim
  • New York, NY: 
    Bloomsbury Academic
    , November
     2016.
     360 pages.
     $29.95.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781472569349.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

The second edition of Christianity as a World Religion: An Introduction, by Sebastian and Kirsteen Kim, offers a refreshingly globalized primer to diverse Christian traditions. The text is consistently thoughtful in its approach, reflecting the authors’ intentions to create a second edition that is more comprehensive and user friendly than their first. From the start, Christianity is presented in a decidedly contemporary light, as a movement of great diversity that has found a foothold in a variety of pluralistic religious contexts. The authors’ attempts to “de-center … Europe and the West” in this study are successful, as they work instead to highlight the connections between Christian movements in modern, and increasingly globalized societies (iv).

This volume is divided into eight chapters: an introduction, subsequent chapters focusing on Christian movements in Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, North America, and Oceania, and a conclusion which examines the significance of Christianity in the modern world. The introductory chapter suggests that the text can be read as a “mapping of Christianity,” offering statistics and demographics for the practice and continued spread of the movement around the world (4). The authors then propose five “streams” of Christian practice: Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant (mainline traditions), Evangelical (a more nebulous category, with ties to modern revivalism), and Pentecostal (charismatic) movements. Through basic patterns of worship, they evaluate these movements according to their transnational translations and interpretations of Christianity.

The following chapters, which examine Christianity in a comprehensive world context, begin with missions in Asia. In this chapter, as in each of the chapters that concentrate on Christian communities in different geographic spaces, the authors are careful to define what they mean by their regional labels, in this case, “Asia.” For the Kims, Asia encompasses varied Christian communities from Syria and India, Central and East Asia, to Southeast Asia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. In each of these regions, “Asia” is not meant to represent a shared cultural or historical identity,” but a geographical area (23). While many maps are present in the book, for quick reference, it would be great to see maps detailing the placement of particular Christian denominations in future editions.

Religious syncretism is likewise an important topic in this chapter, as Christianity has come into contact with Hinduism, Buddhism, Daoism, Confucian tradition, and Zoroastrianism on the Asian continent over the centuries. As the authors note, this has led to a richness of diverse Christian practice, in addition to political and religious conflicts between Christians and non-Christians in places like Turkey, Armenia, and Palestine in more recent years.

The third chapter moves on to an exploration of Christianity in an African context, focusing on the complex relationship between Christians and colonialism in that setting. This chapter first considers the role of northern Africa in the early Christian movement—as the birthplace of Tertullian, Origen, and Augustine—and conversion from within African communities. It then outlines the contentious relationships between white Christian missions and the African slave trade. From civil wars, to  discrimination through apartheid in places like South Africa, the authors offer an expansive view of Christian evangelization and conflict on the African continent.

Chapter four begins with an examination of the Eastern Orthodox tradition in both its earlier Byzantine and later Greek and Russian milieus. It then considers the challenges that Eastern European Christians faced under Communist rule in the twentieth century. This chapter progresses to an almost dizzying overview of Roman Catholicism, the Protestant Reformation, the Enlightenment, European efforts toward Christian ecumenism in pluralistic Christian environments, and Christian social missions. It concludes with a thoughtful consideration of Christianity in the modern West, asking questions about secularization, and presenting statistics that show a general decline of Christian populations in Europe. The authors suggest that, although the Christendom of the West may be in decline, world Christian populations are maintaining tradition elsewhere.

Chapters five and six examine Christianity in Latin American, the Caribbean, and North American geographical spaces. Chapter five first offers an overview of Roman Catholic missions to the Americas, and of the resulting conversions of indigenous populations there. As in their chapter about Africa, the authors are especially focused here on the controversial ties between colonial missions, and the exploitation of the populations who were subject to them. The resulting political uprisings, with lingering strains through the present day, are thought of in terms of movements like that of liberation theology.

In the North American context, themes of colonialism and democracy continue, with the addition of an analysis of religious revivalism, social gospel practices, and the political implications of Christian practice in the United States. While Canada is briefly considered here, the reviewer was a bit disappointed to find that the authors largely dismissed this part of North America, generalizing that Canadians are, “on the whole less religious than their counterparts” in the US (244).

The final geographical chapter concludes with a study of Christianity in Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific islands. In another pattern of colonialism and conflict, the aboriginal and indigenous populations of these areas are shown to have been at odds with Christian missionaries. However, as they worked to preserve their cultural and religious identities, the authors show how unique religious syncretisms formed. In the contemporary era, the World War II Pacific theater, environmental concerns, and religious revival movements are all shown to have further contributed to the “indigenization” of Christianity in Oceania (266). This volume concludes with a summary of diversity and plurality in modern Christian practice.

This text would serve well in a course about world Christian traditions, though is perhaps best for students with some previous knowledge of that tradition. While it is undoubtedly comprehensive in scope in its evaluation of Christianity as a world religion, it offers very little about the early Christian movement’s origins/foundations. Its bibliography is extensive, and each chapter offers thoughtful study questions for consideration/discussion. As a textbook, it would benefit greatly from the addition of a glossary, for students who may not be familiar with some of the concepts that the authors present in their survey.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Emily Bailey is assistant professor of Christian traditions and religions of the Americas at Towson University.

Date of Review: 
May 8, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Sebastian Kim is Professor of Theology and Public Life at York St John University, UK.

Kirsteen Kim is Professor of Theology and World Christianity at Leeds Trinity University, UK.

Keywords: 

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