World Christianity

A Historical and Theological Introduction

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Lalsangkima Pachuau
  • Nashville, TN: 
    Abingdon Press
    , June
     2018.
     266 pages.
     $34.99.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781426753183.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

The Euro-centric textbooks that I have used to teach world Christian history courses have increasingly left my seminary students frustrated and feeling disenfranchised. One student in particular stated that the course readings did not reflect their story of Christianity. This has led me in search of a suitable text that is inclusive of the histories of Africa, Asia, and Latin America yet demonstrates continuity with and challenges to Christian history written primarily of and for the West. In writing World Christianity: A Historical and Theological Introduction, Lalsangkima Pachuau shares similar concerns with my students as he writes, “by showing what the majority-world Christians bring to the table of world Christianity in relation to the nature of older Christianity, we intend to offer a more balanced and holistic picture of world Christianity” (19). Pachuau’s success lies in his keen ability to bring to light the historical and theological tensions of non-Western Christianity contrasted with those of the West while writing an introductory, resource-rich textbook on world Christianity.

Pachuau’s work serves as a primer for the student of world Christianity. The first chapter includes an overview of the leading thinkers in world Christianity as the field emerged in the mid to late 20th century. Pachuau reviews key authors and their publications starting with Andres J. Walls and Walbert Bulhmann as pioneers that characterized the global nature of the early movement. Pachuau not only names names and their contributions to the field but also summarizes each scholar’s contribution, offering an extensive review for some such as Lamin Sanneh, and the works of Philip Jenkins for which Pachuau offers a more critical review. More recent authors make the cut as well, including Douglas Jacobsen, Kirsteen Kim and Sebastian Kim, Timothy Tennent, and British scholars, Noel Davis and Martin Conway. This is an excellent literature review for the student of world Christian history studies. 

Throughout the work, Pachuau explains key terms as they arise, first expounding upon a definition and then outlining the development of the concept within a given historical framework. For example, he explains the rationale of word choice for “majority world” over former phrases such as “developing nation” and “Third World” and points out the potential pejorative language that can be found in less globally focused history textbooks. Other explanations are equally valuable to the reader, including a nuanced understanding of the terms global South, globalization, contextualization, catholicity, inculturation vs. enculturation, and world vs. global Christianity. Such explanations are beneficial, grounding a student confidently in the field of study.

After establishing the historical landscape for the emergence of non-Western forms of Christianity, Pachuau includes a two-chapter series on contextualization in majority-world Christianity and successfully presents it via a concise but thorough overview of the subject. For Pachuau, an introductory work on world Christianity from a majority-world perspective rests on an understanding of these fundamental non-Western theologies. He writes, “Christianity does not become worldwide by static enforcement of the teaching, but by the incarnational dynamism of the gospel it teaches. . . . Christianity does not become worldwide in a ‘colourless uniformity,’ but in a manifold and diverse theology that corresponds to different contexts” (92).  

Consistent in his introductory approach, Pachuau describes the historical development of the use of the terms contextualization and contextual theology. These concepts serve to further advance a contemporary understanding of the integration of the gospel in local culture more so than the former terms, indigenization and inculturation, thereby rooting the theology in a more holistic missiological framework. Pachuau goes on to note the theological challenges and tensions within the evangelical tradition and a historical reluctance to embrace contextual theology and liberation theologies in particular. The reviewer’s opinion is that this section would aid students from a Western evangelical tradition to more fully understand the contextual considerations that opened the door to a liberative emphasis of the gospel message in majority-world Christianity. 

The former chapter sets up the reader for part 2 on contextualization, “Contextual Theologies of the Majority World.” Borrowing the term from David Bosch, Pachuau identifies the “macro-contextual theologies” of cultural, religious, and socioeconomic issues pertinent to the regions of Africa, Asia, and Latin American. The predominant contextual realities of poverty and inequality in Latin America, religious pluralism in Asia, and inculturation in Africa largely characterizes and drives the dynamic response of majority-world Christianity in contrast to the static nature of Western Christianity. Pachuau concludes, “Driven by both social and political experiences, these theologies came to challenge a dominant Western theology. They called into question traditional theological methods funding older forms of Christianity that ignored the subjectivity and context of theologians attempting to articulate doctrinal and theological themes” (179). In other words, to understand the predominant contextual distinctives of each continent is to understand the character and nature of an inclusive world Christianity.  

Pachuau’s accessible style and primer approach to introducing readers to the fundamentals makes World Christianity an easy choice for a text in an undergraduate or seminary course. It is an excellent resource for the student of world Christian history studies. Not only would students be edified by Pachuau’s work, but those charged with preparing to teach a course on the history of world Christianity would as well. 

About the Reviewer(s): 

Jayne L. Wilcox is an instructor at Missio Seminary.
 

Date of Review: 
September 22, 2021
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Lalsangkima Pachuau is the John Wesley Beeson Professor of Christian Mission and Dean of Advanced Research Programs at Asbury Seminary. He taught at the United Theological College Bangalore, India and was the editor of Mission Studies: Journal of the International Association for Mission Studies (2004-2012). Ordained by the Presbyterian Church of India, Pachuau is a member of Transylvania Presbytery of the PCUSA.

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