by Samuel Hugh Moffett
In this second volume of a proposed three volume set on Christianity in Asia, Samuel Moffett, professor emeritus of ecumenics and mission at Princeton Theological Seminary, again succeeds in providing a landmark history of Christianity on the continent of Christianity’s birth.
Orbis Books, P.O. Box 302, Maryknoll, New York 10545-0302, 2005, 742 pages, $65.00.
—Reviewed by Richard R. Cook, associate professor of mission history and global Christianity, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois.
In this second volume of a proposed three volume set on Christianity in Asia, Samuel Moffett, professor emeritus of ecumenics and mission at Princeton Theological Seminary, again succeeds in providing a landmark history of Christianity on the continent of Christianity’s birth. Academically sound, with over sixty-five pages of bibliography and many more of footnotes, the volume is a tremendous resource for mission practitioners.
The volume is divided into three parts. Part I covers the return of missionaries to Asia from 1500-1800 and includes chapters, for instance, on India and Mar Thoma Christians, the Buddhist Kingdoms of the South, the Muslim Kingdoms in Southeast Asia, the “Christian Century” in Japan and “Missionaries and Mandarins” in China. Part II is short (about thirty pages) and overlaps chronologically with the first part, focusing on Protestant missions in Asia. The longest segment, Part III, entitled “The Great Century (1784-1860),” is subdivided into two sections. Section one highlights the competition between Catholic and Protestant missions, while section two discusses the maturation of the missions movement and examines the growth of the local churches in Asia. This final section includes individual chapters on India, China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Burma and Ceylon, Siam/Malaysia/Vietnam and Indonesia.
Having a single author, the research and writing are of consistently high standard, and the book is enjoyable and easy to read. At the same time, the text contains a depth and breadth of material that rivals an encyclopedia. The book will serve those in the Church and missions for years to come. Important topics and place names can readily be found in the table of contents and the index. Further, Moffett generally achieves a careful and truthful balance between the good and bad of missions and Christianity in Asia.
An example, the “rites controversy” in China, can demonstrate the usefulness of the volume. References to the controversy can be found in the table of contents and the index. The section on “rites” contains more than a few helpful features. First, there are suitable—even if sometimes overly simplistic—explanations of technical terms. Second, there are regular references pointing to other sections of the book that provide greater detail on a certain point. Third, extensive footnotes explain some of the more difficult material and suggest further readings in other books. In one particularly helpful footnote, Moffett hopes to help the modern Western reader more fully appreciate “the pivotal place of ‘rites ceremonies’ in traditional Chinese culture,” and so refers readers to a work edited by China historian Jonathan Spence (p.138, note 94). Fourth, there are numerous sub-outlines in the text, such as a helpful chronological outline of three distinct time periods of the rites controversy. These outlines can be helpful for teaching. Finally, the section is written in clear and delightful prose. The text contains both a convincing general narrative, as well as countless gems of specific detail.
While certain assertions in the book will be disputed, and additional scholarly research in the original Asian languages will continue to produce new interpretations, mission practitioners with interest in Asia should reap exceptional benefit from this second volume. In his preface, Moffett mentions the forthcoming final volume, Volume III, and considers his own life journey, concluding, “God is good, and before the journey ends there still may be time for a look at the critical hundred years of the twentieth century. There is always hope.” Yes, we can hope.
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