by Jehu J. Hanciles
Jehu Hanciles provides a provocative alternative interpretation of the ongoing development of faith in today’s world.
Orbis Books, P.O. Box 308, Maryknoll, N.Y. 15045, 2009, 448 pages, $35.00.
—Reviewed by Marcus W. Dean, associate professor of intercultural studies, Houghton College, Houghton, New York.
Jehu Hanciles provides a provocative alternative interpretation of the ongoing development of faith in today’s world. From the base of his African perspective, Hanciles uses biblical, historical, missiological, and sociological insights to present careful scholarly research on Christian immigration to the West. Beyond Christendom consists of three main parts. In Part I Hanciles explores globalization and counters the idea that a single global culture based upon “western cultural models and values” (p. 47) is developing. He argues that secularization is solely a Western phenomenon and that “non-Western sensibilities and priorities differ strikingly from Western preferences in critical respects” (p. 82).
Chapter 4 is essential for understanding the title of Beyond Christendom. In this chapter, Hanciles contends that Christendom emerged in Europe as a national religious phenomenon and in turn influenced the missionary endeavors of Europe and the U.S. However, he holds that the spread of the Christian faith has actually led to the demise of Christendom.
Part II focuses on “the crucial role of international migrations in reshaping the contemporary world order” (p.3). For Hanciles, immigration has played and will continue to play a major role in the formation of today’s world. Today’s immigrants from the Majority World maintain both their culture and their faith, and stay tied to their homeland (made possible by globalization). Because of these factors, past models of assimilation do not fit what is happening today. Hanciles is expecting that today’s Majority World immigrants will not melt into the West and will have a significant impact on Western society, particularly in regards to faith.
Part III specifically looks at the interaction of faith and migration. For Majority World immigrants (Muslim immigrants included), their faith becomes a significant part of their identity in the West. While their personal faith and congregations may be molded by the secular West, this can in fact strengthen faith both for the immigrants and the society into which they have immigrated. Hanciles’ conclusion is that “immigrant congregations potentially have a missionary function” (p. 278). He supports this position both analytically and through case studies of African immigrant churches, predominantly in the U.S. Ultimately, Hanciles sees a reshaping of global Christianity away from the Christendom model, based upon Western supremacy, to something yet to be determined but influenced by the Majority World.
I think the key word for Hanciles’ premise is “potentially.” Of the African immigrant church movement (which is the focus of his research) he states that the “long-term impact is left to be seen” (p. 373). Only time will tell whether the Majority World Christian migrants into the West will stay separate, assimilate with the culture and lose their fervor, or have a lasting impact on the West. My prayer is for the latter.
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