From Every Tribe and Nation: A Historian’s Discovery of the Global Christian Story
by Mark Noll
Baker Academic. 2014.
—Reviewed by Paul Borthwick, senior consultant, Development Associates
International; professor, Global Christianity, Gordon College.
We owe as much to Joel Carpenter and Robert Hosack as we do to Mark Noll for this descriptive pilgrimage of how a premier expert in Christian history, especially focused on Christianity in the United States, discovered the realities of Global Christianity.
Noll clearly gives credit to Carpenter and Hosack, coordinators of the Baker “Turning South: Christian Scholars in an Age of Global Christianity” series, for convincing him to write (and compile, as some of the material has appeared elsewhere) this summary of his journey. His pilgrimage is rich, readable, and easy to follow.
For those of us who seek to increase the awareness of the North American Church to the realities of our Global Christian family, From Every Tribe and Nation serves as both a description of one scholar’s journey and as a case study in how people become globally interested. Pastors and parents, biographers and missionaries, faculty and statisticians will all be encouraged to read how contributions from their ilk helped shape this brilliant mind.
Unlike many of Noll’s previous books, this one is more autobiographical. He takes us from his upbringing in a “missions-minded” Baptist church to the mindset that led to the book first released in 2009, The New Shape of Global Christianity (IVP Academic, 2013). By describing “friendships, schooling, students, local incidents, personal guides, and apparently haphazard connections” (p.194), Noll explains how he came to the realization that Majority World Christianity is an essential subject for the student of Global Christianity.
Readers will see names of familiar influencers—Andrew Walls, Dana Robert, Philip Jenkins, David Barrett, and Todd Johnson—but the list of Majority World authors (like Lamin Sanneh and Jehu Hanciles) is disappointingly brief. Stories and summaries (like the paraphrased “I’ve Been Everywhere” Johnny Cash song [pp. 116-117] in which he lists countries he has visited) illustrate that Noll’s travels and firsthand cross-cultural experiences are extensive, but the descriptions of the impact of these travels could have enhanced the book.
Like missionary historian Andrew Walls (one of the primary influencers in Noll’s pilgrimage towards Global Christianity), Noll is generous in his respect for Christian diversity, and the uniqueness of the multicultural family of God. He freely marvels at the spread of Christianity globally, especially in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but he is not naïve about the global challenges.
Instead, he encourages “sympathetic assessment” of the realities and challenges ahead. He observes that “the ever-expanding numbers who are turning to Christ in the Global South constitute the great marvel of recent history, but also pose real problems of continuity, discipline, endurance, impact, relationships and maturity” (p. 187).
Challenges notwithstanding, From Every Tribe and Nation serves as a wonderful reminder that we’re headed toward that great day when people from every tribe, language, people, and nation will join together in worshipping the Lord Jesus (Rev. 5:9; 7:9).
EMQ, Vol. 51, No. 4 pp. 457-458. Copyright © 2015 Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ editors.