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The Rise of the Global South: The Decline of Western Christendom and the Rise of Majority World Christianity

by Elijah J. F. Kim

Wipf & Stock, 199 W. 8th Ave., Suite 3, Eugene, OR 97401, 524 pages, 2012, $58.00.

Reviewed by Diane Stinton, dean of students and associate professor of Missions, Regent College; associate professor of Theology, Africa International University (NEGST), Kenya.

Not every book on global Christianity emerges from a clear sense of God’s voice instructing one to research and write. In this case, Elijah Kim, a Korean missionary pastor, heard the call while serving in the slums of the Philippines (p. xvii). From here, he travelled to the United States and England to study Christianity, particularly the current shift in the center of world Christianity from the West to the non-West, also referred to as the Global South or the Majority World. What marks Kim’s contribution to the growing subject is the spiritual passion and the perspective he brings as an Asian missionary practitioner and scholar.

The purpose of this book is to analyze the dynamics of this historical transition in global Christianity. In so doing, Kim highlights a key problem: despite the demographic changes in Christianity worldwide, “Churches in non-Western regions still follow Western forms of worship, theology, and mission practices” (p. xxiii). In view of this incongruence, Kim seeks to examine the decline of Christianity in the West and the rise of Christianity in the Global South so as to foster further unity and shared responsibility among all Christians in world evangelization.

Proportionately, the book focuses more on the decline of Western Christendom than the rise of Majority World Christianity. The first chapter surveys the global changes in twenty-first century Christianity, drawing significantly upon statistical data from Todd Johnson and Kenneth Ross’ Atlas of Global Christianity 1910-2010 (2009). It also sets forth Kim’s basic premise that “Pentecostalism is the dominant force in global Christianity today” (p. 1).

Chapters 2 through 7 examine Western Christianity in terms of the historical and theological dynamics of revival and decline. From the birth of the early Church in Jerusalem at Pentecost to the twentieth-century explosion of global Pentecostalism, Kim traces key developments in the history of revival movements. Conversely, he examines the waning of Christianity in the West, particularly in relation to secularization, drawing comparisons between Europe and the United States.

The final chapter outlines global trends in Christianity today: for example, globalization, urbanization, migration, and the significance of Pentecostal and Charismatic churches. Kim also introduces developments in Global South Christianity such as contextualization and inculturation, plus postcolonialism and socio-political changes. Finally, he concludes with reflections on diversity in unity, insisting that “mainline, evangelical, Pentecostal and Charismatic churches should endeavor together for the Great Commission” (pp. 424-425).

There is much to commend in Kim’s extensive analysis of global Christianity, with the fresh insights he offers throughout the work. While he generally succeeds in the challenge of articulating historical developments and global trends in Christianity, he sometimes falls prey to questionable generalizations. For example, in describing Christianity in medieval Europe, he asserts that the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church “were not known for spiritual experiences, except for a few cases in monasteries and occasional ascetic movements” (p. 3). Finally, it is crucial for scholars from the Global South, like Kim, to offer their perspectives on issues in world Christianity. However, in view of the ongoing hegemony of English in global discussions, it is incumbent upon publishers in the West to lend adequate editorial assistance to scholars from the Majority World to ensure clarity and credibility. Nonetheless, Kim’s work will undoubtedly inform and inspire all those who share his passion for world evangelization.

Check these titles:
Jacobsen, Douglas. 2011. The World’s Christians: Who They Are, Where They Are, and How They Got There. Chichester, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell.

Kim, Sebastian, and Kirsteen Kim. 2008. Christianity as a World Religion. London: Continuum.

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EMQ, Vol. 49, No. 1, pp. 123-125. Copyright  © 2013 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS).  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.

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