by David Sitton
Over two thousand animistic tribal people groups have not been reached for Christ, and many of those who have been reached are saturated with syncretism.
Grace and Truth Books, 3406 Summit Boulevard, Sand Springs, OK 70463, 2005. 205 pages, $11.50.
—Reviewed by M. David Sills, associate professor of missions and cultural anthropology, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky.
Over two thousand animistic tribal people groups have not been reached for Christ, and many of those who have been reached are saturated with syncretism. The primary reason for this sad state of affairs is that those of us who would reach and teach them do not adequately understand them. David Sitton has provided the Christian missionary force a valuable resource to teach us about these peoples. In the book’s foreword, Ralph Winter reminds us that the information Sitton provides is necessary for ministry in not only the tribal world but among virtually all cultures. He writes, “much of the rest of the world also retains a good measure of the underlying ‘animism’ which this book so marvelously explains, whether we’re talking about Cubans in Miami who cling to ‘Santería’ or New Agers and Postmoderns.”
Sitton introduces the reader to tribal peoples by providing a clear summary of their standing in global statistics. He also provides intercultural ministry help by defining animism and highlighting key differences between animistic peoples and many Western cultures. Sitton’s book serves as a primer on animism by explaining how many tribal cultures view the living, the dead (and the living dead!) and how they fear or manipulate powers and spirits. Since amulets, idols, and fetishes are so prevalent within traditional witchcraft, sorcery and magic, Sitton provides a helpful summary of these ubiquitous components of animism. He also includes an important section on syncretism and how to avoid it, concluding with a powerful section on spiritual warfare in animistic contexts.
Sitton adds a concise glossary to his work that will be of great benefit to those just beginning to learn about animism and tribal peoples. Following the bibliography is a series of nine appendices contributed by experienced missionaries who have ministered among animistic tribal peoples.
Sitton has provided a welcome and valuable resource for those of us who teach cultural anthropology, intercultural studies and missions. The only disappointment was the absence of an index—and perhaps that the book ended much too soon. Much remains to be said about orality among these peoples and our need to change traditional methods to be effective communicators among them. With so many animists to reach and teach, it is my hope that Sitton will provide missionaries with even more help in the future.
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