by Lamin Sanneh
The wide-ranging first chapter develops his thesis in Socratic, dialogical fashion. That thesis is two-fold. First, instead of secularism triumphing in our world, the human religious spirit has boldly emerged in a “worldwide Christian resurgence.”
Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 255 Jefferson Ave. S.E., Grand Rapids, MI 49503, 2003, 138 pages, $9.60.
—Reviewed by William D. Taylor, executive director, World Evangelical Alliance Missions Commission.
This book is both perfume and dynamite, fragrant and powerful. I thank God for Sanneh, a West African convert from Islam to Christianity, for his extraordinary ability to tell the story of theology and missiology in narrative form.
The wide-ranging first chapter develops his thesis in Socratic, dialogical fashion. That thesis is two-fold. First, instead of secularism triumphing in our world, the human religious spirit has boldly emerged in a “worldwide Christian resurgence.” Second, instead of Western Christianity dominating our world, the West is post-Christian and Christianity has triumphed in the non-Western world.
Sanneh speaks of Christianity as a “world religion,” a faith that transcends “ethnic, national and cultural barriers.” He differentiates this from “global Christianity,” which he defines as “the faithful replication of Christian forms and patterns developed in Europe” (22). The ability to transcend cultural-linguistic barriers makes the Christian faith distinct from, say, Islam which requires the Arabic language for its scriptural authority.
A few quotes whet the appetite to read more:
God is alive in history through the specificity of language, culture and custom. (72)
…the West should get over its Christendom guilt complex about Christianity as colonialism by accepting that Christianity has survived its European political habits and is thriving today in its post-Western phase among non-Western populations, sometimes because of, and often in spite of, Western missionaries. (74-75)
…world Christianity offers a laboratory of pluralism and diversity where instead of faith and trust being missing or compromised, they remain intrinsic. You could not recognize world Christianity without the myriad tongues of praise and hope that also echo humanity’s hopes and dreams. (75)
Sanneh’s second chapter develops his long-held thesis concerning the power of Scripture translation as a force to honor culture and language. “Translation is the church’s birthmark as well as its missionary benchmark: the church would be unrecognizable or unsustainable without it” (97).
Sanneh’s points of reference are clearly African and Western. I would welcome the arrival of other like-minded writers from other world regions to speak with equal gravitas.
I recommend this book to every reflective cross-cultural practitioner, as well as to my secular American friends with few positive words to say about Christianity. Sanneh gives us a helpful complement to Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity. It is a privilege to consider myself a fellow-pilgrim with one who can articulate our mission and convictions as Christians in a multi-religious world.
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