Book Review: Global Evangelicalism (editors Donald M. Lewis & Richard V. Pierard)
Editors: Donald M. Lewis & Richard V. Pierard
Publisher: IVP Academic
Reading Level: Moderate
In North America, evangelicalism is almost synonymous with Christianity. In some parts, evangelicalism is used interchangeably with fundamentalism. Edited by Donal M. Lewis and Richard V. Peirard, Global Evangelicalism: Theology, History and Culture in Regional Perspective, evangelicalism provides a definition, a timeline history, and a world wide scope to evangelicalism. Some of these details and stories are familiar to Western Christians. The stories from other regions of the world present a deeper and wider movement that sheds some light on the trajectory of Christianity.
Through three sections, Global Evangelicalism presents theoretical issues (chapters 1-3), ground level regional studies (chapters 4-8), and cultural issues (chapter 9-10). Written with “college, university, and seminary students” in mind (13), the dry presentation style is on occasion quite tedious. Ogbu Kalu’s chapter on Africa (chapter 5) is a prime example. Though loaded with historical details and exceptional insights the chapter drags on with its dry tone. In contrast, C. Rene Padilla’s chapter on Latin America (chapter 6) is equally insightful without the dry presentation style. Both chapters represent the amazing resource Global Evangelicalism can be for patient and enduring readers. But this type of writing will turn away non-students and the average laymen.
The opening chapters are some of the most helpful in the entire book. The early definitions of Mark Noll are essential (19-25). Of special note are the “four key ingredients” of evangelicalism: conversion, Biblicism, activism, and cross-centeredness (20). What is interesting throughout Global Evangelicalism is how these “ingredients” have different emphasis and impact throughout the globe. In many ways, American fundamentalism, though evangelical, is outside of the norm throughout the world. Similarly to Noll’s definitions, Wilbert R. Shenk provides a wide lens view of the historic development of evangelicalism (chapter 2). Starting with root in German (Lutheran) Pietism, this involved political emphasis on not being “state-churches” (42-43). It is also interesting to track this laymen originated movements as it evolved with Weslyan and Dispensational themes. This presented a whole new version of evangelicalism during the North American revivals which many will be familiar (50-52). Many of these insights to the history of evangelicalism help to explain the success of the prosperity gospel, Pentecostalism, and premillennialism across the globe. Almost all of these movements stem directly from evangelical revivalism and mission work. Many of these themes find their best expression in Scott W. Sunquist’s chapter on Asia (chapter 7). There are insightful reflection on Pentecostalism within evangelicalism (214-217) and the inherently political nature of evangelical individualism and anti-state tendencies (222-223).
Sunquist’s chapter is also the only one to frankly discuss the development of cults out of evangelicalism (225-228). Though John Wolee and Richard Pierard (chapter 4, “North America”) and Kalu (chapter 5, “Africa”) mention the heretical movements that have grown out of the individual existentialism of many evangelical movements, the concept never gets direct attention. Given that Global Evangelicalism has two chapters that deal with cultural issues, ecumenism (chapter 9) and gender (chapter 10), it is a wonder that the syncretic tendencies of evangelicalism goes without a high view synopsis. This is especially true for North American Christians who continue to deal with directly with Mormon and Jehovah Witness missionaries. Similarly, there is no concluding chapter that neatly resolves the many themes of Global Evangelicalism. The chapter by Sarah C. Williams on gender (chapter 10) brings the discussion to a conclusion with a very tightly focused discussion. A chapter of wrap-up or general summary would serve this volume well given the many authors, subjects, and themes presented.
In conclusion, Global Evangelicalism is a fascinating and educational coverage of a very broad subject. Though the sheer amount of information makes this difficult to read straight through, the material is excellent for classrooms and continual resource. Individuals in the evangelical tradition will be well served to grasp the wider context of the movement, its current adventures, and its future. Current discussion about the health and detrimental ramifications of evangelicalism will benefit from this volume as well.
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