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Book Review: Encyclopedia of Christianity in the Global South

Timothy T. N. Lim —

EDITED BY MARK A. LAMPORT. TWO VOLUMES. LANHAM, MD: ROWMAN & LITTLEFIELD, 2018. xlii +1073 PP. ISBN 9781442271579. $319 (Hardcover)

In the recent decade, “World Christianity” has emerged as an inquiry in theological research, advancing from the original sponsoring subfield in missiological research. The book under review provides a one-stop resource on Christianity in the Global South.

The project enlists an impressive list of 248 entry-contributors from both the Global North and the Global South in collaboration with five partnering organizations based in the Global North (North America and the United Kingdom) to produce the manuscript. The project was overseen by a twenty two-member editorial advisory board, supported by an eight-member editorial consulting team, and had five evaluative writers who wrote “Regional Prologues.” These are on top of an introduction by Philip Jenkins, one foreword and six afterwords by internationally-acclaimed dignities, such as Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and others. Entry-contributors include established scholars (too many to name), younger scholars, such as European postdoctoral fellow, Naures Atto, and Chinese/Hong Kong museum archivist Andrea Jian Chen, and ecclesiastical dignities, Michael Nazir-Ali, former 106th Anglican bishop of Rochester and Pakistani-born British (and since 2022, a Prelate of Honour of His Holiness the Pope after being received into the Catholic Church as a deacon and priest in 2021). The five partnering organizations implicitly stamp a credibility to the project with their track record – Association of Religion Date Archives (Pennsylvania State University), Center for the Study of Global Christianity (Gordon Conwell Seminary), International Bulletin of Mission Research, Overseas Mission Study Center, and Oxford Centre for Mission Studies.

The book contains a “Timeline of Christianity in the Global South” (24 pages appended in vol. 2), sixteen regional introductory chapters (60 pages in vol. 2), “Bibliography of Christianity in the Global South” (14 pages organized by themes and geographical areas), besides entries listed alphabetically in volume 1, A to L (in 472 pages), and volume 2, M to Z (in 411 pages) and other appendices and indices. The sixteen chapters sum up regional experiences with Christianity. The regions, Africa, East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Latin America, Middle East, Oceania, and the Caribbean, are presented in that order. Each regional coverage has two chapters: in history, and in its contemporary encounter.

Five types of entries are found in this collection of wide-ranging entries. Sixteen descriptive essays, most easily identified as chapters on the regions, introduce historical and contemporary development. Forty-eight core entries not only define the field and explain historical background, but these also provide what Lamport calls, “the groundwork for ‘breakout’ entries.” Eighty-eight interpretive entries examine key issues, events, concepts and ideas. Ninety-five breakout entries delve into greater detail aspects raised in select core entries. One hundred and sixty-four identified countries, territories and lands are reviewed. Without an appended index explaining and listing the conceptual (organizational) structure, readers would not be able to distinguish between the second and the fourth types of submission in the current alphabetically listed entries. I recommend readers begin here (Appendix A), rather than the “Index of Entries.”

I did find overlaps in entries that could have been organized more helpfully for an uninformed readership. For instance, four essays on shared a lot in common, and though identified nuances are significant, readers who are unfamiliar with the development of thought would struggle to connect the dots, the intersections and interrelations to the mentioned themes together. “Contextualization” investigates conceptual development from Shoki Coe to Stephen Bevans, giving readers a foray of movement from western to indigenous resourcing and the rationale for such an important shift from 1970s to the present. The “evolution of Christian beliefs in the indigenized world” reflects about the shift from depending on western narrative to indigenous expressions and non-binary reformulations without concrete examples. The “evolution of indigenous Christian beliefs in Asia” gives cursory mention of thinkers such as C.S. Song, Munjung theology, Mask Dance, Eka Dharmaputera, Vengal Chakkarai, Stanley Samartha, M. M. Thomas. The “evolution of Christian beliefs in Asia” likewise track the shift from western missiological resourcing to local resourcing in light of socio-political and ecclesiastical shifts from the nineteenth to the twenty-first century especially in China, and passing mention of North Korea, Indonesia, and Vietnam among other Southeast Asian countries identified.

Significant non-mention in pertinent chapters is also evident. Though the “evolution of Christian beliefs in Oceania” has given a broad review of the contributions and development in Melanesian and Pacific Island theologies (considered in relations to various denominational heritages), pertinent themes such as biculturalism, Māori theology, and Aborigines among other struggles for indigenous thought, including Asian-migrant forms of Christian expressions, are left out in that essay as well as the article on “indigenous churches/peoples in Oceania.” The “prologue perspective on Oceania” did mention briefly Māori and nineteenth century Anglican Samuel Marsden, contrasted with Aborigines in Australia; however, nothing was said about biculturalism or any governmental and Christian rectification.

The chapters on history and contemporary Oceania did contain some Pākehā-Māori interface but there is a paucity on any development of indigenous struggle among Māori Christians, and other-ethnic-migrant Christian experience in New Zealand. That said, the missionary influence, the post-war impact, and the Pentecostal/Charismatic unpleasant interface with conservative evangelicals and mainline Protestants, and trends in secularism, are noted. A separate one-page of Aboriginal Christianity marks the first alphabetical entry to volume one as did two paragraphs on Māori struggle via the prophets Ta Kooti and Wiremu Ratana for the Māori tikanga in “patterns of indigenous Christianity.”

Besides very informative and thickly condensed country reviews (read as overviews), some chapters discuss substantively development and contents. The entry on “acculturation” for instance reviews not just the types (assimilation, separation, marginalization, and integration), it analyzes factors and assessments of effective acculturation from a range of resources and instruments for measuring progress, such as language, socio-economic interests, host cultural factors, cultural intelligence, and other social scientific criteria, thus giving unacquainted readers a good sense of the crux of debates and praxis on acculturation.

The data correlates with two other entries: “process of indigenization” covering plantatio ecclesiae theory, establishment of Christianity among natives in the light of the Global, North-South relationship. and “patterns of indigenous Christianity,” which shed light on multiple agents of conversion, contesting conception of truly, indigenous Christianity (from the ancient Mediterranean faith) and other forms of indigeneity, such as enculturation (that attends to diversity), prophetic movement (read, political instrumentality in Latin America, West Africa, New Zealand, and Nigeria). Other standard cognate terms related to inculturation and indigenization (cf. Robert Schreiter and Stephen Bevans) appear to have been coopted into entries in Lamport’s volume. Other entries that show variations in the geographical regions include art, architecture, Catholic Lay movements, cell church, Christian education, Christian higher education, ecclesiology, indigenous churches, leadership, missions, politics and Christianity, theological education, women, and youth. These add richness that more than one would normally anticipate in a book on Christianity in the non-western Majority World.

As an Asian Christian theologian and practitioner who is sensitive to complexity and nuances of inter-religiousness, I am delighted that cognate entries related to interreligious engagement – such as with Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, Hinduism, Islam, interfaith relations, Muslim-Christian relations in the five geographical regions, Shamanism, spiritism, Trans-occidentalism, and Zoroastrianism, including debatable tensions of demonology, power encounters in mission, religious conflict and resolution in respective regions (Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Middle East), religious violence, sacred spaces, syncretism and hybridity, and witchcraft – all provide contextual framing to conventional interreligious dialogue, relations, and theology of religions preview insofar as concerns contexts of mission and ministry. Readers will walk about sufficiently introduced on interreligious considerations.

I am surprised to find substantive range of entries related to colonialism (as expressed through Catholic, Protestant, and Evangelical mission in their various forms and expressions covering the recent centuries, including anticolonial reactions received), de/coloniality (logic /rhetoric, especially as coined and developed by Peruvian sociologist Anibal Quijano and Latin American engagement against European modernity/enlightenment), colonial intrusion and its reconciliation (especially Catholic Papal Office’s request for forgiveness from indigenous communities for employing violent and intolerant evangelistic approaches in Christian past), colonial church (Hong Kong), colored-Christianity (rooted in ethnicities in certain reading of Acts 2, 8, 10, 11, and 13) – totaling six pages. Normally, on Christianity in the Global South, one would expect a more sustained treatment of postcolonialism. Yet, the only focused postcolonial review in the collection is directed on theological discourse in Africa (1.75 pages) and broadly speaking theology and mission in Asia/Hong Kong (1.15 pages). To be sure, this does not include brief mention of postcolonialism in country reviews and other entries, such as “Theology in Context, Historical Development in the Global South.”

No readers would unreasonably expect comprehensive and exhaustive treatment for a two-volume encyclopedic collection of just over a thousand pages. That said, readers will not be disappointed for a first broad and wide-ranging read. Though some entries in country contributions read rather choppily, the quality in most other entries, as well as the breath and wide-ranging of treatment, with sufficient scholarly reference and annotation to start a reading, would make the volume worth the high price for its reference-value. Even Gina Zurlo’s under 400-page, Global Christianity (2022) that summarizes in one-page each country that has Christian roots and movement, listing alphabetically from A to Z cannot be justly compared with the Global South countries treated in Lamport’s encyclopedia here.

Moreover, as a two-volume work, it is simply unsurpassed in the present market for accessibility on World Christianity. In its own way, the work is matched by other sine qua non voluminous contributions, such as Kenneth Ross et al. The Edinburgh Companion to Global Christianity, 10-vols. (six volumes completed of 2022, leaving North America and Europe next) and Mark Lamport’s other series on Global Story of Christianity (still being written since the volume on the Middle East, 2022, and Wider Asia, scheduled 2023). Much has been packed in the collection under review here for resource mining by scholars and practitioners in theology, mission, ministry, educational, interreligious, and social justice engagement though readers wanting more should progress to Ross et al. without regret for their complementarity.

Lamport dedicated the book to his deceased compatriot, US-naturalized Indian encyclopedist and historian George Thomas Kurian, who as an energetic editor had produced twenty-eight encyclopedias, on the Third World, 3-vols. (1978), the First World, 2-vols. (1990), the Second World (1991), co-edited World Christian Encyclopedia, 3 vols. (1998; 2001), and Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization, 4-vols. (2012). Like Kurian, Lamport has a stellar list of other encyclopedic co-editorial publications: on Christian Education, 3-vols. (2015), Christianity in the United States, 5-vols. (2016), Martin Luther and the Reformation, 2-vols. (2017), Hymns and Hymnody, 3-vols. (2019-2020), and Theological Foundations of Worship (2021), and Historical Foundations of Worship (2022). One expects quality to say the least.

Timothy T. N. Lim has been received as a PCANZ minister, and until recently served as one of two interim ministers in St. Columba Presbyterian Church at Botany. He also teaches annually as a visiting lecturer (online) for the London School of Theology, amid a recent experience as an adjunct lecturer (hybrid module) for the Melbourne School of Theology. His other roles are pro-bono with the Northern Presbytery, PCANZ. He would also welcome opportunities for friendship, fellowship, and partnership amid his current multi-focused roles.