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Review of Jehu J. Hanciles, ed., World Christianity: History, Methodologies, Horizons

Author: Christopher L. Flanders
Published: Winter-Spring 2022

MD 13

Article Type: Book Review

Jehu J. Hanciles, ed. World Christianity: History, Methodologies, Horizons. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2021. Paperback. 240 pp. $45.00.

I begin this review by stating what I most wish to convey to readers, missionaries, teachers of mission and world Christianity, and intercultural trainers: this book is required reading. You must purchase it, and you must read it.

Editor Jehu Hanciles is the D. W. Ruth Brooks Professor of World Christianity and the director of the World Christianity Program in the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. He has lived and worked in such diverse contexts as Sierra Leone, Scotland, Zimbabwe, and southern California (formerly teaching at Fuller Theological Seminary). He is well-known in mission studies circles, having published significant works in the areas of the global expansion of Christianity and mission, Christianity and globalization, and the history of mission. He is a highly qualified editor for this volume, which arises from presentations given at a 2019 consultation of international scholars on the topic of world Christianity.

The list of chapter contributors reads like a Who’s Who of world Christianity studies. Included are such notable figures as Carlos Cardoza-Orlandi, Dana Robert, Emma Wild-Wood, Kwok Pui-lan, Paul Kollman, Kirsteen Kim, Raimundo César Barreto Jr., Dyron Daughrity, Gemma Tulud Cruz, and several others.

The book as a whole provides a critical engagement with the study of world Christianity. The authors challenge readers from varying perspectives to connect historical developments to important debates as well as theoretical and disciplinary issues. Throughout, the authors acknowledge the generation of seminal world Christianity scholars like Dale Irvin, Lamin Sanneh, and Andrew Walls, who paved the way for this fruitful conversation. These chapters, however, build in creative and energetic ways on those foundational ideas to advance the discipline of world Christianity as it challenges Western-centric approaches still prominent in academic contexts. World Christianity as a discipline “correctly depicts the great multiplicity of strands, traditions, and expressions that characterize the faith globally” while also rejecting “claims of universality or normativity for Western Christianity” (xi).

Particularly helpful were the introductory chapter and personal narrative by Dana Robert, and Kirsteen Kim’s critical discussion of “World Christianity Curricula” and ways to understand this in academic contexts (ch. 3). Thought-provoking are the chapters in the final section of the book (Section III: Expanding Horizons) that deal with issues of world Christianity from different contexts. Here scholars deal with Asian, Latin American, Chinese, and Middle eastern Christianities and discuss at length how discourses and curricula dealing with world Christianity might profitably engage these differing contexts.

Similarly stimulating was Chapter 5—“World Christianity and the Challenge of Interdisciplinarity,” in which authors Kwok Pui-lan and Gina A. Zurlo discuss the sociology of religion, gender studies (both feminism and masculinity studies), migration studies (especially important is Peter Phan’s claim that the church is an “institutional migrant” [91] that cannot be understood without attention to migration and immigration). Disappointingly missing, however, is a discussion of the contributions of anthropology and the anthropology of Christianity.

This important work alerts the world that the discipline of “World Christianity” has fully arrived. Furthermore, Hanciles and contributors make claims for disciplinary space, boundaries, and foci that should inform every student of Christianity in the twenty-first century. As I noted at the beginning, this book is a must for all of us invested in the world Christian movement and the global church.

Christopher L. Flanders

Professor of Missions

Graduate School of Theology

Abilene Christian University

Abilene, TX, USA

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