Dyron B. Daughrity. To Whom Does Christianity Belong?: Current Issues in World Christianity. Understanding World Christianity. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015. 301 pp. $25.45.
World Christianity has emerged as an important academic discipline. Reflecting the shift in Christianity’s center of gravity from the Western world to the non-Western world, the discipline aims at exploring the global development of Christianity, with a particular focus on non-Western forms of Christianity. Over the last few decades the discipline has developed through the publication of scholarly articles and books, as well as the production of reference works and new academic journals. Dyron B. Daughrity’s To Whom Does Christianity Belong?: Current Issues in World Christianity contributes to the development of the discipline in a unique way. Previous books have attempted to explain the shift of Christianity’s center of gravity to the global South or the contours of today’s Christianity throughout the globe. Daughrity’s book goes beyond those aims: it summarizes the development of the discipline of world Christianity, and it discusses significant overarching themes that are likely to shape the future of world Christianity discourse.
Daughrity, Associate Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University, is well suited to write this book. He has already been a significant participant in the world Christianity discourse, as he has authored, among others, The Changing World of Christianity: The Global History of a Borderless Religion (2010), a useful textbook on the subject, and “Christianity is Moving from North to South: So What About the East?” (2011), a provocative article in one of the leading journals of the discipline. Daughrity has also taken part in the global conversations of Christians through his involvement with the World Council of Churches. With this background, Daughrity serves as the editor of a new series from Fortress Press, Understanding World Christianity, and To Whom Does Christianity Belong? is the introductory volume of the series.
The book has four parts. Part 1, “Introduction,” helps the reader quickly comprehend some of the key issues in the recent development of the world Christianity discourse. The section of chapter 1 titled “‘Global Christianity’ or ‘World Christianity’?” is particularly helpful in this regard. It discusses important and sometimes controversial issues in a well-balanced manner, referring to various perspectives offered by such scholars as Lamin Sanneh and Robert Wuthnow (9–13). The first part also sets the tone of the book by explaining why defining Christianity is a difficult task, in view of Christianity’s historical and geographical/cultural diversity. In order to analyze the complex nature of global Christianity, Daughrity examines in Part 2 certain aspects of Christianity that are theologically and phenomenologically important: the churches and their pastors, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and Pentecostalism, and the afterlife. In Part 3, “The Church and the World,” the author talks about Catholics and Protestants, as well as secularization and migration. Part 4 engages the contemporary situation, discussing global issues relating to marriage and sexuality, women and gender issues, and music. Daughrity skillfully helps readers understand how people throughout the world view these issues differently.
The book has a number of strengths. First, Daughrity’s thematic treatment of world Christianity, including the discussion of contemporary themes, is fresh and perceptive. Many introductory books on world Christianity divide the content geographically. The geographical approach could potentially hinder the analysis of the transnational and transcultural nature of the issues involved in world Christianity today. Daughrity’s approach avoids such pitfalls. Readability is another strength of the book. Arguments are presented clearly and succinctly. Perhaps reflecting his extensive knowledge of church history, his experience with Christians in various parts of the globe, and his familiarity with the mindset of today’s university students, Daughrity frequently utilizes stories and mentions contemporary topics and names, from ISIS to Katy Perry. The book certainly deals with issues of scholarly interest, but the content is presented in ways readers with various backgrounds can follow easily. The book also contains fair amount of Scriptural references, which I consider part of its strength. Non-Christian readers will be able to understand how Christian claims are related to the Bible; Christian readers in the West who have less familiarity with world Christianity can learn how the use of Scriptures has been a key element in the development of Christianity in the non-western world.
Although many key issues in the world Christianity discourse are treated in the book, consideration of the polycentric paradigm is missing. As Lamin Sanneh and others have argued, part of the theoretical framework of the present world Christianity discourse is multiculturalism, which is reflected in the prevalent insistence on the polycentric nature of world Christianity. On the one hand, there has been a contextual need for the polycentric paradigm, as it has effectively put away the Eurocentric paradigm, which Daughrity appropriately characterizes as obsolete (xi). On the other hand, several scholars, such as Namsoon Kang and Charles Farhadian, have raised concerns about the polycentric paradigm, pointing out that it has the potential of fostering disconnectedness or isolationism. In light of today’s growing nationalistic or isolationist tendencies in the world, it would have been better if the book dealt with this issue and provided suggestions for overcoming isolationism and exploring connectedness.
Overall, To Whom Does Christianity Belong? is an excellent introduction to the world Christianity discourse, and it should be a welcome companion for university and seminary classes, as well as congregational Bible studies. Those who have already been engaged with the discipline can also benefit from the book, especially if they seriously consider the questions raised in the book and discover more questions to ponder.
Fuller Theological Seminary
1 Dyron B. Daughrity, The Changing World of Christianity: The Global History of a Borderless Religion (New York: Peter Lang, 2010); Dyron B. Daughrity, “Christianity Is Moving from North to South: So What About the East?” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 35, no. 1 (2011): 18-22.