Whose Religion Is Christianity? Christianity beyond the West

Article excerpt

Whose Religion Is Christianity? Christianity Beyond the West. By Lamin Sanneh. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003. Pp. xii, 138. Paperback $12.

In his latest book, which is slim but not slight, Lamin Sanneh exploits the genre of a modern Socratic dialogue to publicize and discuss the phenomenon of Christianity as a world religion. He has summarized (or rephrased?) and answered questions from his students and colleagues over the years. The style is intriguing and draws the reader into the conversation between the lecturer and his questioners.

In this different key, Sanneh, professor of missions and world Christianity and prof essor of history at Yale Divinity School, writes with lucid elegance. His use of shrewd, pithy sayings and occasional flights of rhetoric enables readers who have not read his earlier books to pick up the thread of his thinking. He recapitulates the arguments of some of his earlier works, particularly Translating the Message (1989), which is certainly worth doing. The post9/11 generation of students needs to recognize afresh the power of the vernacular when people hear God "speaking their language" in the Scriptures. Reiterated here are Sanneh's thoughts on the untranslatability of the Qur'an, the concept of jihad, and the significance of the "Western guilt complex" of colonialism and the importance of recovering from it, the latter first published in the pages of the IBMR (see 7:165-71; 15:2-12).

Sanneh tries to make a sharp distinction between "world Christianity" and "global Christianity." He approves of the former, which has appeared almost spontaneously in societies with weak states and impoverished populations, whereas the latter has been "orchestrated" by the West and is enmeshed in global structures of power and economics. …