A History of the Church in Africa

Article excerpt

A History of the Church in Africa. By Bengt Sundkler and Christopher Steed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000. xix + 1,232 pp. $ 140.00 (cloth).

The late Bishop Bengt Sundkler (1909-1995) chalked up a number of firsts in his long career as a missionary and field researcher and scholar of African religion. He was the first Lutheran bishop of Bukoba in Tanzania, the first scholar to take seriously the phenomenon of the independent or African-- initiated churches in Southern Africa (primarily South Africa), and the first, with his 1948 Bantu Prophets in South Africa (Cape Town: Oxford University Press), to publish a scholarly work on the subject.

Even after death he has managed another first. This work, A History of the Church in Africa, ably completed by his research assistant, later coauthor, David Steed, presents the first comprehensive (almost encyclopedic one might add) overview of African church history, from its inception to the present, from North to South, from East to West. Orthodox, Ethiopian, Coptic, Independent, missionary societies, including Roman Catholic Portuguese missions of the fifteenth century to the nineteenth-century Protestant missionary movement-are all here. Many are unaware of the rapid growth of the church in Africa this past century. Today, of a total population of 770 million, about half are Christian (and about half that number are Roman Catholic). Even more remarkable is the speed with which this number has been achieved. In 1900 the total number of Christians in Africa was but 4 million (half of which were Egyptian Copt or Ethiopian Orthodox), increasing to 75 million by 1965, and doubling by 1980 and again by the end of the second millennium. …