An Unpredictable Gospel: American Evangelicals and World Christianity, 1812-1920

By Jay Riley Case | Go to book overview
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An Appalachian Revivalist in Queen
Victoria’s Colonies

The missionary engagement with Karen Christianity produced particular kinds of paradoxes of power, culture, and influence. Missionaries saw their evangelistic goals, if not their educational goals, coming to fruition more fully when Karen evangelists operated without their direct supervision. These poorly educated but democratized evangelists translated Christianity into Karen culture while simultaneously undermining missionary conceptions of civilization. By bringing their missionary influence to Burma, Baptists found themselves influenced by Karen Christianity, as they developed a native-ministry ideology that guided their vision to establish black colleges in the American south.

Missionary paradoxes appeared again in other regions of the world where American evangelical missionaries operated, but the specific issues and situations changed. In South Africa in 1866, a revival that started among Mfengu and Xhosa Christians played a key role in reconfiguring the religious landscape of South Africa. A new movement of world Christianity gained vitality, bringing changes to Xhosa religion while reinforcing aspects of its traditional religious culture. Thanks to the evangelistic cooperation between an Mfengu named Charles Pamla and a visiting evangelist from the United States named William Taylor, the revival convinced British missionaries that they should ordain black Africans as ministers, temporarily challenging the conceptions of race and civilization emerging in the colony. This ordination of black Africans laid the foundation for independent black Christian movements such as Ethiopianism that emerged at the end of the century when white Christians in South Africa further restricted black leadership opportunities.

The revival of 1866 also affected American evangelicalism. It redirected William Taylor from itinerant evangelism into the missionary movement, where Taylor would emerge as the most popular American Methodist missionary of the late nineteenth century. Although the South African revival held implications for conceptions of race and civilization, it did not lead Taylor to articulate a new racial ideology, as Karen Christianity did within the Baptist program in Burma.


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An Unpredictable Gospel: American Evangelicals and World Christianity, 1812-1920


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