Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Felix Wilfred, Ed. the Oxford Handbook of Christianity in Asia

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Felix Wilfred, Ed. the Oxford Handbook of Christianity in Asia

Article excerpt

Felix Wilfred, ed. The Oxford Handbook of Christianity in Asia. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2014, xxi + 657 pp.

The Oxford Handbook of Christianity in Asia is a comprehensive guide to Christianity in all its forms in a very diverse region. It is interdisciplinary in approach, and covers Christianity in its many expressions, from theology and spirituality to social and cultural studies and inter-religious interactions. Felix Wilfred and his five-person editorial board have recruited an additional 30 outstanding scholars to produce a multi-faceted handbook that will be useful for many years to come.

Following a general introduction by the editor, the handbook is divided into five parts, each with its own introduction and five to nine chapters. In his introduction, Wilfred seeks to emphasize the agency of Asian Christians, as well as their complex ties with the West. In the transmission of Christianity to Asia, he writes, "Everywhere operative is the process of appropriation of the Christian faith and institutions according to the genius of the various peoples and societies of the continent." The relationship of Christianity to colonialism is analyzed in many places in this book. Wilfred writes, "Christianity was as much part of the colonial establishment as it was against it. It could germinate and grow with the explicit or tacit support of the colonial powers and bask under their protection; but it could also challenge the same colonial powers on a number of issues and take side with those dominated and exploited by those very forces. The legacy of Christianity in this respect is highly ambiguous and open to debate." From the introduction onward, the authors of this volume stake out contested positions and different approaches, rather than settling for bland summaries. This makes for interesting reading.

Part I sets the stage with individual essays on regional descriptions of Christianity in West, South, Southeast, Central, and East Asia. The authors approach their subjects in different ways, with different emphases and with different degrees of thoroughness. Those dealing with the early period are more historical in nature, while others are thematic, and still others focus largely on the present. The section is useful, but as in all such handbooks, uneven.

Part II goes beyond the geographical regions in its emphasis on "Cross-Cultural Flows and Pan-Asian Movements of Asian Christianity." The chapters on Asian theological trends, cross-textual hermeneutics, and the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements are outstanding. They are comprehensive and can function as brief introductions to their subjects for students and general readers. Other chapters on the ecumenical movement, missionary movements from Asia, indigenous Christianities, and issues related to gender, sexuality, and feminism are also useful, but not as authoritative.

Part III is more thematic in nature, with nine chapters on "Asian Christianities and the Social-Cultural Processes." The emphasis throughout is on the social forces that have shaped Christianity, including modernity, colonialism, nationalism, and democratization, and Asian Christian responses to these movements. Some of the chapters are case studies, while others are broader in scope. The chapters are nuanced, with authors showing the complex ways in which Asian Christians adapted to, resisted, and negotiated with the broader social movements. …

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