Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Twentieth-Century Global Christianity

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Twentieth-Century Global Christianity

Article excerpt

Twentieth-Century Global Christianity. Edited by Mary Farrell Bednarowski. A People's History of Christianity, vol. 7. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008, Pp. xx, 439. $35.00.)

Of the writing of compendia of Christianity there seems to be no end. From massive encyclopedias to multivolume histories, in recent years publishers have not been reluctant to produce weighty tomes on the long and complicated history of the Christian Church. Accordingly, when introduced to the book under review here - the final volume of seven in a newly-published history of Christianity - my first question was whether or not such an enterprise was really worth the time, effort, even the paper stock, necessary to bring it off. Happily, when I read it, I was pleasantly surprised.

The four-hundred-plus pages devoted to the Christian experience of the century just ended cover a wide variety of topics, locations, denominations, and peoples in a multi-authored attempt to provide insight into the ever-changing panoply that is modern Christianity. Recognizing the "multiplicity and ambiguity" (1) of contemporary expressions of the Christian faith, the book is divided into three large sections, the better, one assumes, to deal with the sheer breadth and scope of the religious experiences under examination.

In the first section, "The Authority of New Voices," such things as the explosive growth of populist Christianity in the Philippines is probed, as is the increasingly indispensable contribution made to indigenous theology by African women. In the heavily religious Philippines, popular observance is inherently syncretic. Nevertheless, central to the mass Christian experience there is the pervasive representation of the Suffering Christ - a naturally powerful image in a land of grinding poverty and widespread dispossession - and an equally popular devotion to Christ's mother, Mary. Meanwhile, in Africa, the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians has emerged, dating from a powerful conference held in Ghana in 1989 organized around the theme, "Daughters of Africa Arise." And, according to one such daughter, Mercy Amba Oduyoye, in the succeeding twenty years or so, arise they have. In the form of telling their own stories, of occupying pulpits, of mentoring and writing, of challenging the age-old primacy of men in positions of theological and institutional authority, African women, argues Oduyoye, have fundamentally changed the face of Christianity throughout Africa. No mean feat, it might be added, in the place in the world where Christianity is growing even faster than Islam.

In the second section, "Traditions and Transformations," the various authors point out the exceptional faces of Christianity in various parts of the world, particularly with reference to the old analytical chestnut of continuity and change. …

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