book 3 in my book catch up is a missions book.... whose religion is christianity? the gospel beyond the west is a short (130 pages) book by lamin sanneh, a gambian theologian/missions writer. sanneh uses an interview/dialogue style through the book (which i confess i didn't like that much as a style) but it does unearth some nuggets. in his interview he explores world christianity. he prefers the term world christianity to global christianity as global is too close to western notions of globalisation.
the heartlands of christianity are in asia, africa and latin america. the rate of expansion in those places is astonishing. sanneh cites figures from africa and the rate of expansion there particularly after colonialism. this runs counter to western experience and tales of secularisation and decline in religious interest and he suggests that the good news of christian expansion is one that western societies don't really seem to admit is actually happening. it contradicts their own experience of religion.
i actually found the most intriguing insight/comment in the book to be about one of the reasons sanneh suggests for success of the gospel in africa.
another factor little noticed in the statistics is a theological one: christian expansion was virtually limited to those societies whose people had preserved the indigenous name for god.
this is a really interesting missiological point. if you go to a culture that has a name for god, do you impose your name for god assuming theirs is another god or adopt that name for god? the results suggest that the latter approach when the bible was translated made all the difference. (this reminded me of vincent donavon''s approach when he encounters the massai and engages in discussion about their tribal god engai). it raises questions - i was thinking about the mind body spirit world for example - to what degree do you do the same thing there and use the divine, or spirit of life, or reike (which means universal life force)?
another interesting question is about what people in the west can learn from world christianity. he suggest we should get over our christendom guilt complex about christianity as colonialism by recognising that world christianity has moved on beyond that now so we should as well. he also suggests that they offer a way of dealing with pluralism that avoids the need to feel you have to be a religious agnostic to be a devout pluralist (a hot issue in the uk i think).
it's an interesting book. i am convinced that hearing voices and theologies from a whole range of contexts and cultures round the world will enrich our understanding. so this is a welcome little book...