Tag Archives: missions

“A religious genius.” “One of the most massive figures of the late 17th and early 18th centuries in Europe.” Ernst Stoeffler on August Francke


As far as I can tell, evangelicalism right now, here in America, could really use a re-infusion of the spirit of the 17th- and 18th-century German Pietists. And it is up to a school like Bethel University (truth in advertising: my employer), whose founding denomination is a Pietist one, to position itself under the fountain of historical Pietism and get a good, thorough soaking in that movement’s spirit. For though Pietism is our heritage, we don’t know what it was any more. That’s a sad loss.

Specifically, we stand to learn from such Pietist leaders as August Hermann Francke, the subject of this post, how to overhaul education, social action, and the Christian life along Pietist lines. If this sounds intriguing, then read on . . . Continue reading

Anatomy of an African explosion: How and why Christianity grew exponentially in 20th-century Africa


How and why did Christianity explode on the African continent in the 20th century? The following is an interview I did with the late Dr. Ogbu Kalu of McCormick Seminary for Christian History & Biography’s “African Apostles” issue:

Anatomy of an Explosion
It’s an indelible image: the white missionary venturing into deepset Africa. But the real story is what happened when African converts relayed the gospel message in their own words.
an interview with Dr. Ogbu Kalu

Taking a close look at the explosion of Christianity in twentieth-century Africa, we meet a remarkable group of colonial-era (roughly 1890 to World War II) apostles who were born, grew up, and ministered in sub-Saharan Africa. We have been inspired and challenged by their stories. We hope you will be, too.

While the story of Christianity’s spread in Africa is nothing less than awesome, it is also nothing more than the work of God, who always uses the foolish things of a sin-scarred world as the building material for his body.

Western missions in colonial Africa proceeded by slow, painful steps. The missionaries’ best efforts were often hindered by cultural misunderstandings, economic abuses, political agendas, and racist presuppositions. While missionaries were picking their tortuous way through the colonial period, indigenous African evangelists and teachers exploded onto the scene like dynamite. Yes, they worked on the same confused, conflicted landscape as the missionaries. Nonetheless, something happened when the gospel was proclaimed under African sponsorship. It revolutionized the continent. Continue reading

Monks too heavenly minded to be any earthly good? Hardly. Meet the globe-trotting, pagan-busting Boniface


So you think medieval monks just sat in their cloisters, doing without stuff and looking pious? Check out Boniface (680 – 754):

The Pagan-Buster
How a brilliant monk laid the groundwork for Christian Europe
By Chris Armstrong

“Irony” seems a concept invented for such a situation as this: The man historian Christopher Dawson once called the most influential Englishman who ever lived is the patron saint of … Germany.

And, as journalist Uwe Siemon-Netto has recently reminded us, the 60th anniversary of D-Day is also the 1250th anniversary of this man’s death.

There is one more layer of seeming irony in this story of the man who evangelized Germany and set the stage for Western Christendom: he was a monk. Continue reading

The African apostles: Black evangelists in Africa–Did you know?


From issue #79 of Christian History & Biography, The African Apostles: Black Evangelists in Africa, this is the introductory bit:

The African Apostles: Did You Know?
The rapidity of Africa’s twentieth-century baptism was stunning. There’s no better place to see the future of the global church.
by Chris Armstrong and Collin Hansen

As of 1880, the vast majority of Africa remained mysterious, elusive, and untouched by the West. But by the turn of the century, Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, and Italy had carved up nearly every one of Africa’s 10 million square miles and divided a population of 110 million Africans, many of whom had no idea they were now “ruled” by ambassadors from another continent.

In 1900, there were 8 to 10 million Christians in Africa, which amounted to 8 to 10 percent of the total population. Today, there are 360 million—nearly 50 percent of the continent. Continue reading

The African apostles: How Christianity exploded in 20th-century Africa


Issue 79 of Christian History & Biography, titled The African Apostles: Black Evangelists in Africa, was one of the most challenging and rewarding for me to work on. As always, it immersed me in the literature of this topic. Here Collin Hansen and I share some of the best culled from the pile. If you get nothing else from this list, you owe it to yourself to click through to the first resource mentioned–the Dictionary of African Christian Biography. What an amazing set of accounts this is, of the little-known (in the West) pioneers of African Christianity, some of whom are still alive today:

Resources: Go Tell It!
Many are telling the continuing story of the African church. Here are some of the best renditions.
Collin Hansen & Chris Armstrong

When we study the history of the church in twentieth-century Africa, we come face to face with that most exciting, fluid, and sometimes confusing thing: history in the making. Many of the stories of African Christianity in this period are just now being told—or have yet to be told. That is why the first resource we are recommending in this issue is not a book but a website; the Dictionary of African Christian Biography, at http://www.dacb.org/. There you will find the stories of many Christian leaders from throughout African history, browsable by country or alphabetically. These are written by scholars, missionaries, and eyewitnesses. An occasionally uneven writing style does not diminish the importance of this record of the lives of Africa’s apostles, nor the fascination of the stories themselves. Continue reading

Emergents, meet saints! The wave of the future needs the wisdom of the past


A few years back the good people at www.christianhistory.net allowed me to do a brief series of “musings of a Christian history professor.” Thinking of my enjoyable chat yesterday over at the Twin Cities Emergent Cohort, I was reminded of this installment, which seemed to resonate with a lot of readers. If you’ve read my recent piece in CT on biography as spiritual discipline or “Top Ten Reasons To Read Christian History,” you’ll recognize some of the themes here:

Dear folks,

Lately my days have been taken up with preparing a book and a course titled Patron Saints for Postmoderns. The project focuses on the lives of Antony of Egypt, Gregory the Great, Margery Kempe, Dante Alighieri, John Comenius, John Newton, Charles Simeon, Amanda Berry Smith, Charles M. Sheldon, and Dorothy L. Sayers.

So the question has haunted me: “Why should Christians today read biographies of ‘dead Christians’ from ages past?”

One particularly forceful answer has hit me from (what some evangelicals might consider) “left field”—the young movement of Emergent Christian thinkers and leaders. Continue reading