Tag Archives: global Christianity

Islam’s steady expansion and Christianity’s ebb and flow: A reflection


Jerusalem, Dome of the Rock

Jerusalem, Dome of the Rock

Baptist theology professor Mark Farnham reflects on Scottish historian Andrew Walls’s work relating to the Incarnational mission of Christianity and how it has resulted in a different sort of expansion than that of Islam:

Nineteenth-century Christian missions exploded across the globe with the general expectation that the gospel would penetrate the whole world, and that the evangelism of the world would conceivably be completed within a century or so. That sense of optimism is not so prevalent today, probably in part because of the decline of Christianity in parts of the world that were at one time the fountainhead of Christian faith. A review of the past century reveals that regions in which Christianity had at one time taken root have not always remained Christian for long (think Europe). In contrast, Islam’s progress has tended to be more stable, rarely giving up territory once it has been claimed.

In his book, The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History (T&T Clark, 2002), Scottish historian Andrew Walls explains the difference between the expansions of the two major religions:

Islam can point to a steady geographical progression from its birthplace and from its earliest years. And over all these years it has hitherto not had many territorial losses to record. Whereas the Jerusalem of the apostles has fallen, the Mecca of the prophet remains inviolate. When it comes to sustaining congregations of the faithful, Christianity does not appear to possess the same resilience as Islam. Continue reading

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Reflections on new openings in world missions, from an African perspective


Today is the annual Collegiality Day of the Minnesota Consortium of  Theological Schools. Luther Seminary‘s Paul S. Chung will present a reflection on changes in missions since the Edinburgh conference a century ago (“Mission today in light of the 1910 Edinburgh Conference.”) A number of folks will respond, including me. Though it will likely be trimmed a bit, my response will look something like this:

The successive “openings” of mission since Edinburgh

I hear in Dr. Chung’s paper a series of “openings” of world missions activity and thought since Mott and the 1910 meeting at Edinburgh. I want to review these briefly and then, as I am a historian, to illustrate them with a brief story from recent Christian history in the global south.

By the time of the 1952 Willingen missions conference, Karl Barth had sparked an opening or broadening from Edinburgh’s “pragmatic, purposeful, activist, impatient, self-confident, single-minded, and triumphalist” accent—in other words, its accent on human initiative—to a theological insistence that mission comes at the initiative of the Trinity. It is God who sends, and we who follow. Continue reading

Philip Jenkins on the fraught history of the Korean church


The entrance of Yoido Full Gospel Church.

Entrance of Yoido Full Gospel Church

Here’s a piece in Christian Century by global Christianity wallah Philip Jenkins on the massive and comparatively recent growth of Christianity in Korea:

Church growth, Korean style

by Philip Jenkins

When the World Missionary Conference gathered in Edinburgh in 1910, it would have taken real optimism to identify Korea as a prospect for major Christian growth. At that point, Christians made up perhaps 1 percent of the Korean people, and the nation was under the heavy-handed occupation of Japanese authorities, who looked dimly on Western cultural intrusions.

Through the 20th century, though, Christian growth in Korea has been astonishing. At least 30 percent of South Korea‘s 50 million people are Christians. Some of Seoul’s spectacular megachurches regularly appear in listings of the world’s largest congregations; they are virtually denominations in their own right. The best known is the (Pentecostal) Yoido Full Gospel Church, which claims 850,000 members. Continue reading

Podcast on evangelical theology, globalization, postmodernism, and seminary education, with John Franke & friends


This conversation was really fun to have. And maybe even has some light to cast on, as my colleague Kyle Roberts says, “the present and future of evangelical theology, the challenge of globalization and postmodernity, the prospects for the evangelical church in the days ahead, and the role of seminary education in all of this.”

Kyle (a rising theologian, like Christian Collins Winn, who also speaks out on this podcast) explains: “The dialogue participants were John Franke, of Biblical Seminary (on campus to lecture at Bethel University and Seminary), Chris Armstrong, church history professor at Bethel Seminary, Christian Collins Winn, historical theology professor at Bethel College of Arts and Sciences, and myself. Enjoy this discussion and please add any comments or questions of your own for further discussion.  We view this as the beginning of a conversation, not the end.”

Enjoy the podcast, and (we hope) many fascinating posts to come on Kyle’s blog.

The spreading flame: Pentecostal scholarship goes global


Well, the history blog over at http://www.christianitytoday.com is singing its swan song. This week’s article, a reflection from me on Pentecostal scholars and the global reach of recent Pentecostal research, is the penultimate post.

R.I.P. to Christianity Today International’s commitment to journalism on Christian history. Sad, but I could see it coming when they axed Christian History & Biography as a print magazine last year. And the magazine’s sister website will soon follow, though CTI will still make back issues of the magazine available through www.ctlibrary.com.

Anyhow, here’s my post:

The Spreading Flame: Pentecostal Scholarship Goes Global

by Chris Armstrong | March 16, 2010 4:22 PM

El_Greco_pentecost.jpg

In the mid-nineties, when I was almost finished with my studies at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, my adviser, Dr. Garth Rosell, took me aside for a “career chat.” He hazarded a prediction: “In the coming years, young Pentecostal and charismatic students will do well in graduate studies and make an impact in the academy.” I was one of those young charismatics (though a late bloomer—already a decade older than many of my classmates). And I wondered whether Dr. Rosell was right. I hoped so. Though I still had all sorts of questions about the value of graduate study for the church, I had plunged into this academic world (and its ubiquitous dark reality of student debt) with both feet. It was becoming my world, and I hoped I could make my way in it.

I was that oddball creature: a “charismatic bookworm.” For ten years after my conversion in 1985, I was formed as a Christian in the fires of Pentecostal experience. But despite the hand-raising, tongues-singing exuberance of that experience, I was no natural-born extrovert (I probably could have used this book). It took me quite some time to struggle out of my bookish shell and experience the “joy of the Lord” so evident at the interdenominational Rock Church in Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia.

Even in the midst of the intensive religious experience and activism so characteristic of that movement, I struggled with a welter of questions: What was the salvific meaning, if any, of these experiences I was having? Their biblical background? Who had discovered them first in the church, and how did they become what they were in the charismatic culture of the 1980s? What about the many other quirks and habits of this charismatic culture? How could I negotiate the myriad claims made by visiting and TV evangelists? How did such claims and experiences relate to Scripture? To the historical foundations of the church worldwide?

Those sorts of questions brought me to a decision.

Continue reading The Spreading Flame

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