World Christianity is a discourse about Christianity as a worldwide reality. It is not merely about the growing numbers of the faithful ‘out there’, juxtaposed against the falling numbers in the West. Part of the demographic changes of Christianity include the migration of peoples from the majority world to my world, next door. In a recent Ph.D. thesis on Christianity in Glasgow, where 126 Church of Scotland churches operate within the presbytery, 110 new churches were established between 2000 and 2016; of those new churches, 65 per cent primarily work with minority populations of African or Asian origins. Scholars may be quick to discuss the implications of the secularisation thesis or the so-called post-secular. But for those Christian communities on the ground, they may be more readily concerned with addressing practical needs related to migration, ‘integration’ into the dominant society, and negotiation of identities. From the first century until today, Christians have been a people on the move. However, another part of the picture is that changes in a given locale often happen irrespective of the Christians who have come or gone. As the four main articles in this issue of Studies in World Christianity demonstrate, such migratory and demographic patterns demonstrate how societies are rarely homogenous, but, in actuality, quite pluralistic.
Billy Graham in 1966. (Photo by Warren K. Leffler, U.S. News & World Report Magazine Collection, Library of Congress)
Most of the notices and obituaries of Billy Graham, who died on 21 February 2018, have focused on his significance for Christianity in the United States. Dubbed ‘America’s pastor’ by President George H. W. Bush in 2007, Graham seemed to be the quintessential American preacher – handsome, dapper, eloquent, uncompromising in his presentation of the gospel, and apparently quite untroubled by modern questions about the reliability of the Bible. He was on first-name terms with a string of American presidents from Eisenhower to Obama. He was also a typical product of the Bible belt in the American south. At first he accepted racial segregation, even in Christian meetings, as a fact of life and his relationship with the civil rights movement – notably with Martin Luther King – was at times a fractious one. Continue reading →
The four articles published in this issue cover a wide range of geographical contexts – Manchuria and Korea, the colonial Gold Coast (modern Ghana) and London, Sierra Leone, and Rwanda. They also embrace a variety of themes that occur with some frequency in the story of world Christianity over the last century or more – the disruptive or catalytic impact on Western missions and indigenous churches of nationalism and communism, the historical origins and contested influence within the public sphere of Pentecostal styles of Christianity, the significance of migrant churches, and the ambiguous role of the Church in promoting reconciliation following the disaster of ethnic conflict in which too many Christians remained silent. If there is a common thread linking all four articles together, it is the dynamic power for good or ill wielded by new movements that previous generations of Christians would have struggled to recognise or incorporate within their worlds of understanding. Continue reading →
From the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries, Catholic and Protestant missionaries were the eyes through which Europe viewed the religious and cultural systems of the non-European world. Merchants, soldiers and diplomats sometimes fulfilled the same function, but they were birds of passage who rarely had the necessity or inclination to observe the ritual practices of indigenous peoples at close hand. Missionaries, by contrast, were in for the long haul. The objective of conversion required careful and patient observation of local traditions, the slow learning of language, the gradual attuning of the mind to the finer points of ceremonial observance, totem or taboo. Missionaries compared and contrasted what they saw with what they had seen elsewhere, or with what was familiar to them in European Christendom. As they did so, they began to order the miscellany of phenomena they encountered into divisions, categories, even systems. Continue reading →