Monday, March 2, 2009

Book Review: Lamin Senneh

Lamin Senneh,
Disciples of All Nations: Pillars of World Christianity
Oxford University Press, 2008

There is something truly remarkable happening in the world. I believe we must be constantly challenged and inspired to lift up our eyes and ponder what is happening in the Church (note the capital “C”) in our world today. It is easy and ordinary to be short-sighted. We may easily consider our own daily to-do list to be the full extent of our vision of the church on any given work day in ministry. There are, of course, sermons to write to satisfy the inevitable coming of another Sunday, and worship services to craft for special seasonal occasions, committee meetings to attend, and the relentless call of pastoral visits. We express ministry on a daily and a local level, and it becomes natural and easy for us to consider this the end of the story, and the fullness of our task.
But, once and again, a voice goes out and may enter our ear, which beckons our vision up and out. Lamin Senneh is such a voice. Do we realize what is happening in the Church around the world? Wow. Listen to this voice. Pay attention to this word. There is something truly remarkable happening in the Church. We are living through a great, global awakening of the Church. The fact is our little corner of Christ’s holy Church today, that is, the American Protestant churches and specifically our Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) are not participating in this great awakening. The implications of this fact deserve our deepest pondering and prayer. Being outside of this great global awakening will have momentous consequences for our style of church. I believe we need to start paying attention to voices like Professor Senneh.
This new book is the first in a series of books being published as the Oxford Studies in World Christianity. Lamin Sennneh, of Yale University, is the series editor.

“The extent to which the current awakening has occurred without the institutions and structures that defined Western Christendom, including the tradition of scholarship, learning, and cosmopolitanism, is an important feature of World Christianity and its largely hinterland following. In the current resurgence monasteries, theological schools, and hierarchical agency, for example, have played comparatively little role. . . .” (quoted from locations 58-63 of the Amazon Kindle edition.)

This is, of course, the fact with which we must reckon, even while we are too often captivated and captured by our local concerns: “With unflagging momentum, Christianity has become, or is fast becoming, the principal religion of the people of the world. Primal societies that once stood well outside the main orbit of the faith have become major centers of Christian impact, while Europe and North America, once considered the religion’s heartlands, are in noticeable recession.” (quoted from locations 80-83 of the Amazon Kindle edition.)

“These unprecedented developments cast a revealing light on the serial nature of Christian origins, expansion, and subsequent attrition. They fit into cycles of retreat and advance, of contraction and expansion, and of waning and awakening that have characterized the religion since its birth, though they are now revealed to us with particular force. The pattern of contrasting development is occurring simultaneously in various societies across the world. The religion is now in the twilight of its Western phase and at the beginning of its formative non-Western impact. Christianity has not ceased to be a Western religion, but its future as a world religion is now being formed and shaped at the hands and in the minds of its non-Western adherents. Rather than being a cause for unsettling gloom, for Christians this new situation is a reason for guarded hope.” (quoted from locations 88-92 of the Amazon Kindle edition.)

A guarded hope indeed! Amen!