The New Shape of World Christianity: How American Experience Reflects Global Faith
By Mark Noll, (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009)
The global expansion of Christianity, and the dramatic reconfiguration of the “world map” of Christian growth, is the subject of this marvelous book by Mark Noll, a well-known historian of American religion
at the University of Notre Dame. While producing some amazing statistics showing the shifting center of gravity of world Christianity from the West to the Southern and Eastern hemispheres, Noll seeks to
give a balanced picture of the influence of American evangelical missions in these regions. He counters the simplistic charge that American missionaries simply exported American political and cultural values
along with their Christianity, while admitting the complexities of the cross-cultural work of indigenization. The real thrust of the book, however, is Noll’s analysis of historical “correlations” between the
growth of Christianity in America and its explosive growth in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. Among the templates from the American experience are having a vernacular Bible to shape Christian growth from the
ground up; the separation of the church from the state as conducive to Christian flourishing; voluntary associations as a springboard for activism; and the “conversionist” approach to Christian assimilation.
One especially interesting case study of this correlation is the way in which political upheaval and nationalism played a role both in post-Revolution American evangelicalism in the 1800s and in the explosion
of Protestant Christianity in Korea in the wake of liberation from Japanese occupation during World War II. Noll’s point is that these correlations are more important than American “influence” per se in
understanding the relation of American Christianity to the new frontiers of Christian growth globally. All told, this book is a wonderfully concise introduction to the new faces of world Christianity at the
dawn of the third millennium.
Reviewed by Dr. Paul M. Blowers, Dean E. Walker Professor of Church History and Director of the Doctor of Ministry Program.