Sebastian and Kirsteen Kim, Christianity as a World Religion: An Introduction 2nd Edn. Bloomsbury, 2016
Back in the last century when I was at theological college, I learned some church history. It helped me understand some of the progression of the early church, and the various movements and people which influenced British Church life. Inevitably this included plenty of continental Europeans. It also included William Carey (I went to a Baptist College!) among others who were significant pioneers of the Western Mission Movement.
While I always understood that this history was partial, and from a particular viewpoint, it’s only in the last decade that I’ve come to see how incomplete my understanding is.
Christianity as a World Religion is a great book because it provides a helpful primer in understanding world Christianity. The book is not a church history as such but an examination of Christianity in its global context; working through the regions and continents of the world, setting local Christian belief in historical perspective, looking at contemporary belief and practice, considering how Christian communities interact with other religions in each part of the world, and analysing how Christians relate to wider society.
For those readers who are used to reading books that set history in a linear, usually western, context the polycentric nature of the Kims’ approach should be refreshing.
I learned stuff I didn’t know (which is always worthwhile) especially about Christianity in Africa and Asia, and have been reminded afresh how local context and culture shapes the church and its message. Sure, a book of this length is only giving a snapshot of each region and some of its conclusions will be debated (though it gives some suggested resources for further study in each region). Nevertheless it is a thoughtful book, offering insight but also questions to consider.
The blurb on the back cover, and the Amazon reviews, suggest that this is an ideal book for graduate level students looking for a text about world Christianity. While that’s true, and it does read like a text book, any educated reader would benefit from it. Whether a theological student, mission worker or church leader; anyone in Christian leadership would be wiser for having invested the time.
In short: get a copy, read it and let a global perspective influence your life, thinking and faith.