Book Notice: World Christian Encyclopedia 3rd Edition

The Third Edition of thWCE 2020 3rd ede World Christian Encyclopedia has just been published. Edited by Todd Johnson and Gina Zurlo, published by Edinburgh University Press (2020) and produced by The Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC) based at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary.

I was a co-contributor on the article on Ireland. Going from the accuracy and detail of that article this enclyopedia is a remarkable achievement, giving up to date analysis and summary of Christianity in individual nations globally.

The following is clipped from a recent newsletter of the CSGC on the shift of Christianity to the global south, the pressing social and political challenges millions of Christians face there, and the importance of women taking up leadership positions for the health and vitality of God’s global church.

One important finding of the latest WCE is the continued shift of Christianity to the Global South. In 1900, 18 percent of all Christians lived in the Global South. In 2020, 67 percent of Christians live in the global South. The single greatest change has been the remarkable and rapid growth of Christianity in Africa. From only 1.7 percent in 1900, by 2050, 39 percent of all Christians worldwide will live in Africa. For Protestants, this figure is even higher. Today, 44 percent of all Protestants are Africans and by 2050 it will likely be 55 percent.

The third edition of the WCE is different from the first two editions in its efforts to highlight pressing social issues of today’s world, ranging from conflict and violence, persecution, Christians in politics, and theological education, to medical ministries, gender inequality, etc. All of these have significant impacts on mission in places with low rankings on socio-economic-development measures.

While awareness is increasing of the growth of Christianity in, for example, sub-Saharan Africa, many overlook the critical realities that Christians face there. They are simply more vulnerable and less healthy than Christians in the West.

Another finding of the WCE is the contribution of women. Women play a tremendous role in churches around the world, ranging from ordained pastoral leadership to healthcare and education. Churches should think clearly about the unique contributions and gifts of women and encourage them to rise up into leadership positions.

In line with the changing face of global Christianity, the CSGC newsletter uses the image below, “Peace, Be Still” by Chinese-born artist James He Qi. Blending Chinese folk customs and Western art it portrays Jesus

James He Qi Christ
Credit James He Qi



A plea for disbelief

For a couple of reasons I’ve been thinking about the myriad number of assumptions inherent within the western ‘way of life’. By assumption I mean an expectation of normalcy – something that has nothing remarkable or unusual about it, it is just assumed to be part of ordinary everyday life.

And yet how transient and ephemeral such expectations are. You and I exist as a blip in time. We inhabit a 21st century western culture that is itself a (admittedly significant) blip within the flow of human history.  Our location within the West carries a truckload of assumptions that do not apply in most of the rest of the contemporary world.

So I started to jot down assumptions of daily western life. It’s a simple exercise that raises questions about how deeply and pervasively your Christian faith and theology proper (view of God himself) is shaped by those assumptions. I suspect far more that we can begin to imagine for theology itself emerges out of the intersection of culture and revelation.

Without going all the way with radical postmodern deconstructions of human nature, it appears self-evident that human identity is remarkably malleable. Probably it is this adaptability and flexibility which has been the key to humanity’s bewildering globalised cultural diversity.

Of course any missiologist or missionary to the developing world (or vice versa) knows this in a more personal and real way than I do for I haven’t lived outside the West. And you dear reader, will have your own experiences and perspectives which you are welcome to add.

Some daily assumptions set against imagined contrary realities of life on the margins of the developing world.

not only the prayerful hope of daily bread, but the easy and endless availability of daily feast

– plentiful and clean water at the turn of a tap [contra hours of labour, toil and danger for a polluted and contested resource]

– of travel pretty well anywhere in the world and at anytime I want (and can pay for) [contra the undocumented paying a ransom to risk all in an open boat across the Mediterranean]

Coffins of victims from a shipwreck off Sicily are seen in a hangar of the Lampedusa airport (Reuters)

– legal rights: of citizenship; to justice; a fair trial; to be presumed innocent; [contra imprisonment for calling for greater state transparency]

– of instant access to information about pretty well anything courtesy of pervasive, omnipresent technology [contra life without google, information or basic technology; a daily battle for survival]

– of equal opportunities for men and women [contra where women are exploited, silenced, abused and disempowered]

– of education for all at primary, secondary and (for most) at tertiary levels [contra where education is a pipe dream for the wealthy]

– of endless choice: choice ‘to be who I am’; choice of partner; choice of job; choice of clothes and ‘my style’; choice of religion; choice where to live; choice of what to consume; choice of sexuality; choice of friends; [contra where I have few if any choices of any sort]

– that the police and army of the state will protect its citizens [contra where the organs of the state are the enemy to be feared]

– of a long and healthy life and of access to health care [contra deep familiarity with infant mortality, war, violence, death and disease]

– instant electricity at all times for heat, light, power, TV, internet, [contra grinding hours of work finding scarce fuel]

– of a modernist ‘life narrative’ of safe birth, education, employment and career, family, retirement [contra having few if any expectations of any sort]

 – the ability to plan ahead – tomorrow, next week, month, year, that holiday next summer [contra knowing that planning is for the rich]

– of ‘weekends’ off work [contra where leisure is unimagined]

– that death is hidden, rare and should only be for the old [where death is an everyday part of life]

– of the consumer right (and ability) to complain (and maybe be listened to) [contra having no voice, being silent and invisible]

– that a good education, hard work and ambition will get you where you want to go [contra where all of these things are beyond reach and child labour is the norm]

– that ‘our’ Western consumerist ‘way of life’ is secure, natural, progressive, sustainable, normal, and good [contra it being recent, atypical, increasingly unstable, and built on a mixture of empire, colonialism, economic exploitation of weaker nations, and unsustainable use of global resources].

– that ‘I’ can change things and make a difference for good [contra long acceptance that things have always been this way]

OK, these are big generalities; I’m simply trying to paint a picture of alternative experiences, alternative realities, alternative cultures that co-exist globally today. (And I’m sure this could be done within Irish culture without pitching it on a West vs the Rest scale).

The question I have is how different would your and my Christian faith be if we lived in that ‘contra’ world? Can we even begin to imagine an answer to that question? What have we to learn from Christian voices from that world?

What deeply held assumptions do we as Western Christians have that are much more cultural than Christian?

Over what do we get shocked, surprised or disillusioned when life (and therefore God) inconveniently fails to match our expectations of what ‘should be’?

Paul liked gently to remind the Corinthians that they actually didn’t know it all and really should have known better. Where should we really know better than to believe the cultural assumptions of our host culture?

Or, to put it another way, where should we be ‘disbelievers’ in the story of the West?

Comments, as ever, welcome.

Urban Theology 15: the gospel and Pentecostals in the Global South

We’ve reached the final chapter of David Smith’s Seeking a City with Foundations:  theology for an urban world. Part 1 engaged with urbanization; Part 2 with the biblical narratives, this section seeks to be an interpretative bridge between the two, working towards a theology for an urban world.

What then is a Christian response to our urban world?

Smith paints a crucicentric picture:

1) The death of Christ reminds us of the systemic evil confronted at the cross

– such evil has cosmic dimensions

– the cross is a victory over the powers of evil and is a reminder of the continuing power of evil and injustice

2) The cross is a reminder of the character of God and his relationship to the world

– the suffering love of God which reaches into the darkness to offer salvation, forgiveness and joy

– the cross reaches out across deep barriers in a divided unequal globalised world

– the cross reaches out beyond personal faith, to world transformation

3) The cross leads to the resurrection of the vindicated Son of God

– Urban mission brings hope, significance and meaning to a culture marked by a loss of hope and frequent boredom and meaninglessness

4) The cross and resurrection are followed by the Pentecostal gift of the Spirit which creates a new covenant community.

This leads to a new urban form of community, visible and public and attractive.

And Smith links Pentecost with the explosion of Pentecostalism globally. The new community of Acts 2 is found afresh in the favellas and barrios of Latin America and the Global South. It is the poor and dispossessed and marginalised who make up the majority of the world’s Christians. Who find community and hope in the 21st century version of the early church. The sheer scale of global Pentecostalism has the potential to effect massive social change.

Smith is not uncritical or naive – global Pentecostalism has its warts and they are big juicy ones (my language here!). But it has the potential to change the world in parallel ways to the first Pentecostal church. These are poor churches, but they contain seeds of hope.

How’s this for a challenging quote to us Christians of the rich West?

The testimonies of humble Christians  … bear compelling witness to the power of the gospel in creating hope in desperate situations, but they may also cut through the coldness and complacence of churches which have existed so long in contexts of material satiation that they have forgotten the liberative life-bestowing power of the gospel. 231.

World Christianity 11: reading the Bible North and South

Continuing discussion of Philip Jenkins’ fascinating book, The New Faces of Christianity: believing the Bible in the Global South.

The final chapter, chapter 8, is ‘North and South’

Throughout this book we’ve seen how the Bible seems to speak freshly and powerfully to many Global South churches since it addresses directly many strands of real life that are not part of Northern experience:

– discerning between true and false prophets

– food and famine and harvest

– water and thirst

– spiritual wealth and poverty

– spiritual warfare

– suffering and persecution, including by a dictatorial unjust state.

– the marginalisation and disempowerment of women

And this context means books of the Bible take on a whole new hue. James is a prime example. If your life is likely short and perilous, a vapour, how will that shape how you live? Where how widows are treated is a matter of life and death. Where the rich are warned against and prayers for healing accompanied by annointing are prescribed. Indeed there is no issue that more starkly divides North and South than that of healing.

This all raises some interesting questions:

1. Stereotyping grossly, can it be said that the decaying, secular, disbelieving churches of the North are dying, and the believing, authentic, expanding churches of the global South are being blessed by God with growth. Is it a case that the Lord resists the proud and exalts the humble?

Jenkins provocatively puts a slightly different question this way

Is the traditional, biblically orientated Christianity, evangelical or otherwise, destined to disappear with economic growth and maturation? Briefly, is there an equation between Christianity and development?

In other words, has the West ‘outgrown’ Christianity? Is this evidence in support of the secularisation thesis that says that poorer countries are more religious and vice versa?

He answers this question with a NO. The secularisation thesis is less and less accepted today and does not hold up – Christianity is strong in the USA and in many better off parts of the global south.

Yet, it may well be IMHO, that indeed God is blessing the ‘foolish’ things of this world (the powerless, the poor, the uneducated) to humble the wise (the rich, the powerful, the ‘wise’).

2. What challenges does this book pose to Western Christians?

Jenkins suggests listening to Global South Christians will help us Northerners re-hear the Old Testament. He refs 9/11 and the confusion as to how could God allow such evil? Yet such a question is a Western one, disconnected from the wisdom literature of the OT and the hope of apocalyptic literature like Daniel.

3. Is there one authentic ‘form’ of Christianity?

Jenkins also concludes that historically Christianity has always taken many diverse forms. It is not as if Northern Chrisitanity is less authentic or real. The real challenge for the future is for Christians from North and South to listen to each other seriously and learn and grow in the process.

He hopes here that Northern liberals and Southern conservatives can better understand each other and so avoid schism (as with Anglican ordination of gay bishops in the USA). Here is one of the few places in the book that I think he is simply naive. They understand each other all too well. The former is departing from historic and biblical faith and no amount of understanding will alter that reality.

He concludes the book saying  that we should beware the next sensational claims to have uncovered the ‘truth’ about the Bible [Dan Brown in mind here?] because

Reading the Bible through fresh eyes constantly reminds us of the depths that still remain to be discovered there … In reality, the answers in plain sight are quite amazing enough.

World Christianity 10: Women and Men

Continuing discussion of Philip Jenkins’ fascinating book, The New Faces of Christianity: believing the Bible in the Global South.

Chapter 7 of Philip Jenkins is ‘Women and Men’

Another terrific thought-provoking chapter – this time on the role of women within Global South Christianity.

Jenkins argues here that the impact of Christianity on women’s lives is impressive – across the board from educated intellectuals to ordinary women.

The big idea here is that Christianity is a liberating force for women with socially progressive and even revolutionary implications.

Now before unpacking evidence for such a view, Jenkins does give space to acknowledge that all too often Christianity takes forms that are anything but liberating for women. Korea is an example of where the Confucian ideal of the ‘good woman, submissive, pious and unquestioning’ is taken as prescribed by the Bible.

The famous Pauline passages, that continue to cause debate in the West, are commonly used to limit women’s roles and reinforce cultures that are already patriarchal in character. Motherhood and domesticity are prized and taught, often with the exaltation of bearing male children.

Yet, says Jenkins, such attitudes are being seriously challenged by African and Asian feminist reading of the Bible, especially in how they interpret biblical texts like Ruth, Esther and Mary’s Magnificat.

Yes at times this takes on a fairly radical intellectual tinge with overtly political overtones. But Jenkins argues at grassroots level, among the poor in Africa and Asia “the rise of Christianity has, in an amazingly short time, effected dramatic changes in gender attitudes.”

Jenkins puts it memorably:

“leaving women to pursue domestic piety through Bible reading is like forbidding a restive population to carry weapons, while giving them unrestricted access to gasoline and matches.”

The Bible is a radical and dangerous text which challenges conventional cultural stereotypes of women:


– An emphasis on faithful monogamous marriage in cultures that prize male sexual promiscuity.

– Biblical concepts of masculinity radically challenging ‘male machismo’ – such as the duty of the man to love his wife as Christ loved the church in Ephesians 5.

– An emphasis on charismatic gifting opening up ministry to women as the Spirit alights on whomever he wills. This ‘gender blind’ Spirit enables women to preach, prophesy, evangelise, and heal. Africa particularly has a vibrant tradition of women prophets.

– Jesus himself:

  • for example the story of the women suffering with bleeding in Luke 8 is not interpreted as just a sad medical condition, it means she is ritually unclean. Jesus breaks blood taboos and affirms women who are often relegated to the background because of menstruation or pregnancy.
  • Jesus’ many parables and actions of spiritual inclusion of outsiders including the Samaritan woman at the well and the inclusion of women like Rahab and Tamar in his family tree. Such inclusion is profoundly radical in societies where women are imprisoned by cultural restrictions.

– Challenging the practice of female circumcision as it is discovered that the Bible does not endorse such a ritual.

– Affirming women’s sexuality as in the Song of Songs (instead of seeing it as something shameful)

– Resisting the sexual exploitation of women as made in the image of God

– The Bible gives ‘permission’ for women to talk about and previously taboo subjects like rape, incest, abuse and AIDS, at last allowing space for stories to be heard.

– The Bible’s teaching to honour widows seems a historical curiosity to a Western reader but in the Global South is it a matter of life and death. Since property belongs to the man, a widow can find herself and her children stripped of possessions and livelihood after her husband’s death. In some African societies she must have intercourse with her husband’s brother to excise spirits. In other societies she is treated like the ‘living dead’ under a curse. Widows in such cultures need protection, inclusion and inheritance rights. Here, a story like that of Boaz caring for and protecting Ruth by marrying her speaks powerfully of an alternative hope for the widow.

Repeatedly reading this book, you are struck by the sheer freshness, revolutionary power and good news of the Bible as it challenges and undermines negative and destructive cultural beliefs towards women.

And this chapter raises questions about Christianity here in Ireland, esp the evangelical variety.

How would you describe attitudes to women within Irish evangelicalism? What has been your experience (especially if you are a woman). Is the church challenging negative cultural attitudes to women by following through on the Bible’s affirmation, liberation and inclusion of women?

World Christianity: ‘I wake up and smell the chocolate’

We’ve been talking about being a Christian in the global south via Philip Jenkins’s fascinating book

Here’s a really great article about ‘a day in the life’ of Comfort Kumeah, a Fairtrade Cocoa Farmer in Ghana.

Do make a few minutes and have a read. It’s well worth it.

And ask yourself ‘What has this woman got to teach me?

She’ll probably convert you to Fairtrade – a powerful story of the power of basic economic justice.

She will uplift your mind from all minor gripes and inconveniences we in the West moan about

She will tell of you of community and simplicity

She will tell you of thanksgiving and praise to God in the midst of grief

She will tell you of the strength and unselfish life of one woman inspiring others

What about this for a closing line:

I always pray before I sleep and thank God for taking care of me, my children and my company. I never feel dissatisfied with my life. I am surrounded by beauty, I eat well and I am free

Truly wonderful.

World Christianity 08: Good and Evil

Continuing discussion of Philip Jenkins’ fascinating book, The New Faces of Christianity: believing the Bible in the Global South.

Chapter 5 is about ‘Good and Evil’

Jenkins acknowledges he is talking in big picture terms – but that this generality holds:

Biblical texts and passages that the South makes central are seen by many Northern churches as marginal, symbolic, or purely historical in nature … for post-Enlightenment Christians in the West, the demonic elements in the New Testament mean so little that they are scarcely even an embarrassment anymore.

And this is a fascinating and politically incorrect comment that counters much rhetoric that pictures Christianity as a destroyer of native cultures;

supernatural approaches can be valuable in moving societies away from pernicious traditional superstitions …. in a relatively short time, the new Christian emphasis on prayer and Bible reading defuses the fatalism inherent in a traditional system based on notions such as witchcraft, curses, and the power of ancestors. Instead, Christians are taught to rely on faith, and on the role of the individual, who is no longer a slave to destiny or fate. By treating older notions of spiritual evil seriously, Christians are leading an epochal cultural revolution.

For a powerful validation of Jenkins analysis here see this post from Matthew Parris from a while ago on the liberating effect of Christianity in Africa.

Jenkins’ big point is that much of Christianity in the Global South takes evil seriously since it is surrounded by the occult, paganism, acts of great evil, natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes and famines and so on.

Many Christians live close to paganism / animism and have an immediate connection to the idea of spiritual warfare.

Jenkins quotes Olusegun Obasanjo who says ‘Doubting the existence of the devil or Satan is like doubting the existence of sin’. Who is he? The President of Nigeria from 1999. And Jenkins recounts a Ghanaian song to illustrate the familiarity with spiritual warfare – Ephesians 6 in African imagery you might say:

‘If Satan troubles us

Jesus Christ

You who are the lion of the grasslands

You whose claws are sharp

Will tear out his entrails

And leave them on the ground

For the flies to eat’

And another fascinating point is, while in the West there remains a pretty major gulf between Pentecostals and others who are into healing, exorcisms, spiritual warfare etc and the ‘mainline moderate’ Christians, this gap tends to be closed in the Global South. Elsewhere Jenkins has said

“If you go to Tanzania, for example, one of the leading religious figures in that nation is a man who is famous as a prophet and a healer. He is also a Lutheran bishop. This is not the Lutheranism of Garrison Keillor. This is a different kind of religious tradition.”

All this continues to raise important questions. What do we Western Christians need to learn from brothers and sisters in the Global South in this whole area of good and evil? How much is our supposedly ‘contextless’  and ‘normal’ Christianity deeply shaped and moulded by our Enlightenment rationalist context?

World Christianity 07: Prosperity Gospel

Continuing discussion of Philip Jenkins’ fascinating book, The New Faces of Christianity: believing the Bible in the Global South.

I’m returnning to chapter 4  ‘Poor and Rich’ and specifically the topic of the Prosperity Gospel.The message of this gospel is that Christians have ‘the right and duty to seek prosperity in this world, to obtain health and wealth now.’

Jenkins says the prosperity gospel is one response to the desperate need for material survival and is the ‘an inevitable by-product of a church containing so many of the very poorest.’ (p.97)

Of course, as Jenkins says, it is far from just a ‘Global South’ issue. We have prosperity churches in Ireland. Jenkins refers to the aptly named Creflo A Dollar in Atlanta who calls poverty a curse that the gospel liberates Christians from. He could have mentioned Joel Osteen and Benny Hinn. He does throw in Bruce Wilkinson’s phenomenally successful The Prayer of Jabez as a book that teaches God will bless with personal success and prosperity.

A couple of examples Jenkins gives are the Central Full Gospel Church in Seoul which has half a million members and preaches health, prosperity and salvation as the threefold blessings of Christ. David Oyedepo from Nigeria has a hugely successful evangelistic ministry based around the message of ‘Make my people rich.’

Many leaders in Africa and Asia are deeply troubled by the damage been done to the integrity of the gospel and to the exploited poor. Jenkins quotes the Catholic archbishop of Lagos, ‘The quickest and easiest way to make money in Nigeria is to carry a Bible on Sunday and start preaching.’ At its worst, Jenkins says, this gospel permits corrupt clergy to get away with just about anything.

For a powerrful critique of the prosperity gospel by people who know it well and have seen the damage it does, see this and this from the Lausanne Movement.

Jenkins closes with a couple of big challenges to western Christians: What do you make of what he says here?

In contexts of extreme poverty, hopelessness, violence and injustice in places like Lagos, churches that promise a better life are powerfully attractive. It represents a faith that believes that faith in God will make a visible real difference in everyday life.

We westerners are so used to comfort, security and high expectatations of long and healthy lives that we forget that such expectations are very recent.

For a Northern world that enjoys health and wealth to a degree scarcely imagined by any previous society, it is perilously easy to despise believers who associate divine favor with full stomachs or access to the most meager forms of schooling or health care; who seek miracles in order to flourish, or even survive.

And this:

Health-and-wealth churches assuredly the potential role of prayer and godly behaviour in securing material prosperity, but they might well respond by asking if Euro-American mainline churches allow any serious belief whatever that prayer can shape one’s material conditions. Are Christian critics of “prosperity” arguing that faith and prayer are absolutely unconnected from material realities? Why then do most or all incorporate prayers for well-being into their services and liturgies?

World Christianity 06:Poor and Rich

Continuing discussion of Philip Jenkins’ fascinating book, The New Faces of Christianity: believing the Bible in the Global South.

Chapter 4 is ‘Poor and Rich’. Lots of good stuff here and I want to take a second post to come back to the issue of the Prosperity Gospel that comes up in this chapter.

As the gravity of world Christianity ‘goes south’ literally so does the income of the average Christian metaphorically. That person is likely to be someone like a brown-skinned woman living in a shanty town outside a mega-city. Global South Christians also tend to be minorities. Both of these realities mean the Bible is read very differently than in the West.

Jenkins has said elsewhere ‘the Bible is written by and for a poor community’. It speaks right into cultures that are full of famine, plague, war, poverty, exile, disease, familiarity with death, peasants, powerlessness, imperial forces, religious cultures and so on.This chapter discusses examples of these themes and how the Bible is seen to speak right into such contexts.

An example

‘Guatemala certainly feels biblical. Sheep, swine, donkeys, serpents – these are everywhere, as are centurions, all manner of wandering false prophets, Pharisees, lepers, and whores. The poor, rural, mainly Mayan landscape has an aura of the miraculous … [It] is the perfect backdrop for religious parables about fields, both barren and fertile, fruits and harvests, hunger and plenty.’ Francisco Goldman quoted on p.69

Across much of Africa there is all too much familiarity with travelers being likely to be robbed and left for dead; of little law and order or hope of justice; of streets teeming with the sick; of understanding a story of a poor woman desperately searching for a tiny sum of money to allow her children to eat that day; of the life & death importance of harvest.

How do you read this text? ‘Those that sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping carrying seed to sow will return with songs of joy carrying sheaves with him’ [Psalm 126]

Why are the sowers weeping? Talk with Africans and the answer becomes obvious. The sowers are sowing in famine and resisting the temptation to use the seed to feed their children. If they did so they would have no harvest and death would follow. So they sow not knowing if they are going to survive. Tears are shed over the seed sown. And so deep is the joy when the harvest comes in and their future is assured for another year.

We Westerners ask with little thought that the Lord would ‘give us this day our daily bread’. In the Bible and in many parts of the world today this prayer has vital significance.

A big theme of this chapter is how our context shapes our Bible reading. And how more difficult it is for the ‘rich’ Westerner to ‘hear’ the text, especially in terms of how centrally and powerfully that text addressess issues of justice, famine, exile, insecurity, debt and the transience of life.

For me, Jesus’ story of the rich man, a camel, an eye of a needle and the kingdom of God come to mind after reading this chapter.

What is it about our Western context that distances us both the the world and the message of Scripture? How can overcome the distance and ‘hear’ the text more clearly?

World Christianity 5: Old and New Testaments

Continuing discussion of Philip Jenkins’ fascinating book, The New Faces of Christianity: believing the Bible in the Global South.

Chapter 3 is ‘Old and New’ and explores the special relationship African Christians in particular have with the Old Testament.

The big point here is how in Africa, the OT is accorded a much higher respect and authority than in Western Christianity.

The obvious irony – the very things that make the ‘primitive’ OT so popular in Africa are the very things that make Western Christians uncomfortable.

Starts with a nice quote:

If present day Africans still find it difficult to be at home with the Old Testament, they might need to watch out to see if they have not lost their Africanness in one way or the other [Madipoane Masenya]

Jenkins discusses the many ‘resonances’ the OT world has to the African one.

In Genesis 1-12, African Christians find deep connections in the story of the origin of the tribe, the promise of land, sacrifice at an altar, the ever-present threat of famine, nomadism vs agriculturalism, slavery and so on.

Jenkins notes how these ‘primitive’ themes are found beyond Genesis – in 1 Samuel scholars have found over 30 ‘African resonances’ – including tribal conflict, a visit to a seer, possession by spirits, men aspiring to be buried with their fathers.

One of the strongest ‘African’ themes of the OT is idolatry. Worship of false gods and the allure of pagan religions are all too real. Texts like Elijah’s victory over the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18 serves as a model story for rejection and resistence to pagan traditions and witchcraft.

Another is the closeness many African Christians feel for sacred places. The OT has many landmarks – and many African independent churches incorporate sacred places within their faith for pilgrimage and worship – mountains,  beaches, special landmarks.

In terms of mission, many African and Asian Christians readily connect with Paul’s missionary practice in Acts 17 of speaking of an ‘unknown God’. Acts is popular, especially in how it tells the story of how the Gentiles are included within the people of God without losing their identity and culture.

Sacrifice is major resonance. The book of Hebrews is seen by many as a profoundly African book because of how it speaks to a culture familiar with sacrifice – an idea repulsive to most western Christians.

Reminds me of a story a student, Michael Briggs, told me of a mission trip of Urban Junction to Uganda he helped lead last year. The group visited a village and, as guests, were given the honour of killing the goat for dinner. Michael got the job because no-one else could face it!  While not a sacrifice, same idea.

More resonances include the African respect and acceptance of prophetic utterances and visions. Daniel and Revelation are hugely popular books. Pentecostalism of course is huge in Africa.

Yet more resonances include the OT wisdom traditions, especially those found in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. Such wisdom is given deep respect as being attached to the wisdom of the elders, yet in Western Christianity wisdom literature seems outdated and is marginalised.

And in keeping with this contrast it is the letter of James, more than any other NT book, that enjoys huge popularity in Africa. Famously an ‘epistle of straw’ for Luther, James’ is wisdom-type literature, practically addressing issues of direct relevance to African Christians – for example, a place for the poor and judgement on the rich.

And a final resonance is faith and politics. Jenkins says that in Asia and Africa, a common assumption is that states, no less than individuals, are to be open to receive and live by the word of God. The OT lends credence to the notion of a godly nation. Such themes lend themselves to ideas of communal and national righteousness, and associated national judgement if the nation turns its back on God.

A couple of questions come to mind:

Why is the OT largely not read and not valued in the western Church?

How has the comparison of how many Africans read the OT, shown how each of us reads the Bible with ‘glasses’ on that help us to ‘see’ some things very clearly yet makes us ‘blind’ to things that are crystal clear to others?