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The New Shape of World Christianity: How American Experience Reflects Global Faith [Hardcover]

by Mark A. Noll
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)


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Book Description

May 1, 2009 0830828478 978-0830828470 0
2010 Christianity Today Book Award winner! With characteristic rigor and insight, in this book Mark Noll revisits the history of the American church in the context of world events. He makes the compelling case that how Americans have come to practice the Christian faith is just as globally important as what the American church has done in the world. He backs up this substantial claim with the scholarly attentiveness we've come to expect from him, lucidly explaining the relationship between the development of Christianity in North America and the development of Christianity in the rest of the world, with attention to recent transfigurations in world Christianity. Here is a book that will challenge your assumptions about the nature of the relationship between the American church and the global church in the past and predict what world Christianity may look like.

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"With insightful research and poignant historical observation, Noll effectively demonstrates that American individualism, voluntarism, and anti-institutionalism have had a much greater impact on the global church than have money, resources, or power. Noll adds an innovative thesis to our understanding of the contribution of U.S. churches to the amazing growth of the non-Western church." (The 2010 Christianity Today Book Awards, Missions/Global Affairs Category Winner, February 2010)

"The best teachers are also learners, and this book is eloquent testimony to Mark Noll's stature as both wise teacher and continuing student. His thesis is simple: that similarity of historical conditions, rather than direct influence, is what links (white) American evangelicalism with much of non-Western Christianity today. One need not agree with all his arguments to recognize that Noll's nuanced approach is a very important counter to ideologues of both the left and the right." (Vinoth Ramachandra, author of Subverting Global Myths)

"Scholars have become increasingly attentive to the changing tides of world Christianity and the implications for historiography, doing theology and understanding contemporary patterns of mission. Mark Noll looks back into the nineteenth century when America appropriated and transformed inherited European Christian traditions. The startling conclusions are that the contemporary currents in the Global South resemble the American Christianity at the turn of the century, that it is this emergent form that America shared with the world, and that neither money nor military power and influence could explain the American contribution to world Christianity. This refreshing and robust profile of American Christian influence has many implications: it explains why, among the industrialized nations, Christianity has remained resilient in the American public space; it counters the discourses in which Americanization appears as a negative epithet, a sign of hegemony and negative, extravenous influence. This lucid account has introduced a new dimension that will certainly stimulate the debate on the encounter between the local and global processes in the interpretation of contemporary Christianity." (Ogbu U. Kalu, Henry Winters Luce Professor of World Christianity and Mission, McCormick Theological Seminary, and director, Chicago Center for Global Ministries)

"The United States has emerged as a crucial frontier of the worldwide Christian awakening, in part because of America's role as a global power but in large part because of similar experiences rooted in history and civil society. From his own evangelical background, Mark Noll has explored these connections with lucid sensitivity and lively attentiveness, and in so doing has offered a welcome and valuable contribution to the literature on world Christianity and its critical interface with American religious history." (Lamin Sanneh, professor of world Christianity, professor of history and professor of international and area studies, Yale University, and director, World Christianity Initiative at Yale Divinity School)

"Mark Noll's novel thesis is that the real influence of American Christianity lies in its principle of voluntarism, which global Christianity has also found to be the most effective means to spread the gospel with or without American aid. This modest account of American influence should give pause for thought to both advocates and opponents of American hegemony in contemporary global Christian mission." (Simon Chan, Earnest Lau Professor of Systematic Theology, Trinity Theological College, Singapore)

"This fine book is one more in a long list of insightful and thought-provoking works by Mark Noll, although it gets him into new territory, that of world Christianity. Here once again is Noll's gift for deftly summarizing other scholars' findings and adding his own creative analysis to make for a stimulating product. This book is a fine antidote to the tendency toward either extreme triumphalism or self-flagellation on the issue of America's place on the world Christian scene." (Daniel H. Bays, professor of history and Asian studies, Calvin College)

"This book provides deep insight into the relationship between American evangelicalism and the growth of Christianity around the world. Master historian Mark Noll argues that American experience provides the template for much of world Christianity today. Readers will enjoy these thoughtful reflections written with Noll's typical clarity and creativity." (Dana L. Robert, Truman Collins Professor of World Mission, Boston University)

"Why does much of Christian worship and witness today in Africa, Asia and Latin America resemble American Christianity? Mark Noll argues that the rising churches of the Global South and East develop 'American' forms because the social forces they encounter resemble those that shaped American Christianity. Even though thousands of American missionaries have served in these lands, local trends and needs influence the churches far more than Americans do. In making his case, Noll offers a deft overview, filled with fascinating examples, of world Christianity today. For Americans who want to learn something about Christianity as a world religion, this book is a fine place to start." (Joel Carpenter, Nagel Institute for the Study of World Christianity, Calvin College)

"Christians around the world rely on intellectual leaders such as Mark Noll to synthesize, challenge and propose. This book synthesizes the rising literature on global Christianity, challenges received conceptions about the American role and proposes new ways of seeing which take the issues of global reflexivity seriously. Wrapped in Noll's measured, insightful prose, this is a book which should be read by thoughtful Christians seeking to understand the most significant questions of our day." (Mark Hutchinson, associate professor and dean of academic advancement, Southern Cross College, Sydney, Australia)

"Here is a book that both critics and supporters of missions must read. Noll helps us move beyond the simple praise and blame associated with Western missions to see the complexity and glory of the growth of Christianity, and, in the process, opens up new frontiers of understanding and new lines of research." (William Dyrness, professor of theology and culture, Fuller Theological Seminary)

Review

"Scholars have become increasingly attentive to the changing tides of world Christianity and the implications for historiography, doing theology and understanding contemporary patterns of mission. Mark Noll looks back into the nineteenth century when America appropriated and transformed inherited European Christian traditions. The startling conclusions are that the contemporary currents in the Global South resemble the American Christianity at the turn of the century, that it is this emergent form that America shared with the world, and that neither money nor military power and influence could explain the American contribution to world Christianity. This refreshing and robust profile of American Christian influence has many implications: it explains why, among the industrialized nations, Christianity has remained resilient in the American public space; it counters the discourses in which Americanization appears as a negative epithet, a sign of hegemony and negative, extravenous influence. This lucid account has introduced a new dimension that will certainly stimulate the debate on the encounter between the local and global processes in the interpretation of contemporary Christianity."

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 212 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (May 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0830828478
  • ISBN-13: 978-0830828470
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 5.9 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #718,966 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The New Shape of World Christianity July 9, 2009
Format:Hardcover
The Christian church is not American, demographically speaking. More broadly, it is not western. It may have been predominantly western at the beginning of the twentieth century, but at the beginning of the twenty-first, it no longer is. As Dana Robert wrote in April 2000: "The typical late twentieth-century Christian was no longer a European man but a Latin American or African woman."

This southward demographic shift requires a new historiography of Christianity, one less focused on events and personalities in North America and Europe and one more focused on events and personalities in South America, Asia, and Africa. Writers--both western (Philip Jenkins, Andrew Walls) and southern (Ogbu Kalu, Lamin Sanneh--have already begun to do so.

But there is a connection between the Christian church in the west and the south: missionaries from the former (especially Britain and America) performed their work among indigenous people in the latter. How should these missionaries' influence be characterized? More specifically, as American historian Mark Noll asks in The New Shape of World Christianity, "What...has been the American role in creating the new shape of world Christianity and what is now the relation of American Christianity to world Christianity?"

Noll suggests three possible answers: "First is to assume that Americans control events." On this reading, Christian mission is a form of cultural imperialism. "A second view is to affirm that a strong relationship does exist between Christianity in the United States and Christianity around the world, but also that this relationship is defined much more loosely than simply active American cause and passive global effect." On this view, it is better to speak of American "influence" than American "manipulation.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Careful and Thoughtful Case of Research February 2, 2010
Format:Hardcover
The author's main point of the book is "American Christianity is important for the world primarily because the world is coming more and more to look like America. Therefore, the way that Christianity developed in the American environment helps to explain the way Christianity is developing in many parts of the world. But correlation is not causation: the fact that globalization and other factors have created societies that resemble in many ways what Americans experienced in the frontier period of their history does not mean that Americans are dictating to the world. It means, instead, that understanding American patterns provides insight for what has been happening elsewhere in the world" (pg. 189).

Noll goes on to prove his main idea by: looking at the identity of Evangelicals in the Nineteenth-Century , looking at what western missionaries have accomplished all over the world, and by looking at three case studies, that being, American Evangelical trends from 1900-2000, Korean believers and East African revival. Also, he draws some of his ideas from Andrew Walls, Lamin Sanneh, Dana Robert, David Martin and Philip Jenkins.

The strengths of his work are that he is very careful and cautious in his research, he comes to his careful conclusions after he has labored diligently, he has very board knowledge of the works of Protestants and Catholics, he walks a good line in describing how American Missionaries have influenced other countries but not dictated to them, he has a forward, yet gentle and accurate critique of American Christianity, and does a very good job at summarizing some complex ideas.

If you are someone interested in having a greater understanding of how American Christianity has influenced the Christian world and how the Christian world at large can draw insights from the patterns of American Christianity, this book is for you.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Global Perspective October 28, 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Noll argues that global Christianity looks a lot like American Christianity because it has expanded in conditions similar to those in which American evangelicalism expanded earlier in US history. While Noll grants that American Christianity does wield influence, he points out that non-American national Christian movements are largely free of pressure from America and have chosen the shape Christianity has taken in their region. Noll includes many facts and perspectives on the global expansion of the faith and demonstrates that in the future major developments in Christianity will take place largely beyond the shores of North America. He makes a strong case for why American Christians need to listen to and partner with their brothers and sisters in other lands. It is refreshing to hear a scholar like Noll speak without disparagement or disdain about revival movements and the work of the Holy Spirit. As always, Noll writes with humility and balance and a broad perspective rooted in Scripture. Anyone who is interested in global Christianity (which should include all believers) should read this book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Broadens your understanding of world Christianity May 26, 2010
Format:Hardcover
The New Shape of World Christianity is unlike the books that I normally read and review. As a self-proclaimed lover of history, it drew my attention as a way of sharpening my knowledge of not only the historical progression of Christian history, but also modern movements around the world. After reading a few chapters, I realized that the thesis of this book focuses on the image and dispersion of American influence on global Christianity. I was intrigued.

Taking us through the significant changes that Christianity as a worldwide phenomenon has had over the years, Mark Noll flips stereotypically Western understandings of the faith on its head. The subtitle to this book gives its content away: "How American experience reflects global faith." In this book, Noll asserts that its no longer the West (Europe and North America) that dominates Christian religious progression, but that the field has changed---"world Christianity has taken on a new shape."

This book takes a mainly historical look at the progression of the North American church and its missionary ventures, its innovations in church organizations up to its current state. One of the main questions that Noll asks is, "What, in fact, has been the American role in creating the new shape of world Christianity and what is now the relation of American Christianity to world Christianity?" The answer to his question has many different positions. The best answer, says Noll, is that American Christianity and world Christianity has a strong though ill-defined relationship and that the historical progression of Christianity in each culture is indeed what draws the relationship closer. He recognizes that the U.S.
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