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Whose Religion Is Christianity?: The Gospel beyond the West Paperback – October 9, 2003

3.7 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


International Bulletin of Missionary ResearchOutstanding Books for Mission Studies (2003)

Christianity TodayAward of Merit, Christianity and Culture (2004)

Association of Theological BooksellersTheologos Award for Best General Interest Book (2004)

The Mennonite
"Lamin Sanneh uses a question-and-answer format to consider the rise of what he calls 'world Christianity,' a religion that comes from local cultural contexts and challenges assumptions held by Western Christianity. Sanneh is a scholarly, wise and irenic conversation partner."

Andrew F. Walls
"The astonishing religious changes of the twentieth century have produced a post-Christian West and a post-Western Christianity. Historical and cultural factors often prevent those who live in the post-Christian West from seeing the true face of world Christianity. This intriguing little book disperses these fogs to reveal the new contours of Christianity in the world. The argument moves at a cracking pace, and Lamin Sanneh characteristically provides plenty of supporting information in a highly readable form and with the freshness of perspective we expect from him. A most valuable statement of the place and nature of Christianity in the world."

Frederick W. Norris
"Lamin Sanneh's accessible dialogue about world Christianity offers a clear vision. Having listened to questions from his students and colleagues, he prints them and answers them. Because 60 percent of the world's Christians live outside of the United States and Europe, we need a view that contrasts globalization and mission, guilt and faith, confusion and confession. This small volume should be the first anyone reads to see that view. All interested persons, including experts, will find these pages eye-opening."

Philip Jenkins
"Lamin Sanneh is both a formidable scholar and an elegant writer. To nobody's surprise, then,Whose Religion Is Christianity? is a thoughtful, learned, provocative, and truly stirring analysis of the growth of global Christianity, including its phenomenal rise in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. This book is essential reading for anyone interested in missions, in the impact of the Bible, in the relationship between religion and politics — in short, for anyone interested in how Christianity stands in the twenty-first-century world."

International Bulletin of Missionary Research
"A gem of a book, in an imaginative style: evangelistic, recapitulative, apologetic. Worth buying ? even an extra copy to give away."

Mission Today
"The secular fundamentalists may choose to stand obtuse and dry in the little cave of their own parochialism, but the Niagara of religious fervour is cascading down around them. This is precisely the thesis the book attempts to establish."

The Expository Times
"This small book is a must for every minister or priest as well as an important book for the concerned laity. . . This book is, as with all Sanneh's writing, clearly and elegantly written."

From the Back Cover

Many historians of religion now recognize that Christianity is a global faith whose most vibrant expression and growth are found today in the non-Western world. But no one explores this reality and its implications for modern life with the depth of learning and personal insight of Lamin Sanneh.

This book is unique in the literature of world Christianity, not least for its novel structure. Sanneh's engaging narrative takes the form of a self-interview in which he asks questions about the cross-cultural expansion of Christianity and provides insightful answers and meaningful predictions about the future. This technique also allows Sanneh to track developments in world Christianity even while giving attention to the responses and involvement of indigenous peoples around the world.

Sanneh's own background and lifelong involvement with non-Western cultures bring a richness of perspective not found in any other book on world Christianity. For example, Sanneh highlights what is distinctive about Christianity as a world religion, and he offers a timely comparison of Christianity with Islam's own missionary tradition. The book also gives pride of place to the recipients of the Christian message rather than to the missionaries themselves. Indeed, Sanneh argues here that the gospel is not owned by the West and that the future of the tradition lies in its world character.

Literate, relevant, and highly original, "Whose Religion Is Christianity? presents a stimulating new outlook on faith and culture that will interest a wide range of readers.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 150 pages
  • Publisher: Eerdmans; 4th edition (October 9, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802821642
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802821645
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.4 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #83,680 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Lamin Sanneh's work sketches the relationship between East and West in the development of Christianity as a Global phenomenom. His work, in terms of content, closely resembles Phillip Jenkins work - The Next Christendom. However, where Jenkins looks to statistics and trends to analyze and predict (which is unbecoming a historian) the direction of contemporary Christianity, Sanneh goes beyond statistical analysis and insightfully relates issues of aculturation and indigenization. Jenkins' work seems shallow in comparison. Sanneh uses a dialogue style in order to adequately present the intricacies of question concerning the development of Christianity outside a Western context. Sanneh's prior work on translation and his current work on African religious traditions influence the examples that Sanneh uses, but the book is not limited to these topics. In its conciseness and intellectual rigor, this book represents a helpful handbook for understanding the new face of the global church and how we can effectively discuss the subtleties of Global Christianity.
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Format: Paperback
We are in a time of extraordinary growth in Christianity fueled primarily, as Sanneh writes, by "several factors: the end of colonial rule; the effect of mother tongue development and Bible translation; indigenous cultural renewal and local agency; and the theological stimulation of the Christian adoption of the African names of God." (41-42) Sanneh provides new perspective in the study of the expansion of Christianity, which complements my prior reading of Latourette's seven volumes on the Expansion of Christianity. Sanneh suggests the missionary should give "priority to indigenous response and local appropriation over against missionary transmission and direction." In other words, the notion that the gospel has been "from the West to the Rest" has been a false view of the expansion of Christianity. Sanneh, a Gambian born former-Muslim adherent, provides a reversed perspective highlighting the "indigenous discovery of Christianity rather than the Christian discovery of indigenous societies." (10)

What was Sanneh's central purposes in writing this book?
It appears that Sanneh's purpose was to assist the Post-Christian Western Church to make "live contact" with Post-Western Christianity. To accomplish this, Sanneh explains this shift of the Church to the Majority world outside the West, including the

One of Sanneh's key points is that "local renewal takes place without global orchestration." Sanneh makes a distinction between "world" and "global" as they relate to Christianity on the grounds that "world Christianity has nothing of the global structures of power and economics that global Christianity presumes.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Sometimes one sees a book and struck by simply the title itself makes an impulse purchase. As a "Westerner" living in the East, I purchased this book thinking it would provide more insight into the phenomenal Christian activity and growth that I see regularly here in the East. The title, I would soon discover, is not the most accurate description of what the book entails.

The book's primary interest seems to lay in a discussion of the vernacular translation of the Bible, and even that is focused especially on the African continent. The non-western movement of Christianity is much broader than Africa, yet this is mentioned only as a side note in this work.

The format of the work certainly is a love/hate item for myself. Largely presented in a question and answer format ('interview format') that ranges from comical to frustrating to at times interesting. I have found this kind of format, before as with this text, helpful at first but soon quite tedious as it plods on and on page after page. When the author is not giving incredibly leading questions, his questions present the biased extreme of the 'enlightened' view.

These criticisms aside, the book did present some great insights. I appreciated the response to questions on judging an individual's response to the Gospel and conversion. Also appreciated is the presentation of the strength in the 'Designer's hand' of including all cultures and languages in His ultimate saving Gospel. A person involved in Scripture translation would also find great encouragement in the author's high praise and respect for translation to the 'mother tongue.'

A cumbersome presentation (Q&A format), misleading title and bit wordy discussion of the main topic (translation of the Bible into the 'mother tongue') cause me to give this book only 2 out of 5 stars.
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Format: Paperback
Employing a question and answer rhetorical device, Lamin Sanneh, a native of Gambia who teaches at Yale Divinity School, creates an imaginary dialogue between a representative of the secular, post-Christian West, and himself, an advocate for and scholar of what he calls post-Western Christianity. "World" Christianity, as he understands it, must be distinguished from "Global Christianity." The latter is really just a version of European Christendom, the sad "cultural captivity of faith" no matter how exotic its location. World Christianity, on the other hand, as it has emerged with explosive force in the last several decades, is made up of previously non-Christian societies and cultures who have accepted and adopted the Gospel in and through their own unique idioms. Thus, Sanneh prefers to speak of indigenous cultures discovering Christianity rather than of Christianity (read: the post-Christian West) discovering indigenous societies. For the most part, this resurgence of World Christianity has proceeded since the post-colonial period began, and "without Western organizational structures, including academic recognition, and ...amidst widespread political instability and the collapse of public institutions" (p. 3). In the last third of the book he examines the revolutionary impact of Bible translations in these indigenous movements. Christianity, in fact, "seems unique in being the only world religion that is transmitted without the language or originating culture of its founder" (p. 98). Along the way, he explores ways in which the post-Christian West, so long accustomed to understanding itself as the spiritual creditor to the entire world, might now benefit and learn from World Christianity as its debtor (pp. 57, 74). Except for a few brief remarks about China, Sanneh focuses on his native Africa.
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