Many evangelicals themselves have little understanding of their own historical roots and little appreciation of the movement’s diversity across many cultures and nations.
Global Evangelicalism is a fairly recent book that provides a general introduction to evangelicalism and a global survey of the topic. Dedicated to Dr. Ogbu U. Kalu (1942-2009) the book is made up of ten essays divided into three sections:
1) Basic theoretical issues including a broad definition of evangelicalism;
2) Five regional case studies of evangelicalism; and
3) Important contemporary issues relevant to evangelicalism – ecumenism/inter-denominationalism and gender.
In the first section, Dr. Mark Noll uses British historian Bebbington’s Quadrilateral to define evangelicalism as it has been used most commonly by Protestants since the eighteenth century – Conversion, Biblicism, Activism, and Crucicentrism. This will form the basic framework for the case studies later. Noll also discusses the terms “fundamentalism”, “Pentecostalism”, and “charismatics” and how they relate to the overall group of evangelicals. Wilbert Shenk describes “theological impulses” that have helped develop evangelicalism as it exists today. This includes tension with established churches. Focus is on personal piety, voluntarism, and missions. Donald Lewis discusses the ways that the term “globalization” is perceived and how it impacts evangelicalism. Interesting issues for the future of evangelicalism include the continuing international migration, the importance of “global cities”, and protests against the “dark sides” of globalization. A tension exists between the advantages of unity of cooperation and the very real sense of local identity.
The second section of the book contains the five case studies for the global survey.
(Europe and North America; Africa; Latin America; Asia; and Australasia and the Pacific Islands) Each chapter contains a general historical description of the beginnings and growth of evangelicalism in that region, then follows with the strengths and weaknesses of evangelicalism as it exists in the present.
In this section I learned that evangelicalism in the two-thirds world is where the most expansion in Christianity is taking place.
Since the Leadership and Global Perspectives Advance was in Cape Town, South Africa last fall I will just focus on evangelicalism in Africa as given by Dr. Ogbu Kalu. Many Americans still think of Africa as a dark place full of jungles and animism. Actually, over half of the population is classified as Christian – 503 million people out of a total population of 973 million. Evangelicalism not being an identifiable denomination or single organization, it is difficult to say how many Christians identify as evangelicals but Dr. Kalu thought that most probably are especially if one uses “David Bebbington’s widely accepted definition of evangelicals…” (Kalu, 127).
Kalu states that the history of Christianity in Africa is complex. No doubt he would agree with Thomas Oden that Africa “played a decisive role in the formation of Christian culture.” (And now they can talk about it in Heaven.)
The demographic strength of Christianity retreated somewhat under the Muslim conquest. As time went on there was colonialism where Christianity was “essentially a rationalization for and byproduct of their economic and geopolitical aims” (127).
The transatlantic slave trade disrupted African communities. But with all of this activity missionaries and chaplains arrived in Africa, though not always for the benefit of the natives.
In the eighteenth century spiritual revival led to an abolitionist impulse. This motivated people worldwide to end the slave trade.
There were still some denominations that grounded their acceptance of slavery in the Bible, but the evangelical revival with its emphasis on a personal relationship with Christ and the ethical implications of the equality of all human beings before God led to the formation of many groups such as the “Clapham Sect” to abolish slavery.
Following with the theme of voluntarism, Dr. Kalu described a new age in Protestant missions. Anglican missionary Henry Venn taught that churches should be self-supporting, self-governing, and self-propagating.
In the United States, African Americans formed their own churches. Then they took the message to their ancestral homeland in Africa and formed churches there.
I can’t let this section go by without mentioning Mother Eliza Davis George (1879-1979). Yes, she lived to be a hundred! This fantastic lady ministered to her African brethren for many decades. She endured poverty and hardship for the sake of taking the Gospel to her people. Though she constantly had to labor to get support she never wavered from her call. Today thousands of her spiritual children are glad for their Mother Eliza. Mother Eliza embodies the true spirit of the evangel.
Dr. Kalu discussed the “dark side” of colonialism and African responses to it including “Ethiopianism” – an attempt by blacks for identity and self-respect. The complex history of African Christianity leading up to today included decolonization, ecumenism, and indigenous controversies.
South Africa was the last African country to outlaw apartheid. Thanks to the spirit of forgiveness under Nelson Mandela a bloodbath was avoided. With the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the hope was that the Christian principles of confession and forgiveness would heal the wounds of apartheid.
South Africa joined the international Christian community and hosted several conferences including the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization. Four thousand Christian leaders from around the world met in Cape Town in 2010.
Much more could be said, but with the spread of Christianity, some predict that within a couple of decades Africa will be “numerically the most Christian of all the continents” (164).
Very appropriately the third section of the book began with David Thompson’s chapter about ecumenism and inter-denominationalism. A main take-away was his ambivalence about whether or not separate evangelical churches want to come together. Global evangelicalism is struggling to achieve Christian unity across denominational lines.
Sarah Williams wrote the final chapter on gender. She pointed out that one of the problems with the way that contemporary historians critique evangelicalism is that “the autonomy of the past has been collapsed” (271). We tend to read back into history our current thoughts about gender. Williams uses story to get us to see what leadership meant in the past. There were many influential women in the past. We need to stop arguing about gender and get on with the evangelical task- men and women working together to take the gospel to the nations.
The book is an encouraging study in global evangelicalism. The body of Christ is diverse and yet united by the Holy Spirit to show love to our neighbors.
 Donald M. Lewis and Richard V. Pierard, editors. Global Evangelicalism: Theology, History and Culture in Regional Perspective. (Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014. 13.
 Thomas C. Oden. How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianity. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2007. 9.
 Yes, I was sorely tempted to compare to the DIScouraging evangelical crisis in the US, but I won’t. To those who want to distance themselves from “evangelicalism”, I say why don’t we try living up to the name first?