As I read through these essays curated by Donald Lewis and Richard Pierard, I grappled with mixed feelings. Each of the ten essays approached the topic of evangelicalism in their context differently. In following the work of a dozen authors, I offer some reflections, though primarily focusing on the late Ogbu Kalu’s essay on Africa, as one who has lived on that continent.
- I got the sense that this is simply a re-writing of mission history, like Stephen Neill’s A History of Christian Mission, rather than an exploration of liberation theology (Latin American), womanist or prosperity theology (African), or water buffalo or third-eye theology (Asia). It was heavy on the history and light on the theology and current cultural issues facing the various regions.
- Only one female contributor! That’s like asking “the woman” to preach once a year… on Mother’s Day, a token. On the other hand, the reality is that there was only one African contributor, one Latin American, etc. And the contributor for Asia is Anglo, not Asian! On the third hand, why not invite Mercy Amba Oduyoye to contribute?
- To explore Europe and North America as a single “region” perpetuates the myth that North America is primarily of European origin. The longer we maintain this narrative, the harder it is to recognize the global heritage of North American residents and citizens. I recognize that Europe and North America were dominant senders of missionaries, but evangelicalism is so much more than “just” mission work. I’m ready for a creative and thoughtful re-telling of the North American evangelical story that encompasses more of the diversity of the nation in the primary thread rather than as afterthoughts.
- Attempting to paint any region in broad sweeps like this is an inclination towards simple stereotyping. As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wisely recounts in a TED Talk I discovered (only) this week, the “problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” For example, any time someone suggests “In Africa…” and follows with a contextually specific phrase (“In Africa, these groups are sometimes known as ‘aladura’ churches, from a Yorouba word meaning ‘owners of prayer’”), it perpetuates a homogenous stereotype of a large and varied landmass. This would be comparable to someone saying, “In North America, ‘Tomar el pelo’ refers to teasing people;” it’s a limited perspective.
- Likewise, I grow weary of hearing only destructive stories coming out of Africa. Even Kalu laments, “African leaders hold out great hope for Africa, but actually achieving these goals in the short term seems an unlikely prospect.” Again, a flat rendering of the “troubles” of Africa—war, poverty, and disease, highlighted by Kalu, leave us with the impression that it is a dark place. So much more though! For instance, a fictional Botswanan woman reflects on her land and people:
“Mma Ramotswe wondered whether the world which this girl…would inherit would be better than the world in which she…grown up. [She’d] grown happier because [she] had seen Africa become independent and take its own steps in the world. But what a troubled adolescence the continent had experienced, with its vainglorious dictators and their corrupt bureaucracies. And all the time, African people were simply trying to lead decent lives in the midst of all the turmoil and disappointment. Did the people who made all the decisions in this world, the powerful people in places like Washington and London, know about people like Motholeli and Puso? Or care? She was sure that they would care, if only they knew. Sometimes she thought that people overseas had no room in their heart for Africa, because nobody had ever told them that African people were just the same as they were. They simply did not know about people like her Daddy, Obed Ramotswe, who stood, proudly attired in his shiny suit, in the photograph in her living room.”
Please, let’s take the time to discover some of what Sarah C. Williams calls “history ‘from below.’”
- I struggled with the distinctions of “evangelical” throughout the essays. The foundational definition was Bebbington’s classic: Christians who stress conversion, find ultimate authority in the Bible, are moved to action “because of their own experience of God,” and stress the death and resurrection of Jesus as central to their faith. Noll recognizes that “part of the genius of evangelicalism is its ability to adapt to local cultures, but this adaptability makes clear-cut definitions more difficult to maintain.” The problem with this attempt to define and explore evangelicalism in this manner is that I began to wonder what type of Christianity wasn’t included in the definition. Who isn’t under the evangelical umbrella in Africa (or Asia, Oceana, etc.)? Kalu’s mention of the missionary “moratorium” in the 1970s and the World Council of Churches (WCC) is a case in point. The WCC is primarily composed of “mainline” denominations and African theologians in those mainline denominations initiated the moratorium. Just who isn’t an evangelical in these authors’ minds?
- Finally, it was helpful to be reminded by Kalu of the paradigm differences between North America and Africa. Unlike the North American shift identified by Taylor in A Secular Age, with the loss of transcendence in the immanent frame, Kalu observes that “since Africans recognized the role of the transcendental in the daily lives of individuals and communities, the struggle against demonic forces and spiritual evil easily occupied a central role.” If there is a disconnect in understanding one another’s context, this contrast identifies it.
As Williams suggests, Christianity is complex and “to deploy one singular Christian discourse about gender [or Africa, Asia, etc.] as encompassing and typical is at best to simplify and at worst to gravely misrepresent the diverse spectrum of ideas about gender [or place].” While texts like this support a big picture, perhaps even these contextual approaches are too broad.
 That being said, I greatly appreciated the assumption she challenged that “gender and evangelicalism” was all about women (Sarah C. Williams, “Evangelicals and Gender,” in Global Evangelicalism, eds. Donald M. Lewis and Richard V. Pierard (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2014), 277ff). It must be a conversation on both genders.
 There are 54 countries, and 1500+ languages spoken on the African continent (at least 6 language families), at least 68 in Kenya alone.
 Ogbu Kalu, “Africa,” in Global Evangelicalism, 163.
 Alexander McCall Smith, Tears of the Giraffe (Anchor Books, 2000), 204-205.
 Williams, 276.
 Mark Noll, “Defining Evangelicalism,” in Global Evangelicalism, 20. cf David Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (London: Routledge, 1993), 2-17.
 Noll, 23.
 Kalu, 156-157.
 Kalu, 162.
 Williams, 285.