Listening to the Global Church

I have had many privileges in my life that have made me conscious of the Global Church. Several family members have served in cross-cultural mission over many years and these connections have been influential in making me more aware of the wonderful diversity of God’s people and the remarkable way that God is drawing people to himself through Jesus in many parts of the world.

In the Lord’s providence, Jenny and I (with our family) have had various opportunities to visit, live, and serve in different countries and among people of diverse ethnic and linguistic groups. Although this can bring some significant challenges, I count all of these experiences an immense blessing. They have had a huge impact on the way I think about the world.

Yet, even with all of these privileges, I realise how easy it can be to restrict the range of voices that I intentionally choose to listen to, whether in the life of the church or in my academic work.

I am grateful to a friend who made me aware of a post by Krish Kandiah, who, in the course of very appreciative remarks about the ministry of Tim Keller, nonetheless suggested that Keller might have listened more deliberately to diverse voices from the Global Church.

Whether or not Krish is is correct in his view regarding Tim Keller (Keller does, for example, draw on the work of Gambian theologian Lamin Sanneh in his book, Making Sense of God), I saw his post as an opportunity for me to recommit to listening to voices of Christian brothers and sisters in the Global Church.

An abundance of resources online, along with many recent publications, have made this easier than ever before. I will share just a few suggestions here so as to encourage readers to listen to Christian voices from as wide a range of ethnic, linguistic and cultural contexts as possible.

First, a disclaimer: to listen is not necessarily to agree in all respects or to affirm all positions. It is wonderful to see more opportunities for the whole Church to hear Christian voices from Africa, Asia, Latin America, and elsewhere. And the Church would do well to listen carefully to these voices. To listen is to show respect and dignity. And we have much to learn from each other. But it is also a mark of respect and dignity to engage in respectful conversation and, where necessary, to disagree graciously but firmly. As is the case for every person, everywhere, who expresses a personal view, there is nothing inherent to a particular geographical location or ethnic identity that preserves one from error. Let us listen to one another and together seek to understand truth more accurately and more fully on the basis of careful biblical interpretation and theological reflection.

In thinking about this topic, the name of Tite Tiénou came up more than once. Tiénou is a senior African scholar, who has served as Professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School for many years. He is now research professor and holds the Tite Tiénou Chair of Global Theology and World Christianity. Though only a few of his publications are accessible in English, you can listen to him speak in several YouTube videos, for example, here and here.

Tiénou is also a speaker at a forthcoming [at the time this post was originally written] conference entitled the ‘African Voices Conference‘. This conference (to be held in Chicago) offers an opportunity to listen to numerous African scholars.

Oasis International, on whose site the conference details are found, has been involved in a significant project:  the newly-launched Africa Study Bible. I have not seen this resource yet, but I expect it will be helpful both to African Christians and to Christians elsewhere who wish to listen to African Christians.

Also important in this respect is the Africa Bible Commentary, published in English a few years ago and now also available in French, Portuguese and Swahili. Readers interested in recent African theology will also want to note titles being published on the ‘Hippo Books‘ imprint. Significant partners in the Hippo Books imprint include Africa Christian Textbooks and Zondervan Publishers.

[Edit 11th March 2017: Thanks to a reference from Dr Alexander Chow of the Centre for the Study of World Christianity, at the University of Edinburgh, I was reminded of the work of the Ghanaian theologian Kwame Bediako and of the Dictionary of African Christian Biography, in which Andrew F. Walls has written a substantial entry on Bediako.

Several theological journals published in South Africa are now freely available online. As just a few examples, I will mention the important missiology journal Missionalia (see also here), the journal of the New Testament Society of South Africa, Neotestamentica [edit: now only accessible by subscribers], and the journal of theology published by North-West University in Potchefstroom, In die Skriflig (Afrikaans for ‘In the light of Scripture’, though several articles are in English). These journals publish articles by scholars from South Africa and from many other parts of the world (including the UK and the USA).

Among a growing number of African scholars readers might take note of, I will mention my friend Thinandavha Derrick Mashau, Professor of Missiology at UNISA, since he has written a number of books and articles in English that will be relatively easily accessible.

In passing, let me add that we can be helped to hear the voice of the Global Church by writers from the ‘Minority World’ too. Professor Andrew Walls, who wrote the article on Kwame Bediako mentioned above, has done more than most to raise awareness of the voices of Majority World Christians. More recently, the work of Philip Jenkins, and particularly his book, The Next Christendom, has been hugely important in this regard. My friend and former colleague, Dr Jack Whytock, currently acting principal of Dumisani Theological Institute, King William’s Town, South Africa (where I worked for some nine years), has written several articles for the DACB, including one on the German missionary, Carl Hugo Gutsche, who served in what is now the Eastern Cape of South Africa, based in King William’s Town. Another friend and former colleague at Dumisani, Dr John Ross, has written a very good article on the South African minister, Rev. Tiyo Soga.

Ian Shaw, of the Langham Partnership, has recently written a history of the Church entitled Christianity : the Biography (London: IVP, 2016). The subtitle of the book is, ‘Two thousand years of the Global Church’.

Thomas Oden made an important contribution to awareness of the significance of Christians in Africa to the history of the Global Church through his books and the Centre for Early African Christianity.

Another important centre of research and resource for the Church is the Centre for the Study of Global Christianity, part of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.]

Readers who wish to learn more about the Global Church (not just the African Church) will also find help on the sites of ‘The GlobalChurch Project‘ and the ‘Langham Partnership‘. [Edit, 4th October 2017: Vinoth Ramachandra, a leader in IFES from Sri Lanka, has been an important contributor to theological and missiological discussion for the past two decades or so. You can read is stimulating blog here.]

A list of books (reflecting a variety of theological positions) is available here.

In the field of New Testament studies, and doubtless among many others doing excellent work, I am grateful for the excellent work of my friend Nijay Gupta (read Nijay’s blog here), and also for the work of Osvaldo Padilla (watch a chapel address by Osvaldo here and watch a short personal testimony here).

[Edit 11th March 2017: Of course, almost all of the resources I have pointed out in this post are in English. This highlights one of the reasons that English speakers may not listen sufficiently to the voices of many in the Global Church: their voices are expressed in languages other than English. So one way in which some of us, at least, might take a step towards listening to Christian brothers and sisters in the Global Church better is by learning some of the languages in which they speak.]

There are many other resources, even restricting our survey to works in English, that could be listed. I will edit this post further in future as I become aware of more resources. But I hope that this post will encourage all Christians to listen more carefully to the voices of Christian brothers and sisters from all parts of the Global Church.

See related posts:

Global Theology – Lectures by Escobar, Sanneh, Walls, and others

Our Global Families (A short review)

Andrew Walls, Mission, and World Christianity


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