This review appeared in the Oct-Dec 2012 vol. 169 no. 4 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.Subscribe Today
Kingdom without Borders: The Untold Story of Global ChristianityInterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL December 10, 2009
The explosion of the world Christian movement in the global south—Africa, Asia, and Latin America—has become a well-known phenomenon among many evangelical Christians. Miriam Adeney’s Kingdom without Borders is a welcome, enriching addition to the growing literature that describes that movement and will help North American believers understand it and appreciate it. Adeney is professor of global and urban ministries at Seattle Pacific University and teaching fellow at Regent College, and has wide experience with the worldwide church. Her book is a complement to a more academic work such as The Next Christendom, by Philip Jenkins (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).
Adeney’s chapters alternate between being geographically and thematically focused. Her introductory survey chapter presents global snapshots of the new face of the church around the world. Then chapter 2 looks at the church in China, emphasizing the Back to Jerusalem movement and unlikely conversion stories. In chapter 3 she shifts to her major theme, focusing on the Word and the importance of Bible translation and careful contextualization for the growth and maturity of the church worldwide. Chapter 4 returns to the geographic outline, looking at the “pulsating passion” of Latin American church growth. Adeney particularly traces the reasons for explosive growth of Latin American Pentecostalism and why it is so much more attractive than competing liberation theologies. In chapter 5 she again returns to a thematic emphasis, focusing on the Holy Spirit. Here she gives global examples of spiritual power in healing, wisdom given to untrained believers, endurance in the face of persecution, and response to the danger of serious syncretism.
Adeney will surprise some readers by seeing the Muslim world as an “Axis of Hope” (chap. 6). Here she shares amazing testimonies of Muslims coming to Christ, standing fast in the midst of persecution, and the challenge of appropriate contextualization in the Muslim context. In chapter 7 she asks how Jesus’ people should respond to the “catastrophes” of the systemic evils of racism, poverty, injustice, disease, and ecological disasters. Her advice on the best ways Western believers can be involved in development and aid projects should be heeded by many well-meaning but ill-informed Western churches and individuals.
The Hindu world is her subject in chapter 8 as she stresses the importance of both connecting with the rich ancient philosophy of India and supporting justice for the Dalits and others marginalized through the injustices of Hinduism. She also tackles the challenge of Hindutva—politically fueled Hindu revitalization movements, and she shares wise “best practices” for working in India. Song is her theme in chapter 9. Here she emphasizes the power of oral learning (“all Christians need to know the Bible, but print is only part of the package,” p. 214), especially song. This reviewer’s experience as a missionary in Ethiopia, where the most influential theologians were often the singer/songwriters, confirms Adeney’s assessment.
In chapter 10 she examines the church in Africa, with its challenges of genocide, Muslim-Christian violence, HIV AIDS, and failed states. She warns of the dangers of the prosperity gospel in Africa and reminds readers of the church’s ancient African heritage and the need for similar church leadership training today. The Way of the Cross, persecution, and the “hard love” needed to face it are her themes in chapter 11, sharing what outside Christians should and should not do when they hear that their brothers and sisters in Christ in another part of the world are suffering. Chapter 12 is her concluding, stirring call for personal response, challenging all believers to network globally, focus locally, and be willing to give of themselves sacrificially.
Adeney’s book is a delight. At times she gives lengthy quotations and poetic interludes that some readers may find a bit distracting, but overall her many stories put a human face on the dry statistics one hears on the growth of the global church. In general her many vignettes are well supported, but some of them lack documentation. She employs her experience as a church historian by frequently stepping back into mission history and finding patterns for God’s present work in the lives of people such as Sundar Singh (India), Adoniram and Ann Judson (Burma/Myanmar), and William Miller (Persia/Iran). Occasionally she gives some theological critiques and some readers may wish for more, but her focus is clearly descriptive, not evaluative. A good example is her discussion of Pentecostalism. At first some readers may think she is too uncritically accepting of some Pentecostal practices, but a closer reading reveals she is not interpreting Pentecostal theology so much as reporting documented phenomena to demonstrate the power of the Holy Spirit. The occasional theological critique she does give may leave readers with further questions, but this is part of her purpose: to stimulate readers to go deeper and learn more about the growing church around the world.
Kingdom without Borders is recommended for anyone who wants to learn more about the contemporary church around the world, but especially for those who are responsible for missions in their churches or organizations. They will find it valuable background to their own encounters with the changing face of the worldwide church.
—Stephen J. Strauss