Global Awakening by Mark Shaw is a work far from the kinds of books I normally read. Normally, one can find me with my nose buried in books on philosophy of religion or systematic theology. While it may not be evidenced in the works on my own site, my undergraduate background is in social studies, social sciences, and history. Global Awakening is one of the few Christian works I’ve read which focuses on historical, sociological aspects of religion.
Mark Shaw identifies several crucial theses throughout his work, but the primary question he addresses is this: In an age in which secularism is supposed to dominate spirituality, how is it that Christianity has made such leaps and bounds globally? The fact that Christianity has experienced major resurgences in the past century is evidenced in the sociological data: “Africa went from ten million Christians in 1900 to four hundred million in 2000. Pentecostalism went from a handful in 1906 to half a billion worldwide by the century’s end. The center of Christianity shifted from North America and Europe to Africa, Asia and Latin America” (11).
The book’s layout is interesting in that the conclusions are presented almost immediately within the first chapter and followed by the evidence from various case studies across the world and throughout the 20th century.
Shaw argues that “[g]lobal revivals . . . are at the heart of the global resurgence of Christianity” (12). Revivals themselves can be viewed as a way of “updating of the church leading to new engagement with the surrounding world” (15). Shaw argues that there are various dynamics and aspects of revivals. These dynamics are: 1) personal liberation: both leaders and followers testify to freedom from spiritual bondage, 2) eschatological vision: a bold vision of God bringing His kingdom, 3) radical community: victims become members of the family, and 4) evangelical activism: spreading this revival to new places (17-18). Shaw notes that revivals often arise out of conflict (19).
There are also cultural (people, faith, and justice), historical (problem, paradigm, and power), and global and group dynamics to revivals (20ff). The cultural dynamics often link Christianity to racial justice, a newfound faith, or a people group struggling with conflict. Historical dynamics reflect the way the revival grows and becomes institutionalized. Finally, global and group dynamics outline the way the revival integrates new members. Shaw writes, “As historical movements, revivals begin with problems. . . . Out of the ashes of the old springs the new. New leaders emerge and form a movement. . . . If the movement can resolve those clashes, it then moves outward to alter the social, spiritual, and cultural landscape of the surrounding world” (29).
Shaw then moves into case studies, through which he develops his conclusions and arguments further. He leads off with the Korean revival which started in 1906. This revival, he argues, turned globalization into glocalization (that is, an integration and adaptation of a global faith for a local community) (52). He then turns to revivals in Africa, which demonstrate the importance of leaders in revivals (64). Next, he argues from the revival in 1930s India that “no conversion is complete without the conversion of the church” (90). The revival in Uganda provides a background for Shaw’s interesting argument that “Conservative churches tend to grow over time because they offer more and can therefore demand more of their members” (110); they offer, pragmatically, a “better value.” The revivals brought about in America by Billy Graham show a large problem remaining in churches in the States: pluralism. In a pluralistic society, should all share resources for the sake of “mission and witness” or should each privately conduct her own missions (131)? Brazil demonstrates the “power” dynamic of revivals: the protestant revival and emergence clashing with the Catholic powers that be. The working towards unity in Brazil presents a wildly altered spiritual landscape (156-157). Finally, the reverse mission of Africa (African missionaries going out to other parts of the world, rather than vice versa) and the emergence of China as a Christian powerhouse (estimates of house churches range from 10-80 million members) point to a spirit of missions and growth that may become exponential in the 21st century.
Shaw concludes from all of this that Global revivals are “charismatic people movements that seek to change their world by translating Christian faith and transferring power” (198). Secularization does not seem to be leading to a destruction of religion, but rather breaking apart of theocracies and church control over governments (211).
Overall, Shaw argues astutely for his points and brings to light many facts and examples which will be interesting for Christian readers. I believe the most important part of Global Awakening, however, is the feeling of global community Christians can have upon reading works such as this one. Shaw ably demonstrates that Christianity is not in danger of dying, but rather in “danger” of breaking open a new era of spiritual revival. This era will foster social and spiritual renewal on an epic, global scale. The coming decades will see an even greater resurgence of spiritual revival across the world. What can one say to this but “Thanks be to God!”
— Reviewed by J. W. Wartick. J. W. writes on Christian apologetics, philosophy of religion, and theology at http://jwwartick.com.
* Thanks to InterVarsity Press for a review copy of this book.