Book Review – Clouds of Witnesses

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Perhaps forty or seventy or a hundred years from now, someone will pen a valuable book about Christians who are living in places such as Iran or Syria or Tunisia today.

Like the seventeen men and women profiled in Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom’s Clouds of Witnesses, many of the subjects of this future work will be individuals who will have held fast to the faith despite being at odds with their national culture; a culture that seems inhospitable to Christianity and where one might assume the church will never thrive.

Shi Meiyu was raised by parents who were early Chinese Christian converts. She studied medicine at the University of Michigan, one of the first women to enter a coeducational medical program. She returned to China and was instrumental in developing a hospital and training nurses—nurses who had far more responsibility than their counterparts in the United States.

Shi Meiyu required that her nursing students be trained as Christian evangelists as well as medical professionals.

This is a not uncommon theme in the book—many of the individuals profiled expected that Bible teaching and training of Christian workers would be paired with their efforts in social areas—and vice versa.

The account of Pandita Ramabai (1858–1922) is virtually un-put-downable. The journey of this woman of India to faith in Christ did not happen easily, nor all at once. But her conversion and commitment were solid.

Ramabai had a life of incredible experiences and achievements, among which was the publication of The High-Caste Hindu Woman. This work helped educate Americans about the plight of Hindu women, many of whom faced a bleak life. Using proceeds from her book, she aimed to reenter their world in order to bring them hope. She began a school in Bombay, using some ingenious and bold methods to act within a Hindu social system to read aloud and introduce Christian Scriptures to students.

These few words can’t do her story justice, nor can they tell of the culture of the Hindu world she had been born into and knew so well. When you pick up Clouds of Witnesses, turn to her story first!

In addition, you won’t want to miss:

• Byang Kato, who noted that Christianity is deeply rooted in African history, and who outlined four workable, long-term goals for the church on this continent

• Sun Chu Kil, whose conversion and life during times of great national change in Korea greatly influenced the church there today

• Yao-Tsung Wu, who was so impressed with the Sermon on the Mount that it became the basis of the view of social justice he developed for China so all could have enough.

Readers may find some of these richly detailed narratives, with their abundance of unfamiliar proper names, places, and events a bit difficult to follow. But nevertheless, they’re interesting and worth pursuing.

Countless Christians are laboring within their own cultures today—some in hostile climates where we wonder how the church can ever grow—bringing hope, reform, the Word. Their stories, too, should be told one day this side of heaven.

Reviewed by Pam Pugh, General Project Editor, Moody Publishers

* Thanks to InterVarsity Press for providing a review copy.

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Book Review — Global Awakening by Mark Shaw

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  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: InterVarsity Press (May 2, 2010)
  • Amazon
  • Mark Shaw’s faculty page
  • Q&A with Mark Shaw
  • 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.


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