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The New Shape of World Christianity: How American Experience Reflects Global Faith

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2010 Christianity Today Book Award winner! With characteristic rigor and insight, in this book Mark Noll revisits the history of the American church in the context of world events. He makes the compelling case thathow Americans have come to practice the Christian faith is just as globally important as what the American church has done in the world. He backs up this substan 2010 Christianity Today Book Award winner! With characteristic rigor and insight, in this book Mark Noll revisits the history of the American church in the context of world events. He makes the compelling case thathow Americans have come to practice the Christian faith is just as globally important as what the American church has done in the world. He backs up this substantial claim with the scholarly attentiveness we've come to expect from him, lucidly explaining the relationship between the development of Christianity in North America and the development of Christianity in the rest of the world, with attention to recent transfigurations in world Christianity. Here is a book that will challenge your assumptions about the nature of the relationship between the American church and the global church in the past and predict what world Christianity may look like.


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2010 Christianity Today Book Award winner! With characteristic rigor and insight, in this book Mark Noll revisits the history of the American church in the context of world events. He makes the compelling case thathow Americans have come to practice the Christian faith is just as globally important as what the American church has done in the world. He backs up this substan 2010 Christianity Today Book Award winner! With characteristic rigor and insight, in this book Mark Noll revisits the history of the American church in the context of world events. He makes the compelling case thathow Americans have come to practice the Christian faith is just as globally important as what the American church has done in the world. He backs up this substantial claim with the scholarly attentiveness we've come to expect from him, lucidly explaining the relationship between the development of Christianity in North America and the development of Christianity in the rest of the world, with attention to recent transfigurations in world Christianity. Here is a book that will challenge your assumptions about the nature of the relationship between the American church and the global church in the past and predict what world Christianity may look like.

30 review for The New Shape of World Christianity: How American Experience Reflects Global Faith

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jon Pentecost

    Stimulating, but also rather unsatisfying. Noll raises many questions about how American evangelicalism is influencing/impacting worldwide Christianity. Noll argues that the parallels between evangelicalism in the world now and in America a century have more to do with socio-economic commonalities rather than an undue influence. His data demonstrates that a conclusion that American evangelicals have a inordinate influence is incorrect, and fails to recognize the validity and self-awareness of ind Stimulating, but also rather unsatisfying. Noll raises many questions about how American evangelicalism is influencing/impacting worldwide Christianity. Noll argues that the parallels between evangelicalism in the world now and in America a century have more to do with socio-economic commonalities rather than an undue influence. His data demonstrates that a conclusion that American evangelicals have a inordinate influence is incorrect, and fails to recognize the validity and self-awareness of indigenous leaders. In some ways, persuasive, but the book is too brief to carry the certainty of his conclusion. The book is also hindered by Noll’s posture as an unbiased academic. That prevents him from making the kind of theological judgments necessary to determine whether the parallels are biblical norms or cultural ones. So instead he’s left only with social norms and economics shifts to explain why “conversionist, voluntaristic” Christianity which is so pervasive in America is not cultural imperialism. Useful in provoking some thoughts on the topic, but won’t really give you tools with which to ask questions of cultural imperialism or syncretism about cross-cultural Christian enterprises.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Diane

    This book focuses mostly on contemporary Christian history/experience, and explains how conditions similar to those prevailing in America (ie religious freedom, competition among faiths) are beginning to appear worldwide. The author's thesis is that Christian faith throughout the world is beginning to reflect that which prevails in the United States. This book focuses mostly on contemporary Christian history/experience, and explains how conditions similar to those prevailing in America (ie religious freedom, competition among faiths) are beginning to appear worldwide. The author's thesis is that Christian faith throughout the world is beginning to reflect that which prevails in the United States.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kyle Wedel

    A case of content over quality. Noll’s research is very important and his concluding chapter is a must read, but the flow of thought and presentation is stilted and hard to follow at times. Important conclusions, less than stellar presentation.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    Two stars means, "It's OK," and that's how I felt after I finished this book, which is well written and has a lot of interesting facts about the history of American Christianity's interaction with the world — but ultimately is pretty choppy (by virtue of the fact that it's basically a compilation of three or four papers) and doesn't really deliver the goods in terms of the argument Noll is trying to make. In The New Shape of World Christianity, Noll argues that the reason Christianity in other pa Two stars means, "It's OK," and that's how I felt after I finished this book, which is well written and has a lot of interesting facts about the history of American Christianity's interaction with the world — but ultimately is pretty choppy (by virtue of the fact that it's basically a compilation of three or four papers) and doesn't really deliver the goods in terms of the argument Noll is trying to make. In The New Shape of World Christianity, Noll argues that the reason Christianity in other parts of the world, particularly Africa and Asia, looks so much like that found in America is not primarily because of American influence but because of similar patterns of development within the cultures. In other words, Noll seems to be applying a principle found in biology — that of convergent evolution, in which separate organisms not closely related nevertheless evolve similar characteristics to adapt to similar environmental needs. An example is the ability to fly, which has evolved separately among insects, non-dinosaur reptiles, dinosaurs/birds and mammals. I don't think Noll makes this argument particularly well, and it seems he is more arguing against the conclusions of anti-imperialists than making a particularly groundbreaking claim in his own right. Noll is right to object to Ameri-centric arguments from both the right and the left, the one claiming America has exported its religious systems in toto as a force for good and the other making the same claim and seeing it as a force for cultural imperialism. In his book, Noll provides three ways of viewing the export of American Christianity, with this as option No. 1. The second is a more nuanced influence, perhaps even strong influence, with both positive and negative effects; the third is that the similarity between American and other world Christianities is because of their shared historical experience. Noll says he's choosing a combination of the second and third options, but he seems to spend the book focusing mainly on the third one, when in fact even the arguments he makes to support that focus keep actually supporting the first or the second. Noll’s big example from early in his book is the massive Jesus Film campaign from 2000, where Campus Crusade for Christ sent out hundreds of thousands of copies for a mass viewing all over the world; he points out that although the medium and message are quite American, the campaign itself was carried out by a variety of people, many of them local to the cultures in which the film was shown. Fair enough. But the film was still an American film, with American emphases, such as the removal of social-justice messages about the abasement of the powerful. Local cultures were not given the option to choose between a film more in line with their own assumptions about the world and its interaction with the gospel. They were given an American message in an American medium and adapted it the best they could. Noll, again, is correct to push back against the notion that this is the result of some evil imperial capitalist plot to subjugate world cultures to American hegemony, and he is further correct in reclaiming agency for the actors in local cultures around the world. But in reacting against the anti-imperialist stereotype that he has created and/or propagated, Noll goes too far, providing local cultures a sense of agency they simply were not equipped to have. There are other examples where Noll seems to draw the wrong conclusions from the evidence he offers — particularly in chapter-long case studies from Korea and East Africa, where the common thread seems to be the introduction of American Christianity into a setting that also has similarities to the 19th century American frontier. Noll then focuses on the similar settings while downplaying the far more simple and direct fact of the introduction of American/Western Protestantism. On p. 158, Noll notes that Christianity is more popular among Korean Americans than among native Koreans, yet somehow turns this into an argument in favor of convergent evolution rather than strong American influence. On p. 185, Noll notes that traditional Kukuyu practices of private confession led naturally to accepting Protestant norms of public confession in East Africa, which would be fine if there were not a significant religious tradition, Catholicism that featured private confession. Why would the Kukuyu tradition move from private to public if not for the influence of American Protestantism leading them to evolve in a direction away from their cultural norms? Yes, they had the agency to choose Protestantism, but did they have a full menu of choices, including the elements of Catholicism that would have been a more natural fit for their already-existing practices? It seems unlikely because the dominant influence shaping their choices was American Protestant Christianity. All that to say, for whatever reason Noll seems too eager to dismiss the simple argument in favor of the convoluted one. One should not stretch for convergent evolution if one can point to a common ancestor.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Zach

    Overall interesting, though perhaps a bit mellowdramtic with the conclusions.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Glen

    This is a thoughtful analysis of how American Christianity has influenced the various expressions of Christian faith around the world. Noll writes with his usual attention to research and offers a balanced voice that recognizes the undeniable roles of American culture and missions while celebrating the autonomy of the respective churches around the world. As a cross-cultural worker, I appreciate his frank reviews of how American social dynamics influenced missionary methods and theological assump This is a thoughtful analysis of how American Christianity has influenced the various expressions of Christian faith around the world. Noll writes with his usual attention to research and offers a balanced voice that recognizes the undeniable roles of American culture and missions while celebrating the autonomy of the respective churches around the world. As a cross-cultural worker, I appreciate his frank reviews of how American social dynamics influenced missionary methods and theological assumptions. Yet again, he is not attempting to discredit the monumental achievements of God's servants during the past 200 years of missions history. There is also an appropriate respect for the local church (National Church) as the epicenter of true Christian witness. The opening sections deal with a historical review (Noll's strong suit) of Protestant Christianity in the USA. It speaks to the cultural pragmatism that is often our main prism for critique in missions (e.g., statists as the main indicator of success), our individual models of conversion and the democratic notions that are laced in the thinking of most American missiologists. The arguments are succinct but not jaded by some desire for historical revisionism. The last three chapters include case studies from Korea, East Africa and some closing reflections. These show how the American Evangelical experiences as a movement are not proscriptive for global Protestant churches but they are instructive because they provide a historical model built on similar assumptions and models. I really liked this approach and found it informative for my own work in Africa. I might add that each chapter ends with a summarization of key observations and this, too, was very helpful for me in applying the concepts of the books to my working context. Lastly, there is a reverential attitude to this review. The writer displays no elements of cultural chauvinism nor the more recent scholarly tendency of cultural denigration. Therefore, I recommend this as a solid introduction to how American concepts of church and spirituality engage in the constantly evolving global mosaic of the Christian faith.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Evan Hays

    While it did take me a rather long time to finish this one, it was not due to any dislike of the book. I must admit that I am rather biased toward this book, though, because I took a class with Dr. Noll called, "World Christianity since 1800", my senior year at Wheaton College. Essentially, this class was his proving ground before this book was published, and Noll makes several similar remarks throughout the book. Nothing in this book was really new to me as a result, but it was still an excelle While it did take me a rather long time to finish this one, it was not due to any dislike of the book. I must admit that I am rather biased toward this book, though, because I took a class with Dr. Noll called, "World Christianity since 1800", my senior year at Wheaton College. Essentially, this class was his proving ground before this book was published, and Noll makes several similar remarks throughout the book. Nothing in this book was really new to me as a result, but it was still an excellent confirmation of what I would consider to be essential knowledge for any Christian, and really anyone interested in the state of the world today. Oh yes, and I also got to know and started dating my now wife in the class, so that further biases me toward this book. She also got it for me as a present. Noll argues that a great way to understand global Christianity today is to look at the example of American Christianity, both because America has had a large impact on spreading culture and modern Christianity around the world but probably more so because the conditions that provided the context for the growth of American Christianity are similar to the conditions in many developing world countries today. Noll makes a very convincing case, even though this book is really only a survey. He depends on the best scholars out there like Andrew Walls, Lamin Sanneh, Ogbu Kalu, and others. And Noll is truly just a master at his craft at this point, so he can call it like he sees it without having to resort to a lot of artifice in making his arguments, as younger scholars who are less proven would have to. If you have any interest in Christianity and history, this is really a must read for you.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Tim

    When you read Noll's book The New Shape of World Christianity you really need to pay attention to the subtitle, How American Experience Reflects Global Faith. It is not a survey of world christianity but an inquiry into the nature of American influence on that world Christianity. Noll's conclusion is that it is not direct American influence or control, but American forms that shape world christianity. The forms he relates are especially those that grew in 19th century America amid competition an When you read Noll's book The New Shape of World Christianity you really need to pay attention to the subtitle, How American Experience Reflects Global Faith. It is not a survey of world christianity but an inquiry into the nature of American influence on that world Christianity. Noll's conclusion is that it is not direct American influence or control, but American forms that shape world christianity. The forms he relates are especially those that grew in 19th century America amid competition and the lack of a state church. The book provides good American history and a taste of the development of world Christianity, especially in Asia and Africa. It offers a small defense of Western missionary activity and places the largest share of the responsibility for the spread on the indigenization of the faith (a la Lamin Sanneh and Andrew Walls).

  9. 4 out of 5

    Adam Shields

    Short Review: This is an interesting and subtle argument. Noll suggests that American will influence world Christianity for quite awhile, not because of direct influence as much as because the US is facing globalization pressures that the rest of the world is or will also face. Christianity in the US is just further ahead on the curve. The US is the richest church and produces the most media and supports the most missionaries (but not according to GDP or population), so it will exert influence b Short Review: This is an interesting and subtle argument. Noll suggests that American will influence world Christianity for quite awhile, not because of direct influence as much as because the US is facing globalization pressures that the rest of the world is or will also face. Christianity in the US is just further ahead on the curve. The US is the richest church and produces the most media and supports the most missionaries (but not according to GDP or population), so it will exert influence because of that. But it is the globalization pressures that are more important than the money or missionaries that come out of the US. My full review is on my blog at http://bookwi.se/new-shape-of-world-c...

  10. 4 out of 5

    Todd Miles

    Noll is an excellent historian and an able writer. His thesis is that the Christian world needs to pay attention to Christianity in America, not because America ought to lead the world church, but because so many places around the world have similar circumstances to the American experience when the church in America exploded during the 19th century. Using statistics and story, Noll makes a compelling case.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Robert Murphy

    This is a singularly important book for Americans to read. We've done a very bad job at reporting to ourselves the status of the Church around the world and this is a thought-provoking way to jump right in. This is a singularly important book for Americans to read. We've done a very bad job at reporting to ourselves the status of the Church around the world and this is a thought-provoking way to jump right in.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Josh

    An American look at how the American church fits in global Christianity. Noll does an excellent job.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Eric Molicki

    This is an important historical study with crucial insights for international missions today and into the future.

  14. 4 out of 5

    John Chandler

    http://www.somestrangeideas.com/2009/... http://www.somestrangeideas.com/2009/...

  15. 4 out of 5

    Rob

    This is an important work that deserves serious attention by everyone trying to make sense of geopolitics today, not simply church historians.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Chris Schutte

    Noll suggests that American influence on world Christianity is less direct than either critics or champions of America's position of global dominance might assume. Very thought provoking. Noll suggests that American influence on world Christianity is less direct than either critics or champions of America's position of global dominance might assume. Very thought provoking.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Wyatt Houtz

    Everything by noll is great.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jake

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jacob Park

  20. 5 out of 5

    Aaron

  21. 4 out of 5

    Austin Conner

  22. 5 out of 5

    T.J. Addington

  23. 4 out of 5

    John Quintilian

  24. 4 out of 5

    Maria

  25. 4 out of 5

    David

  26. 5 out of 5

    Dan Brown

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jay

  28. 4 out of 5

    Henry

  29. 4 out of 5

    Mike McNichols

  30. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Kim

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