Book Review: To Whom Does Christianity Belong?

To Whom Does Christianity Belong?, Dyron B. Daughrity. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015.

To Whom Does Christianity Belong? Dyron B. Daughrity. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015.

To Whom Does Christianity Belong? Dyron B. Daughrity. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015.

Summary: This book argues that when one speaks of “Christianity” this must be understood in global terms in all of its diversity of expression and not simply in the forms we Westerners are most accustomed to.

I’m still surprised how often in conversations about matters of faith people will categorize Christianity as a Western, Euro-American faith and distinguish it from belief systems in other parts of the world. Not only is this inaccurate as to both the origins and history of Christianity, it is wildly inaccurate in terms of understanding Christianity today, when it can truly be argued that Christianity is a global faith. The Pope is from South America. The most rapidly growing churches are in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Increasingly missions, and migrations, are bringing the message of Christianity back to Europe where a vibrant Christian presence has given way to secularism.

That and more is the contention of this book. The author, in a sweeping, readable survey of Christianity around the world, contends that “Christianity” doesn’t really belong to any single group or part of the world. Some of this has to do with the diverse understandings of what Christianity is. Who gets to define this? Is it the apostolic fathers, the growing house church movement in China, the Dalits of India, or the liberation theologians of Latin America?

He turns to the “theological loci” of the church and here as well notes the distinctives to be found in ideas of the church in different parts of the world, such as the Kimbanguists of Africa, ideas of Jesus, the rise of Pentecostalism and new ideas about the Holy Spirit and teaching about the afterlife. Daughrity gives examples from various Christian movements around the world to illustrate this diversity.

He considers the church in the world looking first at Rome and the changing face of Catholicism and its various expressions throughout the world. He considers the Protestants, continuing to split and express their faith uniquely. He weighs the impact of secularization, for now a movement that has most deeply touched Europe, and wonders whether North America will follow. And he talks about the new face of missions, where as in the beginning of the church, the gospel often goes along paths of people migrations as much as through intentional activity, although now from Europe, Asia, and Latin America to the rest of the world, including the secularizing west.

The last part of the book considers contemporary themes or issues. First there is the contested ground of marriage, gender, and sexuality where the secularizing west is at odds with the majority cultures of the world–and surprisingly, Orthodox eastern Europe and Russia. Similarly, there are diverse understandings of the role of women in the family and the church. Finally, the author considers the emergence of indigenous styles of music and worship where Christians are singing new songs in many tongues.

In the end the author doesn’t answer the question of the book’s title, except to infer that it might belong to those you would not have thought of, and to a far broader swath of humanity than we might credit. The closest he gets to an answer is at the very end where he suggests that it belongs to all, who in their need, and their sufferings for righteousness seek the risen Christ. Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

There are some who will object to what might seem a “relativizing” of the Christian message. I would contend that what the author does is to resist the temptation to harmonize the diverse and even divergent strands of Christianity and gives us rather this global mosaic in all of its complexity. I also appreciate the combination of a broad and thoughtful account presented in a highly readable style. I would recommend this for anyone who wants to get a good picture of global Christianity today.

Editor’s Note: Thank-you to Bob Trube for sharing his reviews with Emerging Scholars! Bob first posted the above review on Bob on Books. I found this review of particular pertinance as we approach the Urbana Student Missions Conference (12/27-31) and offer a number of resources as part of InterVarsity Graduate & Faculty Ministries, including The Secular Academy as a Mission Field: A Panel Discussion. ~ Thomas B. Grosh IV, Associate Director, Emerging Scholars Network

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Bob Trube

Bob Trube is Associate Director Faculty Ministry/Emerging Scholars Network, Senior Area Director for InterVarsity's Graduate & Faculty Ministry team in the Ohio Valley (Ohio, West Virginia, and Western Pennsylvania) and leads the ministry to graduate students and faculty at The Ohio State University. He resides in Columbus, Ohio, with Marilyn and enjoys reading, gardening, choral singing, and plein air painting.

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One Comment

    John Mulholland commented on December 13, 2015 Reply

    This book by an American reminds me of Lamin Sanneh’s book Whose Religion Is Christianity?

    Sanneh, now a professor at Yale Divinity School, is a particularly important person to ask this question since he was born and grew up in Senegal in a Muslim family with a father who was an important elder in their village.

    Sanneh tells in the interview at the link below that neither the Methodist church nor the Roman Catholic church in Senegal were quick to welcome him after he read the Bible and wanted to become a Christian – how interesting is that. In the end, he has felt most welcomed by and has become a Roman Catholic Christian.

    An intriguing quote from the interview emphasizes how Christianity has become a world religion.

    “Among his many books, the one that has perhaps made the deepest impact is Translating the Message: The Missionary Impact on Culture (Orbis 1989), in which he argues that—contrary to the folklore that passes for social science, and in sharp contrast to Islam—Christianity preserves indigenous life and culture, thanks to its emphasis on mother-tongue translation.
    Where indigenous culture has been strong, it has absorbed Christian life and worship, thereby sustaining and even increasing its vitality.
    Where conversion has been to Islam, on the other hand, indigenous cultures have tended to be weak, and soon lose entirely the capacity to think religiously in their mother tongue. …”

    The last line above is open to investigation and research, but the fact of his perspective as a former Muslim and a native of Sengegal gives Sanneh’s idea credibility, which would not be the case for a typical American Christian.

    Thanks Bob for bringing this book to our attention.

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