Kingdom Without Borders
The Untold Story of Global Christianity
InterVarsity Press, 2009, 294 pp. ISBN 978-0-8308-3849-3
Miriam Adeney is professor of global and urban ministries at Seattle Pacific University and the author of Daughters of Islam and God’s Foreign Policy. In this book she describe the growth and practice and struggles of Christianity around the world by sharing stories and vignettes of the lives of people. Extremely engaging and stimulating.
1. These are My People
“Sometimes the gospel saves a whole people from annihilation.” In Borneo, in the middle of the nineteenth century the British governor prohibited head-hunting and improved agricultural methods. More rice and freedom from fear led to more fermented beverages, partying and heavy drinking. Alcoholism became a major scourge, families were broken, and violence erupted frequently. Then in Australia, several Christians felt called to serve the Lun Bawang and Kelabit people. When they arrived, officials tried to discourage them. They said it was not worthwhile because those people are going to disappear. They will be gone in a generation. Nevertheless, the missionaries did go. They shared God’s good news. The people responded. Lives changed. They quit drinking. Families healed. They asked the government for schools. Today they are literate, contributing citizens. Including believers in nearby tribes, there are 150,000 followers of Jesus, and more than one thousand churches. They say, “The gospel saved us, not only as individuals but as a people.” (31)
“The church is on a journey, not in a box. Global flows are taking us in new directions. … The nations are in our neighborhoods. Wherever we live, we hardly can go to the mall without passing people from half a dozen countries. Reaching across these cultural boundaries should feel natural. It always has been our call. … David sang, ‘May all the peoples praise you’ (Ps 67:5)” (33)
2. The Elephant in the Room – Jesus’ People in China
In China the Church is now bigger than the Communist Party. Christianity is the elephant in the room. When there is an elephant in the room you move carefully. “If China is a powerhouse, Jesus’ people are its lights.” (45) “There are no parallels in history to the Chinese church’s huge growth since 1960. It is unprecedented.” (48) “Christianity is associated not with tradition and ritual but with modernity, business and science.” (49) Chinese studying overseas are becoming Christians by the hundreds. (50) Getting mature pastors in china is a challenge. The two-year-olds are teaching the one-year-olds.
3. The Word
Ann Judson lived only 37 years, but she made them count. Among all her other ministries she translated several books of the Bible into both Burmese and Thai. Bible translation is still a priority because “in the Scripture we see what God is like, what he has done for us and what he will do.” (70) “God didn’t send us a summary or an outline or a how-to book. He gifted us with a complex compilation of story, doctrine, poetry and prophecy. It takes a lifetime to absorb. … We mull over it, we inhale it, we savor it. To really get it, we obey it.” (71)
Throughout the 1990s almost one fifth of Ethiopia’s university students participated in the student Christian movement. There were 500 trained Bible study leaders. (81)
4. Pulsating Passion – Jesus’ People in Latin America
Pentecostals thrive and become a major force. “Religion seems to bring order to their lives at the very time that it allows for ecstatic release—which may, indeed be the unique genius of Pentecostalism.” (97, quoting Yamamori and Miller) The Bible becomes their book. They learn to read, learn new social skills. They participate in daily meetings and become part of community life. They walk long distances and build relationships beyond their communities to share their faith. However, Christianity can become routine, a public form. Subjectivism, sentimentalism and emotionalism are dangers.
“In the jungles of Brazil, over a thousand Indians from a dazzling variety of tribes gather annually in conferences to worship and fellowship. In 2008, fourteen hundred delegates convened.” (109) Almost 10,000 Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking missionaries serve around the globe. (110) Many Latin Americans travel internationally to work – a million in Spain. This migration of believes is changing the religious landscape in Europe.
In school Sundar learned that Jesus said he was ‘the way and the truth and the life,’ and that ‘no one comes to the Father except through me’ (Jn 14:6). This disturbed him greatly. The Bible teachings contradicted his family’s religious beliefs. One night Jesus appeared to Sundar. When he announced that he would follow Jesus, his schoolmates turned on him. His parents threw him out. At 16 he dressed in the yellow cloth of a wandering truth-seeker and walked and told stories for the rest of his life. The life of Sundar Singh had a powerful impact on many in India.
“Choose Jesus or choose your family! … She chose Jesus and never saw her parents again. The pain aches to this day.” Mannu and her husband moved from India to Nepal, and in the face of a possible 6-year prison sentence for witnessing, they immediately began a church in their living room. Today the Patan church has more than 2000 members. (130)
What about cults? Some so-called churches practice paganism. How do African Christians discern or “test the spirits?” They ask: How central is Jesus? the Bible? and baptism and the Lord’s supper? Are heretics disciplined and what direction is the movement heading? (134)
6. Axis of Hope – Jesus’ People in the Muslim World
Adeney focused on the people of Iran as an example of the Muslim world. Some estimate as many as 800,000 followers of Jesus inside Iran. But following Jesus in Iran is costly. Some get fired, other imprisoned, even killed. Muslim regimes do not foster religious freedom. Conversion out of Islam is prohibited. Resistance to conversion is increasing.
A new tier of leadership is developing among Iranian Christians. The old leaders are likely in prison. Christians are committed to small fellowships. Seminaries are not allowed but there are several training programs outside the country.
Iran has been blessed by special revelation: Daniel, Ether and Nehemiah lived there! Even before 500 A.D. there was a body of Christian literature in the Persian language. Catholics arrived in the 1200s and Protestants in the early 1800s. William Miller went to Iran in 1918 and traveled by foot, donkey, and cart perhaps 50,000 miles back and forth across Iran to talk with people about Jesus.
Gasem learned about the Bible from the words on the paper the grocer used to wrap his cheese. He went to the grocer and bought the whole book from which the cheese was being wrapped page by page.
Bill and Melinda Gates have given away $40 billion to reduce global poverty. How can we serve the poor and oppressed? Here are some principles:
“The poor want something better, but it has to make sense to them.” One must take the time to listen and understand and adapt to local priorities. (179)
8. Mystic Servants – Jesus’ People in the Hindu World
In India there are states where nearly the whole population is Christian. Yet in other states conversion is completely banned. The largest unreached people groups are in India as well as one of the biggest national mission movements, including more than 200 mission agencies supporting almost 50,000 missionaries. Youth dominate the future. Youth churches are springing up.
There are three significant streams of Indian Christianity, Dharmic, Dalit and dot-com. Some Christians cultivate and incorporate the best of Indian dharma (teaching and customs). There are wandering holy men. They revere classic Indian literature and culture. The Dalits, considered untouchable, make up about 20% of the population and have the most difficult time. They exist to be used. India has more poor and illiterate people than any other nation. 40 million are homeless. 450 million live on less than $1 per day. Not having their needs met within Hinduism, huge masses of Dalits are open to religious alternatives. The Dot-coms are the younger middle class, 250 million young professionals who now inhabit their own special world of money, pleasure, status, dating and promotions.
Hindutva, fundamentalist Hinduism, is appealing to many. It exalts the Hindu heritage and denigrates other faiths, teaching that Hinduism is the only authentic Indian spirituality. In 1990s it turned violent. The 30 million Indians abroad send back $27 billion annually to India, some of which helps fund Hindutva.
Barnabas was asked to write “teaching songs” for the crowded refugee camp where there were few Bibles. He studied and wrote and eventually composed 400 songs based on Scripture, many of which are now in the Khmer hymnal. Throughout time, most Christians have received Scripture orally. And millions of Christians don’t read or don’t read very well or very much. Story, song, memorization, art, and action are needed in addition to Internet and print to witness and disciple. For many peoples “their memories are their documents.” (212)
10. When You Go Through the Fire – Jesus’ People in Africa
Adeney recites personal stories of ethnic violence in Rwanda, Muslim-Christian violence in Northern Nigeria, the tragedy of failed states, and mentions the health and wealth gospel.
Some Nigerian Muslims long for a society governed by the law of God. They see secular law opening the door to all kinds of immorality—pornography, adultery, babies without fathers, drugs, robbery and murders—in modern urban society. Sharia provides structure that guides society toward living under God’s rules. (239) When militant Muslims moved in, violence against Christian churches followed. And while high-level agreements are failing, grassroots community-based dialogue holds promise. “Witness is alive across Africa. If churches are burned, leaders emerge from the fire. Five thousand two hundred Nigerian missionaries serve in fifty-six countries today under the umbrella association of NEMA, the Nigerian Evangelical Missions Association. This is a network of more than one hundred Nigerian denominational and parachurch organizations.” (241)
“So many early Christian thinkers lived in Africa that we might say Africa shaped European Christian thought.” (245)
“…the ‘prosperity gospel’ teachers are partly right. Christian faith often helps the family budget. People get drunk less. Their lives become more orderly. They become more accountable. Many churches help people in dysfunctional situations…. Christian faith encourages and inspires and motivates. Renouncing idols and serving Christ blesses individuals and can also bless communities and nations.” (249-50)
11. Way of the Cross
Persecution and suffering occurs in Afghanistan, Palestine, Cambodia, Columbia and places in Africa as well as elsewhere. “The gospel is not only good news. It threatens established systems and powers. Those systems and powers fight back. … More Christians have been killed in the twentieth century than in any previous era.” (257) Whole libraries could be filled with stories of suffering. Some are delivered but many are not. They follow the ‘suffering Servant’ ‘who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame’ (Heb 12:20). (258)
12. Way of Life
In this chapter Adeney looks at many unusual ways the Gospel is flowing around the globe via global networks. Ministry to smuggled Chinese, Mexicans and others being held in U.S. detention centers is an example. All kinds of people are scattered across the country including refugees, immigrants, international students, merchant seamen, migrant workers, and international business people. Even our jails demonstrate global diversity. Global fellowships thrive when local fellowships thrive and minister.
Although there is great persecution of believers, Burmese Christians send out missionaries. “Poverty and politics pose problems for these mission movements. Yet some of their difficulties are unique. For example, several years ago the 3/300 Movement trained and commissioned three hundred young Kachin to be missionaries for three years in Tibet, China, India and unreached peoples in Burma. The trainers faced an unusual challenge. Thirty of the missionary volunteers were drug addicts.” Desperate parents had sent their adult addicted children to a Bible school where they had become believers. The first challenge was to detoxify the potential missionaries. (278)
“Our music and our worship must be multicultural, not simply because our society is multicultural, but because the future from which God is calling us is multicultural…. Not just so that those from other cultures may feel at home among us but also so that we may feel at home in God’s future.” (281)
* * * * * *
Your comments and book recommendations are welcome.
To discontinue receiving book notes, hit Reply and put Discontinue in the text.