Introduction to World Christian History
Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2016.
Available at Amazon.com
Reviewed by Felicity Clift
It is difficult to think of Christianity aside from that which is set immediately before us historically, culturally, socially and personally, and it is into this circumscribe spiritual mentality that Derek Cooper’s book, Introduction to World Christian History (InterVarsity Press, 2016), brings a wind that stirs what is settled in refreshing and stretching ways. Following the suit of Philip Jenkins, Cooper chooses to write about Christianity, where ‘Christian’ is defined as ‘anyone who calls themselves so,’ without arbitration (p.19). His key purpose, which he states clearly, is to set out a global, geographical history of Christianity, tracking its growth from its birthplace in Asia to its current presence (patchy or robust) around the world. The many divisions within the Church – Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant divisions amongst them – are identified and put in their historical place without bias. The consequence is that while this does, at times, seem to paint the spread of Christianity as a purely human (and too frequent a political or mercenary) endeavor, devoid of Godly providence, Cooper’s approach also allows the reader to see the diversity of Christianity in the world, and prompts reconsideration of how God chooses to reveal himself.
Where such a venture, to map the progress of Christianity across space and time, could lead to a confusion of historical names and boundaries, Cooper’s choice to use the UN Geoscheme for Nations aids the visualization of this progression. So too does his inclusion of chapter and section overviews. Derek Cooper focuses on the spread of Christianity but simultaneously acknowledges the influence of other major world religions such as Islam and Buddhism, making this a book that is helpful for any reader who desires a greater understanding of how there came to be such diversity within the Christian Church across the globe. The relevance of this book to a wide audience is further expanded by the consideration of Christianity in every geographic region. I sit in Oceania, and my understanding of my religious climate has been helpfully expanded through this reading. It seems reasonable to assume the same benefit to readers around the world given Cooper’s attention to each global region. Introduction to World Christian History
testifies to the truth that God ‘made all the nations… and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands… so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us’ (Acts 17:26-27). So, while Cooper is content to state that his book offers a purely historical geography of Christianity, it also prompts thinking about what implications this global vision of Christianity might have for our understanding God, for mission, and for the Church in the world.