Mark A. Noll (Ph.D Vanderbilt University) is Francis McAnaney Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame. Some of his main books include The Civil War as a Theological Crisis, Is the Reformation Over?, and The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield and the Wesleys.
The New Shape of World Christianity is unlike the books that I normally read and review. As a self-proclaimed lover of history, it drew my attention as a way of sharpening my knowledge of not only the historical progression of Christian history, but also modern movements around the world. After reading a few chapters, I realized that the thesis of this book focuses on the image and dispersion of American influence on global Christianity. I was intrigued.
Taking us through the significant changes that Christianity as a worldwide phenomenon has had over the years, Mark Noll flips stereotypically Western understandings of the faith on its head. The subtitle to this book gives its content away: “How American experience reflects global faith.” In this book, Noll asserts that its no longer the West (Europe and North America) that dominates Christian religious progression, but that the field has changed—“world Christianity has taken on a new shape.”
Very organized and clearly written, this book takes a mainly historical look at the progression of the North American church and its missionary ventures, its innovations in church organizations up to its current state. One of the main questions that Noll asks is, “What, in fact, has been the American role in creating the new shape of world Christianity and what is now the relation of American Christianity to world Christianity?” The answer to his question has many different positions. The best answer, says Noll, is that American Christianity and world Christianity has a strong though ill-defined relationship and that the historical progression of Christianity in each culture is indeed what draws the relationship closer. He recognizes that the U.S. is indeed a great world power and that global Christianity is beginning to parallel the historical development of American influence.
By taking us through the historical influences of the American church, Noll shows the reader how the rest of the world Christianity is correlated to U.S. Christianity. Still, though the actions of Americans has a heavy influence on the world, “American actions by no means dominate or simply ordain what is happening elsewhere.”
I would recommend this book to those who are looking to better understand the Christian faith from a historical perspective. Though this book is more academic than it is personally edifying, it’s important in making distinctions about Christian movements and broadening the scope of our faith. So, if you’re tired of living and breathing in your own little bubble of Christendom, this book will help you realize what’s going on globally. It’ll pop your personal bubble for sure.