Orville Jenkins Articles Menu
Orville Jenkins Home
Orville Jenkins Book Reviews Menu


Advocate for the New World Christians
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
A review of the book by Lamin Sanneh
Whose Religion is Christianity? (Grand Rapids/Cambridge:  William B Eerdmans, 2003.  138p)

See my book reviews on Amazon.com
See menu of all book reviews on this site

Sanneh uses a dialogue format to describe the worldwide character of the Christian faith, in contrast to he persistent secular rationalist myth that Christianity is a western religion imposed upon peoples of the world.  He probes the many aspects of this multi-faceted question in terms of an incisive barrage of questions from an opponent with whom he engaging in conscientious and respectful dialogue, dealing with each matter in some detail.

Lamin Sanneh is a native of Gambia who now serves as a professor at Yale Divinity School.  He is professor of Missions and World Christianity as well as professor of History.  The range of these disciplines are experssed in the intellectual precison of this short work.  Sanneh has personal experience and scholarly background in the cultural forms of Christianity in various parts of the world.  He serves as an advocate for the voice of Christians in the areas of the world too often ignored or misunderstood by the west.

World Christianity
Unfortunately, most Christians are not any better informed about the rest of the world or the Christians there than political leaders are.  The Christian faith has steadily grown in to a multivarious world movement, with Christians outside the traditional Christian areas now outnumbered by world Christians of viritually every culture of the world.  Strong indigenous missionary movements reach out from many "Third World" countries.

Sanneh's descriptions of the indigenous approach of the Christian mission and the indigenous character of mother tongue development enhances and affirms traditional cultures wherever they are, in contrast to most other cross-cultural approaches.  He presents "World Christianity" as the forms of Christian faith inculturated in the many cultures that sometimes seem alien to each other.

He focuses on the unity in faith beyond the specific variations we find from culture to culture.  He develops this view in the African cultural context with which he is most familiar.

He contrasts the vibrant indigenized Christianity we find with the paternalistic attitude of secular western rationalism.  Many of us who have lived among other cultures in Africa have noted those benevolent, well-meaning foreigners who approach other cultures of the world with a barely hidden impatience with what they perceive as their inferior backwardness.  They come to fix things for them if they will allow it.  But always on western terms, and usually for western benefit.

Inconsistent Secularism
In this regard Sanneh aptly highlights the ignorance of many opponents of "mission" who primarily lay bare their outdated prejudice and unawareness of what actually constitutes Christian mission.  Sanneh references cultural patterns I have observed in several decades of cross-cultural study and communication, studying cultures around the world.  I can especially relate to many of the examples Sanneh uses, coming from Africa, where the depth of my experience was developed.

I note that all through the arguments presented by his hypothetical questioner appear the logical contradictions we often observe from westerners who assume a condescending view of other cultures.  These westerners seem to think their cultural pattern is the height of a supposed historical evolution of culture, and thus other cultures are necessarily lagging behind.

This cultural imperialism in the western paternalistic approach to Africa and other cultures comes out clearly in this discussion, and is rejected by Sanneh in a gentle but clear and firm manner.  Sanneh is an advocate for the peoples.

Free Choice
Sanneh consistently portrays the central role of traditional indigenous cultures in Christian mission and Bible translation into the vernacular.  Coupled with this is the principle of free and informed choice, rather than the coerced conversion we have seen so often in the history of other religions and cultural imperialisms, notably the movement of Islam across the geography of the world and its cultures.

The diversity and variety of language and cultural expression in the Christian community is not a divisive factor, but rather is seen as the strength of the faith as a universal human phenomenon, freely accessible to all cultures and languages equally, appropriated and adapted and reexpressed by each in a unity beyond their individual diversity.

This is a pithy, challenging but highly readable short book packed with value and insight for rationalist and religious alike.

See related reviews and articles on this site:
[menu] Articles about African Peoples
[Review] South African Spirituality
[review] Sympathetic Insights towards Traditional Worldviews
[review] Worldview, Ethnicity and Social Dynamics in African Politics

See this book with my review on Amazon.com.
See my book reviews on Amazon.com
See menu of all book reviews on this site
See my reading lists
Many other books have review notes with the reading list entry


First reading notes written 2 February 2009
Finalized review posted on Amazon and OJTR 8 February 2009

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2009 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Other rights reserved.

Email:  orville@jenkins.nu
Orville Jenkins Articles Menu
Orville Jenkins Home
Orville Jenkins Book Reviews Menu

filename:  sannehwhosereligion.html