Douglas Jacobsen, The World's Christians: Who They Are, Where They Are, and How They Got There.
A comprehensive view of "ecumenism" recognizes that it includes the household of faith in time, space, belief, and--in the modern ecumenical movement--the search for visible unity. Most treatments of the Christian community focus on one or another of these dimensions, and modern scholarship has fragmented scholarship even more because of the mass of knowledge available. This volume is a welcome antidote to the "balkanization" of ecumenical concerns, in its attempt to provide a synthetic overview of Christianity, taking into account cultural diversity, confessional traditions, theological formulations, and demographic extension in a historical context.
The book is divided into three parts: traditions, demography and distribution, and history. For purposes of brevity, clarity, and simplification, Jacobsen gives four divisions to the Christian traditions: Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, and Pentecostal/Charismatic. He helpfully clarifies the necessary simplifications, e.g., by including the non-Chalcedonian, Byzantine, and Church of the East in the same category by making the necessary theological and historical distinctions. Likewise, his is more discriminating than many surveys, in trying to separate out Catholic and Protestant charismatics from the enumeration of Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians in separate churches. For each of these traditions, he outlines the distribution, spirituality and theology, structure, self-understanding, and narrative of each community. The author attempts to allow each community to speak for itself and provides useful bibliographies from sources within each tradition.
The second and longest section of the book is devoted to the contemporary demography of Christianity. Jacobsen divides the world into nine sections and provides helpful maps, graphs, and charts identifying the distribution, context, and variety of traditions in each region and each nation within the region. This section is particularly helpful in charting developments in the various regions of the global South, where Christianity is expanding exponentially, and in Eastern Europe, which is emerging again with the fall of Marxism. In each region, he attempts to summarize the issues faced by Christianity in the current situation and the recent past. Because of the complexity of the various regions covered, the book's relative brevity is both useful and frustrating to those who know the deeper history and literature. For this reason, the bibliographies provided at the end of each of the nine sections are very helpful.
The final section, on the history of the church, attempts to provide a brief, synthetic overview giving appropriate weight to the development of each of the traditions that exists during the periods. Jacobsen provides four divisions, of 500 years each. In each of the sections, there is a part on the inner life, theological debates, and ecclesial developments, and another on the relationships, context, and expansion/contraction of the churches in their wider human environment. The plan of the book--looking at the present demography and ecclesial families before recounting the common history--gives each tradition its appropriate context in history, society, and the wider culture.
This richly illustrated volume will be both a valuable reference anda helpful, advanced introductory text in contemporary Christianity. It will be a useful addition to any library and to those teaching ecumenism and global Christianity. Like any other summary volume, readers will quibble with one or another judgment the author has had to make. However, in the increasingly globalized human community, this is an invaluable resource for making sense of Christianity as a global movement.
Jeffrey Gros, F.S.C., Lewis University, Romeoville, IL
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|Publication:||Journal of Ecumenical Studies|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2012|
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