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Mark Noll


His Kingdom Stretch from Shore to Shore

Church history, decidedly not parochial.

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As with Irvin and Sunquist, Hempton successfully connects the well-known history of Europe and North America with hitherto neglected developments elsewhere in the world. Early on he makes particularly good use of an extensive travel diary written by Vasyl Hryhorovyc-Bars'kyj, a Ukrainian who in the early 18th century undertook a 24-year journey through Eastern Europe, the Holy Land, Asia Minor, and finally Western Europe. His effort to explore the situation of the entire Orthodox world led to a particularly insightful account of Christians living under Ottoman Muslims, with full recognition of how their communities (millets) cold enjoy a reasonable level of peaceful autonomy; but the travel diary also detailed the painful conditions of Orthodox churches and believers in the Balkans, where Turkish Ottomans and various Christian rulers had long maintained a perpetual battleground.

Hempton provides a full paragraph on Kimpa Vita as well as a longer account of Rebecca Protten. The latter expands upon Irvin and Sunquist's brief assessment to record both how atypical it was for an African to become so active in recognized Christian ministry early in the 18th century and how typical it was for Rebecca and her husband Jacob Protten to encounter difficulties in their relationship with the Moravians (even though the Moravians were by far the era's most culturally flexible Protestant movement). But he goes even further to view Rebecca as sowing seeds that would later flourish as black Christian movements and, later still, for the public activity of Christian women. In even broader compass, she stands for Hempton as a particularly revealing figure who experienced the triangular slave trade "in reverse," underwent colonial and racial exploitation, mediated between traditional and populist forms of the faith, showed how important the Moravians were for internationalizing the Protestant world, participated in the era's expansion of travel, and stood for the broadening of Christianity beyond Christendom.

With the assistance of works by Jonathan Spence and other Sinologists, Hempton also parses encounters between Western Christians and the Chinese empire. He takes that story from Matteo Ricci's acceptance as a scientific-cum-religious savant at the imperial court in the late 16th century to the determination by the papacy in the early 18th century that Ricci's Jesuits had gone too far in accommodating Chinese rites that honored the ancestors and using Chinese words for the name of God. The unusual wisdom of the book is illustrated by Hempton's ability to show the logic behind the papal decision (perhaps the faith was in danger) as well as the disastrous results of that decision for Chinese Catholics (the Emperor was incensed by what he took to be barbaric cultural insults).

The expertise that Hempton displayed in several earlier books on the Methodists is put to unusually good use in describing the evangelical revivals of the 18th century. Following the landmark work of W. R. Ward, he defines the essential thrust of pietistic and evangelical religion as the resistance of personally appropriated faith to the controlling efforts of established churches and hegemonic states. Pietists and evangelicals were partly traditionalists as they stressed the liberating force of Protestantism's historical doctrine of justification by faith, but also very much of the modern 18th century as they practiced a religion keyed to "personal experience" and "personal and communal discipline." Through hymns, sermons addressing ordinary people, "testimonies" (especially recording the death scenes of the godly), and a new confidence in the inner spiritual authority accessible by the most ordinary laypeople, evangelicals and pietists began the transformations of daily life that continue to influence churches and Christian expressions to this day.

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