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-by Mark Noll

Translating Christianity, Part 1

The Missionary Movement in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission of Faith

By Andrew F. Walls

Orbis Books

262pp.; $20

When, in the late 1950s, Andrew Walls left his native Scotland to teach church history in Sierra Leone, he knew, because of his own theological education, what a solid curriculum in church history looked like:

"The first year was for the early Church; the second, the Reformation; the third, Scotland--after all, what else is there?" Not too long into this assignment, however, Walls experienced an illumination: "I still remember the force with which one day the realization struck me that I, while happily pontificating on that patchwork quilt of diverse fragments that constitutes second century Christian literature, was actually living in a second century church." Then came a resolve that changed his life: "Why did I not stop pontificating and observe what was going on?"

Now, a lifetime later, Walls has gathered the results of those observations in The Missionary Movement in Christian History. It is a collection of essays rooted in his early African experience but also nourished by the years in which he has guided the Centre for the Study of Christianity in the Non-Western World, first at the University of Aberdeen and more recently at New College, University of Edinburgh. If a more important book on the general meaning of Christian history is published this year--or even this decade--it will be a surprise.

The elements that make this book so important were latent in Walls's epiphany during his early days at Fourah Bay College in Sierra Leone. Most important was the realization that, in traveling the relatively short distance from Great Britain to West Africa, he was making an extraordinary, and extraordinarily complex, conceptual journey. First, he was leaping back in time over Christendom. He was going back to such a situation as had existed before the long epoch stretching from the fourth century to the nineteenth, where the lands, customs, values, ...

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