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The Christian World: A Global History (Modern Library Chronicles)
Modern Library, 2008
288 pp., $25.00
New Maps, Old Maps
Christianity is rapidly reverting to its normal and proper place in the world. After some curious centuries in which the faith was largely the preserve of Europeans and their offspring overseas, Christianity is once more returning to its ancient homelands, in Africa and Asia, as well as to Latin America and Oceania. The fact of that modern-day global spread is no longer surprising, but many still do not appreciate the historical context. So grounded is Christianity in the Western inheritance that it seems almost revolutionary to contemplate this globalization, with all its potential impact on theology, art, and liturgy. Some even ask whether this new global or world Christianity will remain fully authentic, as European norms seem to represent a kind of gold standard.
But such questions appear quite ironic when we realize how unnatural the Euro-American emphasis is, when seen against the broader background of Christian history: another, earlier global Christianity once existed. For most of its history, Christianity was a tricontinental religion, with powerful representation in Europe, Africa, and Asia, and this was true into the 14th century. Most conventional histories of Christianity omit a thousand years of the story, at least as it affected vast stretches of territory—several million square miles, in fact. Christianity became predominantly European not because this continent had any obvious affinity for that faith, but by default: this was the continent where it did not fall to ruin. As Andrew Walls noted, "it was not until comparatively recent times—around the year 1500—that the ragged conversion of the last pagan peoples of Europe, the overthrow of Muslim power in Spain, and the final eclipse of Christianity in Central Asia and Nubia combined to produce a Europe that was essentially Christian and a Christianity that was essentially European." And at that point, some believe, there began the North Atlantic Captivity of the Church.
Inevitably, then, ...