Clouds of Witnesses: Part 1

Clouds of Witnesses: Christian Voices from Africa and Asia.
Mark A. Noll, Carolyn Nystrom. IVP Books, $25.00 hardcover (300p) ISBN 978-0-8308-3834-9

In a dramatic century of reversal, the majority of Christians has shifted from western countries in the 1900s to places like India, Africa, China, and Korea today.

Some books do the accounting, others feature missionaries to those lands. But what about the stories of men and women who helped spread the gospel to their own countries? A new book by historian Mark A. Noll and prolific writer Carolyn Nystrom tells a number of these stories. The Holy Spirit, the Word, and the voice of God has been powerful and active for centuries, moving people in countries all over the world.

The authors say they wrote the book because many remain unaware of the way Christianity has spread in other countries in the past and today through the influence of men and women in Africa, China, Korea, and India.

Yet there are, the authors say, few activities that rekindle the foundational realities of faith than to see them at work in regions where Christ is being confessed anew.

Some, however, think that Christianity has become diverse in the twenty-first century, but Noll and Nystrom show that a great diversity has already existed for centuries.

One value of this book is the window it opens to a diverse world and rather than remaining oblivious, the authors say these stories show indelibly that the Holy Spirit has been active across the world and across time.

“One of the great benefits to arise from trying to learn from Christ-followers from other places is to make us more self-conscious about our own cultural assumptions. The end product of this process need not be cultural relativism but rather greater clarity about the profusion of God’s work in creating so many cultures and his power in illuminating the entire rainbow of human diversity by the grace of Christ.” [277]

A story from the late 1800s of a British missionary kissing an African baby is an illustration of the reversal of how cultures might think of each other. For Africans not accustomed to kissing, the missionary appeared to be savoring food. Well aware that whites engaged in capture and slavery, those witnessing this kiss concluded that whites are cannibals. Ironically, Westerners have feared the same thing about Africans.

The book has “the rest of the story” quality to it, with seventeen profiles of amazing people you’ve never heard of but must know about.

More tomorrow.