Global Awakening: How 20th-Century Revivals Triggered a Christian Revolution
by Mark Shaw. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2010, 221pp., softcover, $20.00 Global Awakening
is the most recent work by Mark Shaw, an American who has spent twenty-five years teaching in Africa, and who presently serves as director of the world Christianity program at the African International University in Nairobi, Kenya. Shaw’s other works include 10 Great Ideas from Church History
and The Kingdom of God in Africa: A Short History of African Christianity.
Shaw’s thesis is that the phenomenon of evangelical revivals helps to explain the explosion of Christianity in the 20th century, especially in the Global South or non-Western world, even amid the expectation from Western observers that Christianity would die a death to secularism. In chapter 1, he proposes a theoretical framework for analyzing revivals. This first includes the spiritual dynamics in which believers experience personal liberation from sin, a renewed eschatological vision, radical community, and are moved toward evangelical activism (pp. 16-18). Second, he observes three areas of cultural dynamics: indigenization, a transfer of power to new leadership; inculturation, the translation of Christian truth into the host culture’s worldview; and contextualization, the just transformation of status, structures, and systems (pp. 20-24). Related, he adds that over the course of revivals, three historic stages can be observed: a problem stage where old leadership and spiritual forms prove insufficient; a paradigm stage in which new leaders are movements emerge; and a power stage where the new movement is challenged by reactionaries (i.e., government) or radicals within the revival movement itself (pp. 24-27). In giving attention to both divine and human factors within these movements, Shaw defines revival s as “charismatic people movements that seek to transform their world by translating Christian truth and transferring power” (p. 28). Between this theoretical foundation laid out in chapter 1 and further analysis in chapter 10, Shaw labors to support his thesis by narrating the stories of eight 20th century revival movements that include:
· The 1907 Korean revival (chapter 2).
· The Aladura (Nigerian) revival of 1930 (chapter 3).
· The Dornakal (India) revival of the 1920s and 1930s (chapter 4).
· The East African (Ugandan) revivals of the 1940s (chapter 5).
· American revivals in the latter half of the 20th century (chapter 6).
· Brazilian revivals beginning the 1970s (chapter 7).
· Revivals in Ghana in the 1980s and 1990s (chapter 8).
· Revivals within the Chinese house church movement in the latter half of the 20th century (chapter 9).
In terms of related works, Shaw’s book generally resembles some recent works on the 20th century phenomenon of global Christian expansion, particularly in the Global South. The most notable include those by Phillip Jenkins (The Next Christendom, The New Faces of Christianity),
Lamin Sanneh (Disciples of all Nations, Whose Religion is Christianity?)
, Donald Lewis (ed., Christianity Reborn),
and Mark Noll (The New Shape of World Christianity).
As Shaw treats 20th century revivals, his aims are also similar to those of J. Edwin Orr (The Flaming Tongue)
and Richard Lovelace (Dynamics of Spiritual Life),
authors that he interacts with at some length.
Shaw’s work has a number of strengths. First, he successfully defends his thesis through telling the story of revivals around the globe. The book is very well researched both in the literature and through the author’s own interviews and observations. In addition to his sound scholarship, Shaw relates the narrative of each context in a colorful, personal, and winsome manner that causes the reader to look forward to the next chapter. Though three of the eight chapters deal with revivals on the African continent—certainly the author’s area of expertise—the revival accounts from Asia (Korea, India, and China) and the Americas (USA and Brazil) provide a diverse enough sample of global Christianity to support the author’s aims.
Second, Shaw’s study challenges the notion held by some scholars (i.e., Brower, Gifford, and Rose, Exporting the American Gospel)
that global Christianity is merely an American export. The author accomplishes this by not only showing how revivals occur in diverse cultural contexts but also within diverse ecclesiastical (i.e., Anglican, Pentecostal, neo-Pentecostal) structures. Though exhibiting basic evangelical convictions, the emphases with each revival were also diverse: conversion in India, repentance in Uganda, physical healing in Nigeria, and speaking in tongues in Brazil. While the various revivals seemed spontaneous and unique according to context, it does appear that word of revivals (including published accounts) in places such as Wales bred anticipation for revival in Korea and China in the early 20th century. Hence, there is a sense that there are diverse trajectories of Christianity within a global church that maintains some cohesiveness.
Finally, I enjoyed how Shaw told the story of 20th century American evangelicalism within the broader story of global Christianity. As a North American, I think that Shaw’s angle challenges my people to maintain a healthy and humble perspective about ourselves and toward the global church. It was also insightful to consider how much American Christianity has been influenced by the Lausanne Movement. Though Lausanne was initiated by American evangelist Billy Graham in 1974, Graham and his evangelistic association, which funded much of the first Lausanne conference and its subsequent meetings (see www.lausanne.org
) , listened to and were influenced by global theologians such as Samuel Escobar (Peru), Rene Padilla (Ecuador), John Stott (Britain), and Peter Beyerhaus (Germany) in theology of mission—particularly the relationship between proclamation and social action.
While I really liked Global Awakening,
I do have two brief critiques. First, I initially found it difficult to follow how Shaw was using the terms indigenization, inculturation, and contextualization (pp. 20-24). Over the course of the last half century, missiologists have begun to use contextualization to represent all three concepts and typically the terms refer to deliberate mission praxis. Shaw appears to be using the three terms to describe the outcomes and realities of revivals. While he has clearly defined how he is using them and employs these meanings consistently throughout the book, I am still not convinced that these are the best terms to use, especially in light of how they are used differently in missiological literature.
Finally, I think the book could have used a few more chapters devoted to other 20th century revival movements. A European example is noticeably missing. Though the 1904 Welsh revivals were alluded to a few times, I think that a dedicated chapter on this movement would have strengthened the book. Some discussion of Filipino Christianity and the revivals among the Kabyle Berber people (Algeria) would have also been welcomed.
In summary, Shaw has proposed an important thesis and supported it ably. Professors and students of global Christianity, intercultural studies, and evangelism will certainly want to read this, while professors and research advisers would do well to add this resource to their syllabi and suggested reading list. I think also pastors would find the narratives inspiring and even useful illustrative aids in preaching.