The Future of the Global Church: History, Trends, and Possibilities. By Patrick Johnstone. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2011. xiv + 240 pages, hardback, $40.
I greatly appreciated Johnstone’s new work, Future of the Global Church. Having benefited from Operation World since the late 80s, I am grateful for Johnstone’s research that has helped Christians for decades to be more globally aware and able to pray more intelligently. Upon first glance, FOGC strikes me as a cross between OW and the World Christian Encyclopedia as the author communicates much data through the language of graphs, tables, and maps.
In the first of nine chapters, Johnstone discusses nine global challenges, including critical issues like migration, disease, and water resources. In chapter 2, in a brief forty pages, he lays out twenty centuries of church history. A survey of the world religions is the focus of chapter 3, while chapters 4-6 are devoted to global Christianity from its broadest expression, to movements of renewal, and finally to evangelical Christianity. The largest chapter (chap. 7) focuses on the status of world’s unevangelized peoples. Finally, in chapters 8-9, Johnstone looks at missionaries and the remaining task of global missions.
This resource book has a number of strengths. As noted, many of the maps are phenomenal and certainly engaging for visual learners. I particularly appreciated those that conveyed the history of evangelical awakenings (pp. 132-38). While the book is full of maps, graphs, and tables, Johnstone is also an able writer and his prose nicely compliments the visual data. Nearly every page includes a section called “food for thought” or “burning question for today” that engages the reader and invites a moment (or more) of reflection. My favorite part was chapter 7 in which Johnstone lays out his paradigm of affinity blocs of people groups (i.e., Arab, Eurasian)—a fresh and challenging framework for how we understand cultural groups. In my research on Brazilian intercultural workers in the Arab world, I have relied on Johnstone’s innovative thinking in this area.
What could have been improved? First, I was a bit puzzled why the author spent so much space on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a section on water resource issues (pp. 18-19). The scope of the global issue seemed overtaken by this regional conflict. Second, there appeared to be some unnecessary overlap between the chapters on church history (chap. 2) and evangelical awakenings (chap. 5). Finally, while I am delighted that Johnstone located his work on the global church historically, there were some historical overstatements. For instance, he has a map (p. 23) showing the missionary itineraries of the first-century apostles, which are at best conjecture. Also, he makes the problematic and anachronistic comparison between the second- and third-century Montanist sect and the modern Pentecostal movement (p. 25).
All said, this is a great resource that should be referred to regularly by missionaries and pastors as they educate the church on global missions. College and seminary students will also find this useful for research in missions and global Christianity courses. As a teacher, I found myself coveting many of the maps and tables; so I was happy to learn that the book is also available in digital form to facilitate classroom presentations.