An Introduction to Christianity on Five Continents
The Global Gospel: An Introduction to Christianity on Five Continents is a simplistic overview of the inception of Christianity from powerful event of the Pentecost to modern times. Douglas Jacobsen marvelously lays out the historic depiction of the Christian movement in a manner that is intriguing and insightful. Jacobsen begins with giving the reader an insight to how his theological worldview was formed during his childhood. The son of devote Christians, Jacobsen was taught the importance of having a personal intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. I believed this helped to open his receptiveness to the possibility of other avenues of worship.
Jacobsen’s pursuit of higher Christian education gave him a desire to find out more about other peoples of faith. This lifelong pursuit has given him an immense amount of knowledge and understanding of Christianity. His desire in this book is to assist the reader into developing a deeper understanding to other professed Christians worldwide that will spark discussion and further the mission of the gospel. My intentions for this book review is to critical assess the author’s intent and provide feedback of the content and purpose. My hope is to give an overview of this book that will inform a potential reader with its message.
Jacobsen begins this book with an introduction to explain the Christian movement from a global perspective. As he stated in the opening sentence, “Christianity is the largest religion in the world (Jacobsen, xi).” With that opening statement he gives the reader an idea of the vast amount of information, history and responsibility that comes with taking on such a monumental task. He vehemently expresses that his work is not the totality of the movement, but a serves as a foundation to better understand Christianity’s roots and its present day status around the globe.
He begins in Chapter 1 with an explanation of how Christianity from it’s beginning had global implications. This came about with the charge to all who confess Jesus Christ, according to the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 to “19…go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Jacobsen elaborates how the Great Commission was taken into the Roman Empire, Asia, Africa and Europe. In Chapter 2, he provides an overview of the Christian movement and impact it had on these different countries, forging the way to what he describes as the Four Christian Traditions.
These four Christian Traditions that Jacobsen focuses on are Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholicism, Protestant and Pentecostal. He gives a great description of how these four traditions derived from the Ancient Roman Church into this family tree that breaks off into two primary religions in Catholicism and Orthodoxy, two movements in Protestantism and Pentecostalism. He then gives a great comparison of these traditions and how they all play a vital and important part in the five continents.
In Chapters 3 – 7, he focuses on the impact of the four traditions in each major continent. Beginning with Africa, Jacobsen explains the history of Christianity on the African continent. Amidst colonization, slavery, and violence the African Christians have stood the test of time and maintain the largest number of Christians globally. He attributes much of the success of the Christian movement to the independent movement and efforts of African distinctive practices and theology. He describes Latin America’s Christianization similar that of Africa with one major tradition causing a major shift in the country, Pentecostalism. Like Africa, Latin America was colonized, subject to slavery; violence and Christendom left the people bitter and in search of independence. The Pentecostal movement was a way for the Latin Americans to express their disdain for the Roman Catholic actions or lack their of. Jacobsen describes how this reignited a fire within the Roman Catholic Church that brought about change to retake its dominance as the primary tradition.
Jacobsen elaborates on how Europe and its search for biblical truth was the driving force to much of their Christian efforts. This desire for truth and understanding brought about division that lead to the creation of the Protestant movement and separation from Roman Catholic through the Reformation. This movement would eventually cause a significant decline of Christians in Europe. He presents Asia as a country of spiritual ups and downs, one that was the center of the Christian movement that was depleted due to various dynasties. Local opposition thwarted many efforts by missionary organizations. Most Asian countries were not welcomed to the idea of foreigners roaming around in their areas. This resulted in separation from other countries making evangelism very difficult, which contributes to the low number of Christians. Jacobsen describes North America as a country that maintains the most balanced number of Christians. He explains how the different traditions and movements throughout various time periods gave way to the religious freedoms we experience today.
I believe that Jacobsen did an exceptional job of covering a mass amount of information and historical facts into a readable and simplified manner. He gave a great introduction to lay the foundation of his research and motivation for writing this book. It seems that he was able to provide the information with little influence or presuppositions. He provided a clear glimpse of where and what events took place that was crucial to the global movement of Christianity. I believed he did a phenomenal job covering the different traditions of Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, Protestant and Pentecostalism. Although others may differ on the importance of these traditions but I think that his decision to cover the ones that have had the most impact globally was beneficially to understand this movement. He was able to cover the major areas that were affected throughout history that told the story of how we derived at where we are today. The information was very detailed enough to not be difficult to grasp. His use of personal stories, testimonies and graphics of key individuals, items and maps within each tradition and country help make it more clear the effects of this global movement. The structure of the book gave a great insight as to how the major traditions originated and affected each continent. He was able to recapture the essence of each chapter in the end with a summary that reminds the reader of the essential importance of the Christian movement within that continent.
I believe that Jacobsen makes a clear argument that Christianity is the most global religion that has affected every major continent. He does an outstanding job of presenting the material as how the events took place in history to provide where Christianity stands today on each continent and across the world. He provides statistics that may be hard to substantiate but are believable based upon the religious climate of each continent. Jacobsen makes a subtle indication that Christianity is the true religion that all people need to embrace. He establishes the primacy of the gospel and its ever-present power of transforming the lives and cultures of all whom it may encounter.
This book was a valuable and delightful read. I was very intrigued by the information, particularly the statistics on where Christianity stands from a global perspective. It gave me a lot of insight as to how the Christian movement evolved from the beginning to where we are today. It gives a clear indication as to the fulfillment of Matthew 28:18-20. Although we have a ways to go, Jacobsen gives a picture of how far we’ve actually come in the Great Commission.
Dr. Stephone A. Berry is an Associate Minister at Christian Faith Fellowship in Columbia, South Carolina. He graduated with a Master of Divinity in Ministry Studies and earned a Doctorate of Ministerial Leadership from Columbia International University.