Zoom Out: A Brief Review of The Evangelicals by Christopher Catherwood

Reading Christopher Catherwood’s,  The Evangelicals was, for me, much like hitting the “Zoom Out” button on Google Earth, pulling back from the satellite image of my familiar neighborhood, to see my county, my state, my nation and continent.  It was affirming to see again our church’s connection to God’s larger purpose.  As a man reared in a believing home in the Southeastern United States, educated in a Christian climate, surrounded by people who share similar theological convictions, I am well-acquainted with my ecclesiological “neighborhood”, so I was well-served to see the bigger picture.

I found the book to be accessible and well-written, thorough without becoming tedious and verbose.

Given his background as a Brit, married to a Virginian, involved in a poly-ethnic fellowship at Cambridge and recognized as a church historian, Catherwood is in a good position to survey the evangelical landscape.  The author reinforced something I was surprised to learn a couple of years ago from David Wells, author of The Courage to be Protestant, that North Africa is the geographical center of God’s work globally.  This, along with data exposing the advance of the gospel throughout the Asian continent, encouraged me, particularly as a member of a church seeking to serve the nations.  Catherwood challenged the notion of a homogenous snapshot of evangelicalism,  noting that the “average evangelical is an economically poor Nigerian woman with numerous family members suffering with HIV/AIDS.”

I found the early chapters to be the least helpful.  Were I editing the book, I would  have either omitted chapters one and two, or included them as appendices.  So my suggestion is to jump immediately to the helpful chapter three, “Who are Evangelicals?”

This chapter included some surprising statistics:

  • There are more Presbyterians in Korea than in the United States.
  • Half of church attenders in London are of African ancestry.
  • Some statisticians believe that there may be as many as 80 million Christians in the People’s Republic of China
  • It is probable that, within the lifetime of the average reader, Nigeria, Uganda and Brazil will have far more Christians than Europe and the U.S.

I also found the summary of the major eschatalogical positions within Evangelicalism to be beneficial reading.  Catherwood noted the positions of key leaders, both contemporary and historical, which I found interesting.  There are many readers, I’m sure, who are not as politically-ambivalent as me, which explains, I’m sure, the book’s closing focus.  I would have preferred that the book spend more time developing the theological distinctives of believers around the world rather than tracking the political trends within the American church.  But, that’s just me.

The benefit of seeing God’s work on a world-wide scale more than compensates for the few less-than-helpful focuses.   One noteworthy “takeaway” for me was the sobering realization that most Evangelicals globally are suffering.  That, I trust, will motivate me to intercede for and actively serve brothers and sisters who are serving our Master far, far, from my neighborhood.

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