Everyone Needs to Read Something by Andrew Walls — Here’s one option:

Posted: October 27, 2012 in book reviews, evangelical history, next evangelicalism

Every Christian needs to have read something by Andrew Walls. Even if it’s a portion of his writing, like the landmark article, “The Ephesian Moment.” I offer a review of one of his foundational works.

In The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History, Andrew Walls seeks to provide missiological and theological insight into the significant changes that have occurred in Christianity, particularly during the twentieth century. Walls’ primary intention is not to document or statistically verify the demographic changes in world Christianity, but instead, to focus attention on the ways that the ongoing cultural adaptation of Christianity contributes to these demographic changes.

Beginning with the historical event of the cross, Walls examines the sweep of church history.  Walls proceeds to reflect on the ongoing movement of God in the current context of world Christianity and emphasizes the cross-cultural, barrier-crossing nature of Christianity – a process that has endured for over two thousand years. The ongoing story of the Church relies upon the cross-cultural process of adaptation and transmission for its robust growth.

Walls’ thesis leads to an explication of the Ephesian moment in church history. Walls describes the Ephesian moment as the emergence of a new cultural expression of Christianity that is not an abrogation of an older expression, a syncretism with a newly encountered expression, nor a synthesis of the old with the new. “The very height of Christ’s full stature is reached only by the coming together of the different cultural entities into the body of Christ. Only “together,” not on our own, can we reach his full stature” (77).  For Walls, the ongoing crossing of cultures and the embodiment of Christ in different cultures is the fulfillment of the move of God in the church. “The Ephesian moment, then, brings a church more culturally diverse than it has ever been before; potentially, therefore, nearer to that ’full stature of Christ’ that belongs to his summing up of humanity” (81).

The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History is a landmark book in the study of missions and church history in the twentieth century. Walls successfully contrasts the 1910 World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh[1] with the subsequent changes in world Christianity. While the 1910 Edinburgh Conference anticipated the inevitable triumph of Western Christianity in the twentieth century, the actual history of twentieth century Christianity revealed a Christianity that went beyond the cultural boundaries of Western Christianity.  Instead, the twentieth century witnessed the expansion of Christianity fostered by cultural adaptation.

The strength of Walls’ argument lies in his ability to honor the work of Western missionaries in the 20th century, while simultaneously challenging the prevailing narrative of a triumphalistic Western missionary endeavor.  In short, Walls honors the legacy of 20th century Western missions, but at the same time, offers an alternative interpretation of Western missions and points the church towards a dynamic future. Walls demonstrates the positive theological outcomes of these demographic changes and places these changes in the context of a larger view of church history.


[1] Walls claims that the Edinburgh conference “was a landmark in the history of mission; . . . the high point of the Western missionary movement and the point from which it declined” (53).

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