Mark Noll, in his new and paradigm-challenging book, The New Shape of World Christianity: How American Experience Reflects Global Faith, argues that American Christianity’s influence in world Christianity cannot be explained adequately by the colonialism theory. Instead, he argues that it is the peculiar character of American, esp Protestant evangelical, Christianity that ties in with social trends in other countries that makes American Christianity so influential.
I cannot emphasize enough the significance of this thesis — and every pastor, professor and anyone who speaks to the media about Christianity’s presence in the world needs to read this book. Especially chp. 7.
So what are the peculiarities of American (Protestant, evangelical) Christianity? (Let us remind ourselves that some need to hear that American Christianity is a version of Christianity.) Noll sums up the scholarship that leads to these characteristics and leanings:
1. Individual self-fashioning over communal identification
2. Language of choice and personal freedom, alongside a language of given boundaries and personal responsiblity
3. Comfortable use of commerce vs. cautious skepticism about commerce
4. Religious bodies as voluntary organizations organized for action vs. inherited institutions organized for holding fast
5. Optimistic hope to create new institutions vs. skepticism about innovation
6. Personal appropriation of sacred writings vs. hierarchical inherited readings
7. Utilitarian attitude toward geography vs. settled geographical identity
8. Mingling ethnic groups vs. single ethnic groups
9. Innovative bourgeois middle classes instead of deference to traditional elites.
When these features emerge in other countries, this kind of Christianity will also emerge in it — and take on native characteristics.
Noll concludes chp 7 with a sketch of Ogbu Kalu’s research on African Pentecostalism which pushes against the colonialist and American founding thesis and shows the significance of local variations and choice in how Pentecostalism has grown and developed (see his African Pentecostalism: An Introduction