What is the Christian century?

In the January 1900 issue of the Chris­tian Century, then editor C. A. Young wrote optimistically about the potential for the growth of Christianity around the world: “May not the coming century be known as the Christian Century?” From his vantage point in North America, Young foresaw a steady advance of Christianity from the West to “the rest.”

The 20th century did indeed see dramatic growth in the geographical extent and character of Christianity. At the same time that people in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and elsewhere took hold of Jesus and the Bible in new ways, people in the Euro-Atlantic world began to turn away. In the global ecumenical movement, historic Christian denominations began working together in un­precedented fashion even as new independent and Pentecostal churches began appropriating the Christian message in ways that challenged traditional understandings of church. In the second half of the century, new waves of migration brought further change. By the end of the century, the body of Christ was more diverse, global, and interconnected than at any other time in history—but not at all in the way Young had envisioned.

Scott Sunquist calls this the “unexpected Christian century.” Dean of the School of Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary, Sunquist is well positioned to offer a survey of a transforming century. In thematic chapters, he examines the impact that politics, migration, and other religions have had on the development of Christianity both by tracing their effects on large confessional families of churches and by profiling two dozen individuals who have had a significant influence on global Christianity. The result is a book that ranges widely but does not always dig deep.