Why Your Bookshelf Needs Books from Majority World Authors
By Ian Darke
From Missio Nexus
As Colombian church leader Harold Segura says, the Church has always been “the people of the Book and of books.” Throughout history, the growth of the Church has gone hand-in-hand with increased literacy and the influence of key books. Think of the early Church fathers, Augustine, the monastery libraries, the Lollards, Martin Luther, John Wesley, and Charles Spurgeon. Today, we live in a period of spectacular growth of the Church in the Majority World—although that expansion is not void of challenges. John Stott comments: “None of us wants to dispute the extraordinary growth of the Church. But it has been largely numerical and statistical growth. And there has not been sufficient growth in discipleship that is comparable to the growth in numbers” (2006).
Concerning Latin America, Samuel Escobar writes of the increase in a new “popular religiosity” with evangelical instead of Catholic labels (Escobar 2003, 13). Some time ago, the small evangelical Church criticized the Catholic majority for a superficial allegiance to ritual, Mary, and the saints. Evangelicals deplored the lack of a life-transforming relationship which would result in a changed life. Today, it is the evangelical Church that has its own version of “popular religiosity,” in which an evangelical is defined by the radio station he or she listens to and the bumper stickers he or she buys. “Prosperity theology” has set deep roots in Latin America (Escobar 2003, 153).
Nominalism is not just a Latin American phenomenon. Young-Gu Hong, writing of the Church in Korea (another area famed for revival), notes that 51.9% of Protestants do not read the Bible at all and 34.8% do not pray. A deep and living work of the Spirit, grounded in scripture, and resulting in a discipleship that affects family relationships and business ethics, is urgent (1999, 139). Clearly, books play an important role. Many pastors in Latin America have no access to seminary training and rely on books to build up the Church and help it put its roots in the Bible.
Books are also essential in order to connect with wider society: many people have had bad experiences of evangelicalism and are “vaccinated” against biblical preaching; therefore, creative books are one means of connecting with them. Books are essential for building, equipping, and maturing the Church and its leaders, as well as for building bridges to secular culture in the Majority World. One challenge is to nurture writers and publishers within the Majority World who will sensitively provide the materials that generate true and lasting growth. The benefits of book publishing do not end there.
Reverse Mission, Publishing, and the Old World
While nominalism is a negative feature of the Church in the Majority World, a positive feature is the rise of “reverse” mission. Vibrant churches of the South invigorate flagging churches of the North or join with them to work in the 10/40 Window. New vitality from the South is not limited to the movement of missionary personnel—it includes publishing that benefits the entire Church.
Andrew Walls, founder of the Centre for the Study of Christianity in the Non-Western World and a leading scholar of trends in the Church worldwide, describes the history of the Church as always moving on: “from Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria,” then to the “Gentiles” of modern Turkey and Greece, on to Rome and the Roman Empire, then the Celtic periphery, Northern Europe, England, across to the U.S., and to Africa, Asia, and Latin America (1999, 2).
We must never delude ourselves into thinking that our bastions of spiritual vigor will always remain. The once strong churches of Asia Minor are no more. Today, the heartlands of evangelicalism in Europe and North America are no longer the center of the Christian world. Where great revival meetings gathered in Wales one hundred years ago, secularism now reigns. Once thriving church buildings are now carpet showrooms. Yet if we look globally, the Church keeps growing! In 1800, over ninety percent of the world’s Christians lived in Europe or North America. But today, sixty percent live in the Majority World. The center of gravity of the Christian Church has shifted.
Walls sees a similar shift in the future of theological reflection to the Majority World. New Christian thinking and the application of biblical truth to the world has primarily taken place in the vortex of church growth and mission:
…the most significant Christian developments in theology, for instance, or ethical thinking, or the Christian impact on society, will be those taking place in the southern continents, not those taking place in the West. The development of theological and ethical thinking in Africa and Asia and Latin America will determine mainstream Christianity (2002, 221).
Because this is the vortex of developments in theology, the Majority World will be strategic for book origination. Not only does the Majority World Church itself need books produced on local soil, the worldwide Church needs books that emerge from the Church in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Two-way mission does not only happen when Latin American missionaries come to help struggling European churches reach out to the multi-ethnic mission field on their doorstep. It also happens as biblical reflection is fed back to the universal Church from the dynamism of the Church in the South.
In a sense, this is nothing new. Books have always carried renewal to and from the periphery. Susan O’Brian writes of the two-way publishing networks in the eighteenth century, taking John Wesley and George Whitefield’s sermons across the Atlantic to the colonies, but also bringing revival documents back to the Old World, with the texts of key sermons of the Northampton Revival, to an avid public wanting to receive blessing from the “mission frontier” (1994, 38-57).
Speaking to a gathering of Christian publishers during the Frankfurt Book Fair, veteran Brazilian publisher Mark Carpenter commented, “U.S. [evangelical] publishers are so good at original publishing that they have basically closed the doors to international authors. Today’s American reader cannot access the best writing from abroad” (2002). The publishing of relevant and biblical books, by authors sensitive to the needs of their culture and who write in the language of the people, is essential for in-depth church growth within the Majority World, as well as for the invigoration of the Church in North America and Europe.
Encouraging Majority World Publishing
Are there ways we can work together with churches and leaders from the Majority World so that more and better books are produced for their own churches, and a reverse mission of Christian books coming from the South may benefit the churches of the North? Below are three suggestions to make this a reality.
1. Identify and equip writers. Some years ago, when HIV/AIDS first began to spread across Latin America, Christian doctor Apolos Landa was one of the first to recognize the importance of giving clear teaching to Christian young people. Armed with hard-to-find statistics from the Peruvian health authorities, his medical preparation, and a clear biblical message, his workshops were hard-hitting and first rate. However, they only reached small groups of young people. The needs were so great across Peru that many people, including missionary friends, encouraged him to write. Because most of his writing was limited to medical prescriptions, participation in a writer’s workshop led by Ruth Padilla was fundamental. There he was linked with fledgling publishing house Ediciones PUMA, which worked closely with him to transfer his ideas and notes into an effective book. When it came out it was one of the first on the subject to be produced in Peru. As a result, he received invitations to appear on national television and in major newspapers. There he was able to give a Bible-based message.
Strategic leaders in Latin America, such as Landa, likely have not had the opportunities (or time or resources) of their peers in the North to hone their research and writing skills. Identifying key communicators who have a message worth publishing abroad, enabling leaders and communicators to participate in writers’ courses, linking them with mentors, and facilitating sabbatical time (preferably with a library on hand) can all make a difference.
Ministries like Langham Partnership are playing a key role in enabling Majority World leaders to study at an advanced level, to return to their home context, and to share their learning through books. Increasingly, these scholars are being helped to turn their learning into practical and accessible texts for the local community. Specialized writers’ workshops help “de-academicize” the research in order to communicate important truths to a wider public.
Darío López is a Pentecostal pastor, a recognized leader in Peru, previous head of his country’s equivalent of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and head of the National Evangelical Council. With help from Langham Partnership, and in recognition of his many years of passionate ministry, he was able to study for a doctorate in a program that enabled him to spend only a couple of months each year in Oxford. After graduation, a summary version of his thesis was published; subsequently, he has written a book each year on integral mission, Pentecostal spirituality, and worship.
As López himself comments, without the opportunity for a sabbatical after many years of ministry, he would never have started to write. Nor would publication have been possible without a link to a local publishing ministry through which his books reach across the entire Spanish-speaking world.
Eighty African biblical scholars took part in the Africa Bible Commentary (ABC) project, which took over five years to complete. Not only has the ABC had a direct impact across every African nation, it has been a means of encouragement to the writers themselves, whose skills were honed by experienced editors. The commentary is being distributed in the West, where it is an example of contextualized biblical theology, and of relevance to the African churches thriving in inner-city London, for example.
Individual mission partners can look out for men and women who have a message to share, those who can communicate well, and who have a desire to share scripture through the written word. There are many ways by which a writer can be encouraged (e.g., by inviting him or her to write articles for a church bulletin, for the local newspaper, or for a magazine). Joyce Chaplin’s book, Writers, My Friends (1984), is a wonderful example of someone who took time to share her life with young writers in Africa.
2. Grow mentor-editors. Key persons in the publishing process are mentor-editors—people who understand how books work and are published; who have the ability to develop potential authors who write on the subjects; and who have the theological, personal, and editorial skills to develop people and books. In Latin America, this has been one of the many contributions of both René Padilla and Escobar.
Escobar writes about how Alec Clifford encouraged him not only to write, but also to learn how to edit. Given the high-level language skills needed to edit texts, this is a challenging area for missionaries using a second language. However, many of the skills needed to think biblically and to look strategically at the needs of the Church and the opportunities in society around us are easily transferable. As theologian Padilla says, one of the abiding legacies of John Stott is that he has encouraged men and women around the world not to be his “clones,” but to think Christianly, to dig deeply into the Bible, and to make bridges between it and the world in which we live (2009). Padilla is himself a testimony to that influence. Missionaries working in theological education have a particular opportunity to know and to encourage thinking Christians, not to squeeze them into a pre-determined mold of writing, but to marry biblical thinking with natural gifts of communication. In so doing, they can model what it means to be a mentor-editor.
3. Strengthen publishers. Publishing is not a matter of trading in paper and ink, but of making public an ongoing debate. The challenge is not to print materials, but to publish them in such a way that a member of the public wants to pick up a book, buy it, read it, and be transformed by it. In the entire process of developing book ideas, writing, editing, and publishing, the presence of viable local publishers is crucial if local writers are to emerge, to grow, and have a wider impact. In many regions, Christian publishers have joined together to support each other. One example of this is the Letra Viva network of Latin American publishers, through which publishers are able to do together those things they could not do alone (e.g., organize professional training conferences or administer a continent-wide distribution center).
A specialized ministry like Media Associates International (MAI) strengthens Christian publishing through training and encouragement, particularly of editors and publishers. MAI has found that (1) publishing professionals, equipped with the necessary communication and cross-cultural skills, are uniquely suited as facilitators in on-site training projects, (2) the most effective training takes place within a publishing context, and (3) meaningful learning depends upon long-term relationships rather than one-time events.
In the early years of Certeza publishing in Argentina, mission partners served as advisors, board members, and even as part-time staff of the fragile publishing project. The director of Certeza, Beatriz Buono, gives credit to the invaluable support they gave, enabling Certeza to survive financial crises of hyper-inflation, and to become what it is today: a self-supporting publishing ministry producing first-class Christian titles.
Any missionary can find out about local Christian publishers in his or her area, and simply call to learn more, to encourage, and to pray for them. Many smaller Christian publishers feel theirs is a Cinderella ministry that few are concerned to support and that life is tough. Things such as simple friendships, passing on of contacts, help with sales, low-key promotion in churches and conferences, and a little investment in books simple steps any missionary can take—could tip the balance from failure to success for a growing ministry.
One of the major obstacles in the chain of communication from writer to reader is in distribution. Christian bookstores exist in many countries; however, they may not carry a good stock or know much about books. As well as showing interest, mission personnel can pray for the staff and carry books around to sell. Anyone can have a shoebox book stall in his or her house, or set up a book table in his or her local church.
Missionaries should also take the time to read books written by those in the culture they are serving. By taking the trouble to read the books sympathetically and quoting them in print and in sermons, a missionary will become much more attuned to the language of the culture within which he or she is working, as well as affirm the local writers.
Individual missionaries and mission agencies can work with writers, mentors, editors, publishers, and publishing houses, who can all make a difference not only in their own country, but also contribute to the growth and health of the worldwide Church. Bruce Adair notes,
Very little of what is published in the “Two-Thirds World” ever reaches U.S. readers. This is a tragedy. Americans need to understand that the United States is not the center of the world. Not all truth originates here. Most Americans are not world-literate. Our isolation limits our ideas and even our Christian growth (2000).
As Bulus Galadima says, “Through the enablement of the Holy Spirit, the new non-Western churches will refresh Western churches” (2003).
Ian Darke. “Why We All Need Majority World Publishing.” Missio Nexus, October 1, 2009, https://missionexus.org/why-we-all-need-majority-world-publishing/.
Used by permission. Copyright © 2009/2021 by Missio Nexus. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from Missio Nexus. Email: EMQ@MissioNexus.org.
Ian Darke coordinates the Letra Viva network of publishers, directs publishing projects, and helps train those in publishing. He was trained in pure mathematics, but soon realized that he was more passionate about working for the Kingdom of God than teaching topology. Ian has worked in Spanish language Christian publishing for nearly twenty years. He is based in Costa Rica.
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Carpenter, Mark. 2002. Speech presented at a meeting of ECPA during the Frankfurt Book Fair, Germany. Reported in Publishers Weekly, October 28. Accessed June 5, 2009 from “http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA255210.html.
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Galadima, Bulus. 2003. “Religion and the Future of Christianity in the Global Village.” In One World or Many? Globalisation and World Mission. Ed. Richard Tiplady. Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library. Accessed June 5, 2009 from http://www.tiplady.org.uk/pdfs/bookGaladima.pdf.
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_______. 2002. “Christian Scholarship in Africa in the 21st Century.” Transformation 19(4): 217-228.