The Defender of the Good News: Questioning Lamin Sanneh

"The Yale historian and missiologist talks about his conversion, Muslim-Christian relations, Anglican troubles, and the future of Christianity"

Lamin Sanneh is the D. Willis James Professor of Missions and World Christianity and professor of history at Yale Divinity School. Gambian born, Sanneh is descended from the nyanchos, an ancient African royal line. As such, his earliest education, in the Gambia, was with fellow chiefs' sons. Following graduation from the University of London with a Ph.D. in Islamic History, he taught at the University of Ghana and at the University of Aberdeen, in Scotland. He served for eight years as Assistant and Associate Professor of the History of Religion at Harvard University, before moving to Yale University in 1989. The author of a dozen books and scores of articles, he is an editor-at-large for The Christian Century and a contributing editor for the International Bulletin of Missionary Research.

Among his many books, the one that has perhaps made the deepest impact is Translating the Message: The Missionary Impact on Culture (Orbis 1989), in which he argues that—contrary to the folklore that passes for social science, and in sharp contrast to Islam—Christianity preserves indigenous life and culture, thanks to its emphasis on mother-tongue translation. Where indigenous culture has been strong, it has absorbed Christian life and worship, thereby sustaining and even increasing its vitality. Where conversion has been to Islam, on the other hand, indigenous cultures have tended to be weak, and soon lose entirely the capacity to think religiously in their mother tongue. The difference lies in the Christian missionary insistence upon translation, on the one hand, and diffusion as the Muslim missionary modus operandi. The converse, he argues, is also true.

His latest book, Whose Religion is Christianity? The Gospel Beyond the West, will ...

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