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Historian Ahead of His Time
Andrew Walls was mildly incredulous when I phoned him in Aberdeen, Scotland, to ask for an interview. Of course he would gladly help me, he said in a restrained Scotch brogue, but was I sure I had the right person? He couldn't understand why Christianity Today would want to write about him.
The reason is simple: Andrew Walls may be the most important person you don't know. Most Americans and Europeans think of Christianity as a Western religion. Prominent leaders of the last 50 years, like Billy Graham, Oral Roberts, and Pope John Paul II, are known primarily for their influence in the West, though in fact each of them has played a significant role in wider, global Christianity. But the most important development for the church in the 20th and 21st centuries has not been in the West at all, but in the astonishing shift of Christianity's center of gravity from the Western industrialized nations to Asia, Africa, and Latin America. In a short time, Christianity has been transformed from a European religion to a global one.
Andrew Walls is the person to help us understand what this means. One of the first scholars to notice and study the shift, he combines exhaustive knowledge of the worldwide church with a deep historical and theological vision. Scholars who know his work (almost all published in obscure journals) speak of him with something like reverence.
"Andrew was a pioneer," says Yale University historian Lamin Sanneh. "He is one of the few scholars who saw that African Christianity was not just an exotic, curious phenomenon in an obscure part of the world, but that African Christianity might be the shape of things to come." American church historian Mark Noll says that "no one has written with greater wisdom about what ...1