Robert Eric Frykenberg, Christianity in India: From Beginnings to the Present (Oxford University Press, 2008).

India is only about as large as the United States east of the Mississippi (1.72 million square miles). However, this triangle-shaped country encompasses breathtaking complexity and diversity. It is a land of over 200 major languages, almost 5,000 distinct ethnic groups, and every major religion in the world—including over 700 million Hindus, over 100 million Muslims, and millions of Sikhs and Buddhists. Christianity also has an ancient and complex history in India. Christians in India cherish the belief that St. Thomas himself brought Christianity to the sub-continent as early as 52 A.D., giving so-called "doubting Thomas" the high honor of having brought the gospel farther than any other apostle. St. Thomas was the beginning of a long stream of Christians who have labored hard to make India hospitable for the Christian message. India is the home of Syrian Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Anglicans and other Protestants, Pentecostals, and hundreds of new indigenous movements—all contributing in their own way to the unique story of Indian Christianity.

Given all the richness of this Christian heritage, it is no small compliment to declare that Robert Eric Frykenberg, in Christianity in India, has produced a truly fine single-volume work on the subject. Frykenberg's amazing breadth of knowledge brings to life the complexity of India's Christian history.

The book is structured around four major waves or expansions of Christianity in India: Apostolic and Syriac, Roman Catholic, Protestant, and more recent Pentecostal and indigenous Christianity. After two chapters that introduce the rich beauty and diversity of India, Frykenberg begins his exploration of these major waves with the possible arrival of St. Thomas. He examines the historical record critically but acknowledges the importance of the Thomas tradition to the self-identity of millions of Christians who reside mostly in Kerala and who, since ancient times, have passed down this tradition through songs and ballads. These "Saint Thomas Christians" follow a Syriac liturgy and by all accounts were well established in India centuries before the arrival of the Roman Catholic missionaries. This makes India home to one of the most ancient churches in the world.

In chapter four, the author explores the second major wave of Christian presence in India, associated with the arrival of the Roman Catholics. Just one year after Columbus's famous voyage, the Pope issued a decree known as the Padroado (1493), which officially divided the world, giving Spain the rights to the New World and Portugal the rights to the East. Frykenberg traces the rather violent entrance of the Portuguese into India as they aggressively sought to gain control of the well-established St. Thomas Christians. He also highlights forward-looking missionary pioneers such as the Italian missionary Robert de Nobili, who separated himself completely from "crude, beef-eating, alcohol-drinking barbarians from Europe" and identified himself with the high-caste Brahmins in his dress, his eating, and his associations. Dozens of high-caste Indians converted to Christianity as a result of his ministry.

Frykenberg then devotes several chapters to the remarkable diversity of the Protestant missionaries and their relationship to the British Raj. He highlights the missionaries' remarkable commitment to education and how English-language instruction shaped the emergence of a modern, democratic, independent India. The great Scottish missionary Alexander Duff was convinced that English-language education was the key to India embracing Christianity. It was during this Protestant wave, coinciding with the rise of the British Raj, that words like "India," "Indian," and "Hinduism" began to emerge with the meaning they have today. Frykenberg does a fine job of helping the reader understand how Christianity has made a significant impact on both the educated elite of India and the Dalit or Avana peoples ("out-castes"), who have responded to Christianity in large numbers across the sub-continent. He also shows how many of these new "untouchable" believers, such as Sundaranandam David, were used powerfully by God to stimulate entire people-movements to Christ.

Frykenberg does not devote as much detailed analysis to the Pentecostal and indigenous movements in India as he does to the other waves, but he recognizes their potency and acknowledges that Pentecostalism is the "single most momentous movement in Christian history." In addition to being a fine historical survey, the volume provides an excellent introduction to the leading indigenous theological thinkers who have emerged in the Indian church. For example, Brahmabandhav Upadhyay, a young Bengali convert to Christianity from Hinduism, published dozens of articles insisting that Christianity could only take root in India if it was expressed in purely indigenous forms and language. Frykenberg also explores more recent phenomena such as the emergence of "Churchless Christianity," whereby tens of thousands of Indians are following Christ within the normative cultural life of Hinduism.

I heartily recommend this book. It includes a generous glossary of terms for those who may be encountering Christianity in India for the first time. It also has one of the best bibliographies on Indian Christianity for the seasoned reader who wants to explore more. Whether you are a new student of Indian Christianity or a serious Indian scholar, you will undoubtedly find Christianity in India to be a rich treasure of insight and the best single volume in print on one of the most diverse and textured Christian movements in history.

Timothy C. Tennent is the president of Asbury Theological Seminary.