Turning Points in the Expansion of Christianity

This masterpiece is perhaps the most important mission book of our time. Professor Alice Ott presents 12 great events—turning points—which changed Christian history forever. Here are Ott’s turning points:

  1. The Jerusalem Council—Embracing Ethnic Diversity.
  2. Patrick and the Conversion of Ireland—Pushing Beyond the Boundaries of Empire
  3. The East Syrian Mission to China—Expanding Eastward
  4. Boniface and the Oak of Thor—Confronting Pagan Gods
  5. Jesuits and the Chinese Rites—Accommodating to Culture
  6. Zinzendorf and Moravian Missions—Pioneering a Global Outreach
  7. William Carey and the Baptist Missionary Society—Launching a Mission Movement
  8. British Abolitionism and Mission to Africa—Breaking the Chains of Sin and Slavery
  9. Henry Venn and Three-Self Theory—Empowering Indigenous Churches
  10. The Scramble for Africa—Converting the Lost in the Era of Imperialism
  11. The Edinburgh World Missionary Conference (1910)—Debating the Meaning of Mission
  12. Lausanne ’74 and Majority World Mission—Reaching Missional Maturity

Most Christian history books cover doctrinal controversies and church councils and the lives of great preachers and popes. This book features twelve hinges of history when Christianity unexpectedly burst out of the familiar and gained new adherents among strangers who are not like us. These breakthroughs happened on account of special missionary efforts.

The first and greatest mission turning point occurred at the Jerusalem Council in 49 AD. A heated disagreement swept back and forth across the room as Jewish Christians argued the merits of welcoming Gentiles to the communion table without the requirements that seemed so central to the Jewish religion. Alice Ott tells this story and its fortuitous resolution in chapter 1[1]. Some Jewish Christians insisted that Gentiles “be circumcised and adhere to the aspects of the Jewish law.” But the Council finally agreed (Acts 15:25a) to James’ suggestion that no unnecessary burdens hinder Gentiles from turning to faith in Christ. This apostolic decree was accepted by Paul.[2] After the council, Christianity was no longer linked with Jewish ethnicity.

All twelve chapters tell the story of Christianity’s advance into other cultures when pioneering missionaries left their families and homeland to go to the regions beyond. Regular Christian histories do not contain more than a passing reference to missionaries or mission societies. For example, Owen Chadwick’s one thousand page The Victorian Church contains “no chapter or section on the Victorian missionary movement . . . Chadwick’s work reveals that the British missionary movement at its height was only peripheral to the Victorian church.”[3] Chadwick does not mention William Carey in his History of Christianity; in fact, the only references Chadwick makes to any Protestant missionaries that I found are to John Wesley and David Livingstone.[4] In Robert Glover’s 380 page History of World-Wide Missions (1953) the chapter on the mission of the Reformers, titled “From Luther to the Halle Missionaries” fills only six pages, and all six pages describe Catholic missions.[5] Historic references to William Carey usually mention his missionary work in India or credit him with founding the Baptist Mission Society, as in, for example, The Westminster Dictionary of Church History.[6] In Christianity Roland Bainton mentions William Carey’s printing press in India, but that is all.[7] Ernst Benz wrote that “the religious and theological conflicts on the European continent and the beginnings of the church in North America have claimed all the interest of the historians so that the history of mission has appeared to be a kind of subordinate subject.”[8] Alice Ott’s Turning Points makes up for these shortcomings. May Jesus Christ be praised in all the earth.

References Cited

Bainton, Roland Herbert. Christianity. New York: American Heritage; Distributed by Houghton Mifflin, 1964.

Benz, Ernst. “Pietist and Puritan Sources of Early Protestant World Missions (Cotton Mather and H. Francke).” Church History  (1951): 28-55.

Brauer, Jerald C., and B. A. Gerrish. The Westminster Dictionary of Church History. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1971.

Chadwick, Owen. A History of Christianity. 1st U.S. ed. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996.

Glover, Robert H. The Progress of World-Wide Missions. New York: Harper, Brown 1953.

Ott, Alice T. Turning Points in the Expansion of Christianity : From Pentecost to the Present. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2021.

Walls, Andrew F. “Structural Problems in Mission Studies.” In The Missionary Movement in Christian History Maryknoll: Orbis, 1996.

[1] Alice T. Ott, Turning Points in the Expansion of Christianity : From Pentecost to the Present (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2021). 1-2

[2] Ibid. 8

[3] Andrew F. Walls, “Structural Problems in Mission Studies,” in The Missionary Movement in Christian History (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1996), 146. “No doubt,” adds Walls, “a history of Christianity composed in Jerusalem about AD 66 would have shown the Gentile mission as rather peripheral to Christian development. It is our possession of the ‘mission studies’ documents by Paul and Luke that makes possible another interpretation.”

[4] Owen Chadwick, A History of Christianity, 1st U.S. ed. (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996), 241, 74.

[5] Robert H. Glover, The Progress of World-Wide Missions (New York: Harper, Brown 1953).

[6] Jerald C. Brauer and B. A. Gerrish, The Westminster Dictionary of Church History (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1971), 160.

[7] Roland Herbert Bainton, Christianity (New York: American Heritage; Distributed by Houghton Mifflin, 1964), 352. 352

[8] Ernst Benz, “Pietist and Puritan Sources of Early Protestant World Missions (Cotton Mather and H. Francke),” Church History  (1951): 28.