Wesley GRANBERG-MICHAELSON.  From Times Square to Timbuktu: The Post-Christian West Meets the Non-Western Church, with forward by James H. Billington.  Grand Rapids, Michigan/Cambridge, U.K. : William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2013. Pp. 175 pb. ISBN 978-0-8028-6968-5. Reviewed by Mary-Paula CANCIENNE, Georgian Court University, Lakewood, NJ, 08701


As former head of the Reformed Church in America, a staff leader for the World Council of Churches, and as a founding member of an international, non-hierarchical ecumenical movement, Wesley Granberg-Michaelson is well positioned to examine the contemporary Christian landscape.  With a realistic and insightful interpretation of signs for how Christianity is unfolding around the world and, particularly, in the United States, he describes and further anticipates a more expressive faith than mainline Christians are accustomed to, or maybe comfortable with, emerging from the margins. – The challenge for traditional denominations and communities of faith, as well as those more expressive and less structured communities, will be to “learn how to journey together.”(6) 

Availing himself of data gathered from many sources, including the Atlas of Global Christianity[ Todd M. Johnson and Kenneth R. Ross, eds., Atlas of Global Christianity, 1910-2010 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009).  Reference used by Granberg-Michaelson],he highlights for us how the “center of gravity” for Christianity in terms of numbers, power, cultural influence, and mindset is shifting from the northern hemisphere to that of the south, as well as to Asia.  However, along with the more expected information, he also supplies us with anomalous data, such as the fact that while South Korea’s Christian population has grown faster than anywhere else in Asia over the last century, now, Christians there are “barely maintaining their present percentage of overall population.”(9)  In addition, the “overall percentage of Christians in the world’s population, which was 34.8 percent in 1910, has actually decreased slightly, to 33.2 percent in 2010.”(12) 

However, in countries where there is growth in the number of Christians, often people are attracted to the more emotional or immediate expressions, which can be challenging to more structured communities of worship.  He notes, “It is estimated that 80 percent of new conversions in Asia are Pentecostal or charismatic.”(17) [See Johnson and Ross, eds., Atlas of Global Christianity, p. 139.  Referenced by Granberg-Michaelson, p. 17.]

Depending on your source, there are an estimated 30,000 - 40,000 flavors of Christianity, not to mention ideological differences within any one church, such as the Roman Catholic Church.  With this in mind, the author asks, how do we work for Christian unity?  How do our growing subdivisions support the Christian call for unity?  Consciously or unconsciously, sometimes these divisions are motivated by “money, power, and pride.”  Even well-intentioned, but uncritical theologies will have consequences, sometimes leading to divisions and discord and, as we all know, even to violence.  Any theology can be defended with “doctrinal rationale.”(15)

Granberg-Michaelson methodically drives home his point that Western “defenders” of the faith need to truly realize that the Spirit is moving in ways unexpected and that the journey of Christianity is being walked by many pilgrims unattached to Enlightenment priorities.—He suggest that, together, we not make our differences central.  Instead, with anything other than naiveté, he encourages us to “celebrate our commonalities and explore our differences.”(150)

In a clear, straightforward tone, he states that the meeting of post-Christian West and non-Western Christianity “will be a defining ecumenical encounter of the twenty-first century.”  How Christians respond will “determine the authenticity and power of our global witness.”  More so, he writes:

Either we will discover a striking and powerful mutuality born from the work of the Spirit, uniting distinctive, incarnational expressions of the church as part of one body, or we will persist in an accelerating fragmentation of those hoping to be faithful, self-righteously imprisoning each other in theological, cultural, and spiritual isolation, with a witness so weak that it makes a mockery of the promise of reconciling love.(151)

From Times Square to Timbuktu is a well written and insightful text with good source materials and telling anecdotal stories that bring to life the author’s message.  Very recommended for anyone interested in the present and future evolution of Christianity, including undergraduate students.  The text includes: Forward by James H. Billington; twelve chapters; Epilogue; Bibliography; and Index.