Why this Christian scholar may be the most important person you don’t know.
Historian Andrew Walls—known for recentering contemporary Christian history in the Southern hemisphere and, along with the late Lamin Sanneh, promoting the voices of African, Latin American, and Asian Christians—has died at age 93. This profile, originally published in CT’s February 2007 issue, dove deep into the significance of his life’s work.
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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 …