There are times when our own story, or the story of our nation, becomes too small and a larger framework must be included in our thoughts and emotions. For a North American historian named Mark Noll, there was a growing discovery that God’s Global story was so much bigger than he had imagined. In a recent book, From Every Tribe and Nation: A Historian’s Discovery of the Global Christian Story, Noll describes this journey of discovery.
I have enjoyed reading Dr. Noll’s books for many years and had been aware of his accomplished tenure at Wheaton college (where our oldest daughter presently attends), as well as his last decade of teaching at Notre Dame. He has written on several aspects and periods in the history of the United States and Canada. But reading in this book of his process of a widening and deepening understanding related to a Global story was challenging and encouraging.
One of the discoveries he makes as he studies and then teaches more and more this Global story is the history of the Church in Asia and its future importance as well. He writes on pg. 163, “If not already, Asia will almost certainly soon be the world’s leader in technology, wealth creation, military might, and cultural diversity-as well as in number of people. If the Christian past is going to grow into the Christian future, what happens in Asia is of paramount importance.”
Many of us can too often live within our own worlds, only being aware of our own story or the story of those around us. It takes courage to open our eyes to a bigger world, whether that is beyond our own family, tribe or nation. We can find our own version of Christianity or particular faith practices the only way to do it, becoming walls rather than bridges. This is usually not a quick or easy process to realize these things. Dr. Noll writes on pg. 166 of the time and effort it took in his own life, “Consequently, it was necessary to push back against the instinct to treat my own Christianity as simply normative Christianity. Yet once coming to realize that the Christianity I embraced was also a local cultural expression made it easier, at least conceptually, to appreciate the development of Christianity in shapes very different from my own.”
Appreciating how large and diverse this Global story is can very deeply change how we look at our lives and nations. I know it has in my life. In some ways it is a conversion experience to have our eyes (and hearts) opened to those who are radically different. May it happen more and more. May we have the courage to have it happen again and again.