Tucked away at one end of the Westminster College in Cambridge sits a small but fabulous library collection in the Cambridge Centre for Christianity Worldwide. This library is open to the public and well worth a visit.
Although aimed at providing print and archive materials for research scholars and students at Cambridge University and the Cambridge Theological Federation, the collection can be browsed by visitors for free. Alternatively, for £12 a term or £36 a year, anyone may register with the library and borrow its books.
What stands out about this collection is its focus on Christianity and the church in the non-western world. Whilst the church in the western world grieves that its nations have become increasingly belligerent towards the gospel of Jesus Christ, the non-western world is seeing unparalleled growth in Christianity. It is clear that the Spirit of God is moving in these previously unreached nations and drawing people to Christ from all backgrounds and faiths.
Some churches in the non-western world are overseen by denominations in the west and they have the oversight of western teachers and missionaries and access to translated Scriptures, creeds and theological books from the west to build them up in their theology. Whilst they are minority Christians and they run counter-culture to their indigenous context, they treasure the gospel as they have received it and they are built up in their theology as it has been taught to them.
A rich insight
Other churches reject a ‘westernised form of Christianity’ and are grappling with the Word of God on their own and creating their own theologies in the light of the issues which dominate their own unique culture and its needs. By applying post-colonial biblical scholarship and contextualising their theology, these new theologies reflect the dynamics of their particular context.
The books in the Cambridge Centre for Christianity Worldwide library give a rich insight into the state of Christianity in many parts of the non-western world in all its variety. For example, Christian Dalits in India have written a commentary on the Bible from the perspective of their background of rejection as the lowest and most despised caste in their caste-dominated culture.
They rejoice that the gospel’s invitation extends to all, regardless of wealth or status, reaching out to them in their cursed existence as the untouchables of society, rejected not for what they do, but for who they are. They see that Jesus time and again reached out to the disadvantaged, sinners and the marginalised, and he did so in love, as the father embraced the prodigal son when he repented and returned to him.
As believers, they rejoice in an eternal hope, but they also experience a restored sense of their human dignity in this life, knowing that, in Christ, they are freed from the human constructs of discrimination and difference, and as members of God’s new community the church, they are now one and equal with all God’s redeemed people.
Similarly, other oppressed communities afflicted with discrimination and suffering in India and other parts of the majority world are also constructing their own indigenous theologies, finding that the gospel brings liberation to them.
It is in the context of great poverty that many churches, especially in Africa, have bought into the prosperity gospel and thousands of people have flocked to these churches and given much of their savings, having been taught by their churches that God will not be a debtor to such people and he will increase their riches. Other non-western churches are interpreting Christianity in ways that will be understood by their indigenous communities, steeped in other faiths.
The Cambridge Centre for Christianity Worldwide is non-denominational and so the collection is diverse and reflects the real situation of the church worldwide. For this reason it is an important resource for missionaries and church leaders of all denominations as well as students of world Christianity and mission and research scholars.
An excellent resource
As librarian of this collection, and an evangelical Reformed Christian, I would commend this excellent resource to all those with a heart for mission and the church. I would be delighted to see more people, and especially missionaries and church leaders use the library.
The strengths of the collection are the history of the evangelical mission movement and biographies from this era, mission society histories, historical missions to geographical locations throughout the non-western world, church histories and the current state of Christianity in these nations today. Also, the development of the ecumenical movement, various denominations and their mission involvement, theologies of the global church, the non-western church’s response to indigenous needs and religions, and general theologies of mission.
We can rejoice that God is building his church throughout the world, and we must pray for these new believers that they may ‘grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and forever. Amen’.
Ruth MacLean, librarian at the Cambridge Centre for Christianity Worldwide. She is married to Donald John MacLean, an elder at Cambridge Presbyterian Church, a congregation of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in England and Wales. More information about the library can be found online (cccw.cam.ac.uk/library/).