Book(s) Review: Persecuted & The Global War on Christians
Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert, and Nina Shea, Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians. Thomas Nelson, 2013. 416 pps. $16.99.
John Allen, The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution. Image Books, 2013. 320 pps. $25.00.
Recently, two books have been published detailing the plight of Christians suffering persecution around the world. In many ways, these books can be viewed as complementary works, the strength of one augmenting the potential weakness of the other (and vice versa). Taken together, they offer a global panorama on the state of Christian suffering.
Juxtaposing these books from three different perspectives will demonstrate how, together, they paint an accurate picture of Christian persecution. First, consider the different organizational structures. Marshall, Gilbert, and Shea’s volume, Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians, arranges the world scene by ideology, rather than by geography. In other words, countries are categorized by their overarching ideological narrative. So, rather than speaking about “persecution in north Africa or in the Middle East,” Persecuted divides the world into categories like “Communist,” “post-Communist,” and “Muslim.” Thus, the reader finds geographically separated nations like Iraq, Nigeria, Bangladesh, and Indonesia all grouped under the single heading: “The Muslim World: War and Terrorism.”
Alternately, John Allen’s The Global War on Christians, spends half of its pages strictly describing persecution from a geographical perspective. Sections covered include Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe. If the reader puts these two pictures side-by-side, he will gain a clear knowledge of the kind of persecution happening in any given region of the world, while also possessing a realistic understanding of why such persecution is taking place. The two books complement each other.
A second way to see this complementary relation is to contrast the analytical outlook of Marshall, Gilbert, and Shea’s Persecuted with the journalistic outlook of Allen’s Global War. For Allen, the global war on Christians is happening in real-time human stories. As the Vatican analyst for CNN and a senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, Allen is remarkably familiar with particular stories from countries around the world. Marshall, Gilbert, and Shea, on the other hand, are interested in hard data and the political motives driving the trends toward persecution.
One can see these distinctions by simply contrasting the manner in which each book covers Vietnam. The Global War places Vietnam under the heading of “Asia,” while Persecuted arranges it under the heading of “Caesar and God: The Remaining Communist Powers.”
Allen’s concern is to highlight people who have suffered for faith in Vietnam. So, after briefly noting that Christians make up 8 percent of Vietnam’s population, he continues to tell the story of Pierre Nguyen Dinh Cuong, a young Roman Catholic who was kidnapped on Christmas Eve 2011. His case was mentioned as an example of 16 or so abductions of Christians in Vietnam that year. After telling the story of Cuong’s abduction, Allen proceeds to tell the story of a village in Nghe An, a Vietnamese province which appears to be the target of “religious cleansing.” A priest in the area who attempted to complete the mass despite being threatened by his adversaries, was summarily beaten and sent to the hospital with a fractured skull and other injuries.
When Marshall, Gilbert, and Shea cover Vietnam, they also share numerous stories of persecution, such as the stories of Father Ly and the house church network in Hanoi. The stories, however, are again included within the larger political framework. Thus, the authors devote extra pages to explaining the history of Vietnam and the relationship the government has held toward Christian churches. In addition, their book details the plight of various Christian minorities in Vietnam, citing credible sources like the U. S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).
Finally, the third manner in which the two books differ with and yet complement each other is in their respective appeals for action. On this issue, Allen’s is the more notable volume. To its credit, the Marshall, Gilbert, and Shea volume has an entire chapter devoted to answering the question, “So what do we do now?” Unsurprisingly, though, the response to the question is primarily political, keeping issues of religious liberty at the forefront of policy debates.
Allen’s book, however, provides a more demonstrably Christian response. His concern is for prayer, intercession, and Christian action. Allen shares an example of a physician from South Carolina, who, after being confronted with the plight of persecuted Christians in India, began a ministry that buys chickens and goats for widows whose husbands died as a result of anti-Christian violence. Again, viewing these two books as complementary provides Christians with the full scope of action possible on behalf of the persecuted church.
In short, if the reader is seeking after reliable numbers and broader political trends, he ought to choose the Marshall, Gilbert, and Shea volume. If the reader is seeking understanding with the idea of putting such knowledge to action, then the Allen volume might prove more helpful. Of course, reading both volumes together provides the greatest breadth of accessible knowledge available on the state of the persecuted church around the world.
One final note seems in order in reviewing these two volumes. Each is written from a Roman Catholic perspective, and each includes those beyond the Roman Catholic tradition. So one is left to wonder: why aren’t evangelical, Reformed scholars publishing credible accounts of persecution for the suffering body around the world? We should be thankful that these two volumes have appeared, but we also ought to be motivated to see an increase in scholarship in this important area.
If we are serious about making disciples of all nations, then we might also need to be equally serious about the implications of such an endeavor: not all tribes and nations are amenable to the gospel. Many will actively—perhaps violently—oppose it. Books like the two reviewed here will help keep Christians aware of the persecution being suffered in the wake of gospel discipleship; at the same time, it’s clear there is certainly room for more works like these from the Protestant, Reformed tradition.