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Christianity in the Twentieth CenturyA World History$
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Brian Stanley

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780691196848

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691196848.001.0001

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The Power of the Word and Prophecy

The Power of the Word and Prophecy

Pathways of Conversion in Africa and the Pacific

(p.57) Chapter Three The Power of the Word and Prophecy
Christianity in the Twentieth Century

Brian Stanley

Princeton University Press

This chapter traces a number of different trajectories whereby a religion emanating from Western societies became, in the course of the twentieth century, a faith rooted in the soil of West African or Melanesian societies. Catholic missions before Vatican II were fearful of unleashing the vernacular Bible on the laity and relied instead on a tightly controlled network of schools to grow a Christian community from childhood upwards. Conversion came not through sudden movements of indigenous revival and initiative, but through the steady growth in the numbers of school rolls and hence of the baptized. Meanwhile, Protestant mission schools were even more conscious than their Catholic counterparts of the dangers of mere head knowledge or forms of adherence to the church that appeared to lack strong personal conviction. The real point of education was that it opened the door to read the Bible for oneself, in one's own language, and thus laid the individual soul open to the regenerating power of the Spirit. However, reading the scriptures in one's own language was enough to permit individual and corporate appropriations of the Christian message that radically challenged European preconceptions. As vernacular translations exposed the extent to which European Christianity had denuded the biblical text of its prophetic and miraculous elements, Africans and Melanesians who had unusual charismatic gifts or mana sometimes assumed the mantle of the prophets and challenged their missionary mentors to join their many indigenous converts in believing their mighty works.

Keywords:   Africans, Melanesians, Catholic missions, Bible, Protestant mission schools, scriptures, Christian message, European Christianity, biblical text, prophets

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