Cultural Encounters: A Journal For The Theology Of Culture Volume 11 Number 1 (Winter 2015) - Page 128

VOLUME 11 NUMBER 1 2015 Reading a Different Story: A Christian Scholar’s Journey from America to Africa By Susan VanZanten. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013. 144 pp. $19.99 paper. Susan VanZanten’s book is the second in a series by Baker Publishing called Turning South: Christian Scholars in an Age of World Christianity, which seeks to inspire Christian scholars through example. The series currently consists of three intellectual autobiographies by prominent Christian scholars (VanZanten, Nicholas Wolterstorff, and Mark Noll) who chronicle their journeys toward academic engagement with the global East and South. Reading a Different Story is organized chronologically, spanning 1955 to roughly the present (2013). VanZanten tells of her upbringing in the Dutch Calvinist enclave of Lynden, Washington; her undergraduate years at Westmont College; her doctoral program at Emory University; and her faculty positions at Covenant College, Calvin College, and Seattle Pacific University. Describing the strengths and shortcomings of each institution, she focuses on how they formed her views of Christian education and the vocation of a Christian scholar. VanZanten’s general thesis is that scholarship should “contribute to the coming of shalom and the flourishing of all God’s people” (130). Applying this principle to her discipline, she argues particularly that literary scholarship should extend beyond the traditional Western canon in order to hear the oppressed. She narrates her early struggle to choose between an activist life and an academic life and portrays her work in African literature as a solution that allows her to do both. VanZanten’s perspective contributes to literary studies by providing theological justification for expanding the canon. Too often Christian English departments are reactionary, holding tightly to the Western tradition, and VanZanten chronicles some resistance she has encountered. However, she also names the common ground Christians share with feminists, Marxists, and postcolonial theorists: commitment to justice and interest in literature’s moral and social implications. Her work speaks prophetically to both the secular and the religious academy—she urges mainstream literary scholars to acknowledge the politically liberating effects of Christianity in the same breath that she challenges Christian English departments to offer a globalized curriculum. DOI: 130