Summoned from the Margin: Homecoming of an
Church Times Bookshop £15.30 (Use code
LAMIN SANNEH's research has long demonstrated that Christianity
is not - and never has been - the exclusive preserve of Christians
in the north Atlantic world who "bring" it to others. Rather,
Christianity has been a world faith from its inception.
But Sanneh's work has always been enriched by the knowledge of
his own life. Raised Muslim in British West Africa, he converted to
Christianity as a young man. In Summoned from the Margin,
he steps away from academia, and tells the story of his journey
into and through the Church. It is a compelling tale.
In the first section, he relates his youth in the British colony
that became The Gambia. In his Islamic school, he learns the
importance that Muslims place on Arabic: "It is not possible to
conceive a divine role for the vernacular against the transcendent
Arabic." Although Sanneh lets this passage stand on its own, it is
hard not to see here the genesis of his argument in Translating
the Message, that a key aspect of Christianity is that its
scriptures were repeatedly translated in the process of missionary
Sanneh describes his experience of being "born again" on a beach
in West Africa with a beautiful lyricism. As he moves into
education in the United States and Europe, he bears Islam no ill
will. Rather, he prepares for an academic career studying
Christian-Muslim relations. An accident of circumstance leads him
to teach a course on world Christianity, and so alters his career,
but his reflections on Christian-Muslim dialogue are still
He notes how many Christians have taught the value of "presence"
as a way to offer "silent honour and witness in the Muslim world".
But "'presence' offers little defence against resistance,
misunderstanding, and suspicion. So there is a lot to be said for
being straightforward and plain spoken".
His academic development is paralleled by an ongoing search for
a church home. It is not an easy task. In the various Protestant
churches he tries, people are unsure what to make of him. After
spending time in an Anglican church, he is left feeling as if he
"failed to clear the high bar of cultural vetting for the Anglican
Church". Sanneh's outsider status and his recognition that all
forms of Christianity reflect their culture give him a unique perch
from which to form a critique of the Western Church.
The Churches have barely begun to come to grips with what it
means to be a truly world faith. Summoned from the Margin,
I hope, will contribute to pushing Christians in that
The Revd Jesse Zink is assistant chaplain at Emmanuel