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Review: The Hillsong Movement Examined

Palgrave Macmillan, 2017. 279 pp.
Hillsong Church, located in Sydney, Australia, has quickly become of one of the most well-known names in contemporary evangelicalism. The megachurch is especially known for its worship music, producing chart-topping songs such as “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail),” “This I Believe (The Creed),” and, most recently, “Who You Say I Am.” But behind this successful church—which inspires awe in some and anger in others—is a movement of people who are causing local and global impact. This is the assertion of the contributors to the first scholarly analysis of Hillsong, The Hillsong Movement Examined: You Call Me Out Upon the Waters. A variety of voices from around the world have contributed to this perceptive, comprehensive analysis of Hillsong’s ministry and influence, viewing the church from a sociological and religious perspective. This book arose out of a desire to provide a balanced approach to Hillsong, a departure from most opinionated works that fall prey to polarization.

Part I of the book, “History and Approaches: Hillsong in Scholarly and Popular Imagination(s),” lays the groundwork for the critical study of the Hillsong movement. Its contributors examine the church’s history and identity and the contributing factors to its growth and increasing global influence. Part II, “Diversity, Dialogue, and Social Engagement,” examines Hillsong’s vision for empowerment and equipping as the church seeks to move beyond a centralized bubble. Part III, “International Expansion and Spheres of Influence,” discusses Hillsong’s interaction and influence with churches in America, Europe, and elsewhere around the world. Finally, part IV, “What Lies Ahead?” considers future paths for Hillsong’s trajectory as it continues to relate to a changing world.

This book presents Hillsong as a movement, which ebbs and flows according to its cultural tides (as is suggested by its title). The contributors to the book represent a global blend of secular and sacred scholars, authorities in their fields, which converge on history, sociology, music, religion, and global studies. Their diverse takes create a mosaic of Hillsong that is more complex and beautiful than is often attributed. Moreover, the topics cover a sweep of Hillsong’s life, from the largest issues like its domination in the music industry to more overlooked issues such as its influence on women’s ministry and majority world spirituality. Perhaps the most intriguing section is the final speculation of Hillsong’s future as it continues to adjust to the vanguard of postmodernism and globalization.

The study and approach to research is professional, unbiased, and clearly supported. Indeed, the writers accomplish their intention of providing an even-handed depiction of Hillsong as a socio-religious organism rather than simply a megachurch. They leave no stone unturned as they dissect and scrutinize the growth, influence, and legacy of one of the world’s most famous churches. However, one wonders if the editors’ biases—as scholars who have worked, worshiped, and studied at Hillsong—coupled with a closing endorsement of the study from Hillsong’s executive leadership produces a slanted motive for creating this volume, perhaps an attempt to provide a positive scholarly analysis of a controversial church. Nonetheless, The Hillsong Movement Examined is an astounding, thorough study of a modern entity that is radically influencing people both near and far.

(A complimentary review copy was given in exchange for an honest review.)

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