Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Next Christendom ch. 1-5 (by Philip Jenkins)

This week has proved to be the most challenging. THE NEXT CHRISTENDOM focuses on the cultural shift of Christianity as developing countries continue to embrace the Gospel. It is filled with data, historical analysis, and technical jargon. It also has more words per page than any book I have read in a long time. I had about 20 more quotes I wanted to include and three more points I wanted to make and I still went over about 50 words. Oh well. For the sake of ease, the author refers to the westernized version of Christianity as Christianity of the North and the emerging Christianity as Christianity of the South.

The major shift of which Jenkins writes has to do with the change in socioeconomic status and ethnicity of the average Christian in the world. Jenkins points to the end of Western colonialism as the birth of this shift. It was at that point that the numbers of those following Christ began to exponentially grow, particularly in Africa (64). John Mbiti noted that great Northern cities such as Rome and New York are no longer the centers of the universal church. Rather, new church centers are “Kinshasa, Buenos Aires, Addis Ababa, and Manila” (2).

Jenkins points to a few forces that are leading to this shift. One is the urbanization of the world. Currently, approximately 45 percent of the world’s population is in urban areas. By 2050 this number will presumably jump to 66 percent (107). As individuals move to urban areas they will be exposed to a Christian religion already strong in many of the cities of the Third World. A second aspect that is leading to the shift is the unrest of many parts of the world. Kenneth Woodward says that Africans are now embracing Christianity in the midst of political and economic turmoil just as Europe’s tribes relied on the church after the collapse of the Roman Empire (68).

Finally the shift in the types of individuals embracing Christianity can also be pointed to the decline of Northern believers. Statisticians are projecting that the number of Christians in Northern countries will steadily decline with the exception of the United States (104). Interestingly, Jenkins remarks that many of those attending church in the North are actually immigrants from the Southern hemisphere. He says that about half of London’s population is not white. Furthermore, by the end of the 21st century whites may make up the minority of those living in London (111). Passionate worshipers of non-northern origins are flocking to thriving churches in the North. Thus, it is quite possible that the majority of those worshiping in Northern cities will be comprised of Southern immigrants.

As Christianity continues to shift from what was seen as a religion of wealthy whites to a religion of poor non-whites theological foci will shift. There are issues about which American Christians bicker that have no bearing on the Christianity in the Southern hemisphere. Many in the South desire deliverance HERE, reconciliation HERE, and healing HERE not merely in eternity. The ultimately source of authority is also shifting. While traditional orthodoxy certainly flourishes in the Southern churches (65-66), charismatic churches are exploding in growth (72). Pentecostal movement of the Southern countries relies directly on the authority of spiritual revelations as opposed to just the Bible (73).

As I reflect upon the possible shift in theology as Christianity morphs I remember when Copernicus proposed that the earth was not the center of the universe. At first the church could not quite grasp a world in which they were not the center of the universe. They rejected his teaching as heretical. I think many of us can look at the new face of Christianity and feel the same angst as the church during Copernicus’ day. However, where in our theology is the earth the center of our universe?

No comments: