Saturday, June 23, 2007

Christianity's center relocated to the South

By Bro Ong

What does the future hold for Christianity? Would Christianity be dead and obsolete? Would the prediction of Voltaire, the 18th century French atheist, considered one of the greatest authors of his generation and who particularly weilded a astringent pen against Christianity, in a moment of self-exaltation boasted that, “In twenty years Christianity will be no more. My single hand shall destroy the edifice it took twelve apostles to rear.” But Voltaire's arrogance bragging was swallowed up on his death, yet Christianity has relentlessly continued on its triumphant march, just as Jesus promised that “the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Mt 16:18). Voltaire died, in his own words, “abandoned by God and man,” but the Church is still astoundingly to the chagrin of many and the scorn of the Jihads, “favored by God and man.” And Jenkins’ well-researched book provides solid evidences of this fact. His main argument is that the “man” who professes Christ is no longer the stereotype white Western man but rather a non-white person from the Southern Hemisphere.

Throughout his book, Jenkins compellingly contends four propositions, namely that geographically the center of gravity for Christianity has already or soon will be relocating decisively to the Southern Hemisphere. Two, demographically, the majority of Christians are now or soon will be non-white. Most will be Africans, Latin Americans and Asians. Three, theologically the 21st century church will be strongly influenced by Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism. Fourthly, the tension between Christianity and Islam will intensify, and possibly leading to war.

On his first proposition, Jenkins confidently proclaims that Christianity will not only survive, but would be thriving in the future – just that the flourishing will take place in another area and not in the traditional Western world. If Jenkins’ prediction is correct, then by the year 2050, six countries (Brazil, Mexico, the Philippines, Nigeria, Congo and the United States) will each have at least 100 million Christians. Sub-Saharan Africa will have superseded Europe as the principle center of Christianity. This analysis is in total contradiction to the many books which argue that secularism, pluralism, post-modernity and other anti-Christianity forces will cause the Church to become ghettoised and eventually leading to her long awaited demise. He persuasively argues against Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilization prediction that in the long run, Muhammad will win over Christ, the cresent will overshadow the cross.[1] Base on the current demographic and geographic facts, Huntington’s analysis may not be as credible as it was first thought. Jenkins forecast that by 2050, there will still be about three Christians for every two Muslims worldwide. And these Christians will not be the customary white individual from Western societies.

In addition, theologically this Southern Hemisphere Christians will be characterised by its staunch conservative faith in Scriptures and yet vibrantly demonstrated through Pentecostal-Charismatic expressions such as prophecy, visions, deliverance, healing, and ecstatic utterances. The present rapidly declining Western Christianity has become more liberal and less literal, and more rational and less Spirit-empowered. The contrasting and distinct form of Christianity between the South and North has somewhat caused the more scientific-educated Western Christians to be extremely suspicious of these supernatural forms of spirituality. Some even considered it to be demonic and part of reverting to pagan practices of animistic religions. Yet, there is no denying that South Christianity is burgeoning and impacting many communities. It is estimated that there is more than one billion Pentecostals, cutting across denominations, regions, and ethnic groups. They are likely to be among the poorest and least educated in their various populations, but they will be the ones who are enthusiastically spreading their own Pentecostal-influenced beliefs to the rest of the world.

[1] Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996).

This is an excerpt from my book review of The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (NY: Oxford University Press, 2002), by Phillip Jenkins. I believe Jenkins has already produced a second edition.

I would like to hear your views and comments about the implications for the ASIAN churches. If Jenkins prediction is correct, would do you think we need to do to prepare ourselves and/or to accelerate such transformations?


Dave said...

with faithfulness to scripture, i suspect tat the future of church in global south needs to be vibrantly demonstrated through signs & wonders and "cultural mandate" ie social justice, creation care, economic equity, political involvement, compassion for the marginalized groups, marketplace spirituality... 2 cents

BK said...

What do you think of saying that the church in the 21st century would be "from everywhere to everywhere" (a phrase I first heard used by Samuel Escobar, but he probably borrowed it from someone else!) instead of a shift from North to South? Interestingly, I see that Jenkins has a new book coming out where he argues that it is premature to proclaim the death of Christianity in Europe.

In any case, I think pluralism is going to be a huge challenge, and Asian/global south churches, being more used to living in pluralistic societies, might lead the way in modelling how we should love and reach out to those of different faiths without becoming syncretistic. (A bit like the New Testament world!)

I agree with Dave that thinking through issues of the marginalized (exile?; economically, culturally, politically etc.) within a biblical framework would be very much needed.

My one cent. :>

dave said...

I hope the men of Gondor (West) will not give up hope but will eventually return to the gospel :)

Interesting possibility there, BK. maybe there won't be a center anymore, but "from everywhere to everywhere"