After a bit of a delay and a couple of previous mentions, I hope to get going on Philip Jenkins’ wonderful book, The New Faces of Christianity: believing the Bible in the Global South.
‘Shall the Fundamentalists Win?’ is the opening chapter. While obviously these are big picture generalities, the growth of Christianity in the global south is stongly conservative in nature. The future ‘norm’ of reading the Bible is likely to be the southern one. ‘American’ or ‘European’ theologies will become the variant minorities.
“In our lifetimes the centuries long North-Atlantic captivity of the church is drawing to an end”
In the Anglican Communion, the decision by the US Epsicopal Church to ordain practicing homosexual Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire highlighted the gulf between Northern liberal readings of the Bible and the conservative acceptance of biblical authority in the Global South. As Jenkins points out, many there see it as a case of Jerusalem and the Bible against Athens and secular texts.
The stats are staggering: in Africa in the C20th the Christian population grew from 10% to 46%, from 10 million to 360 million – what Jenkins calls the largest relgious change within a century in human history. By 2050 China may well contain the second-largest population of Christians on the planet. Also likely by then is that of 3 billion Christians only 1/5 will be non-Hispanic whites.
African-American Christianity, long seen as marginal within the USA, now looks ‘standard’ globally. And white American mainstream denominations are becoming the exception. Jenkins has a nice line here – the rejected stone has become the cornerstone.
And these shifts raise questions that form the main theme of this book – how Christians in the Global South read the Bible in comparison to those in the North, and how those readings pose profound challenges to our assumptions as we read Scripture. The question is, as Lamin Sanneh famously put it, Whose Religion is Christianity now?
This growth of Christianity in the global South is mirrored by decline and increasing marginalisation in Europe. So often we assume ‘our’ experience is normative. But what if ‘our’ experience is exceptional? What should Christians in the North make of what is happening globally?