World Christianity 08: Good and Evil

Continuing discussion of Philip Jenkins’ fascinating book, The New Faces of Christianity: believing the Bible in the Global South.

Chapter 5 is about ‘Good and Evil’

Jenkins acknowledges he is talking in big picture terms – but that this generality holds:

Biblical texts and passages that the South makes central are seen by many Northern churches as marginal, symbolic, or purely historical in nature … for post-Enlightenment Christians in the West, the demonic elements in the New Testament mean so little that they are scarcely even an embarrassment anymore.

And this is a fascinating and politically incorrect comment that counters much rhetoric that pictures Christianity as a destroyer of native cultures;

supernatural approaches can be valuable in moving societies away from pernicious traditional superstitions …. in a relatively short time, the new Christian emphasis on prayer and Bible reading defuses the fatalism inherent in a traditional system based on notions such as witchcraft, curses, and the power of ancestors. Instead, Christians are taught to rely on faith, and on the role of the individual, who is no longer a slave to destiny or fate. By treating older notions of spiritual evil seriously, Christians are leading an epochal cultural revolution.

For a powerful validation of Jenkins analysis here see this post from Matthew Parris from a while ago on the liberating effect of Christianity in Africa.

Jenkins’ big point is that much of Christianity in the Global South takes evil seriously since it is surrounded by the occult, paganism, acts of great evil, natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes and famines and so on.

Many Christians live close to paganism / animism and have an immediate connection to the idea of spiritual warfare.

Jenkins quotes Olusegun Obasanjo who says ‘Doubting the existence of the devil or Satan is like doubting the existence of sin’. Who is he? The President of Nigeria from 1999. And Jenkins recounts a Ghanaian song to illustrate the familiarity with spiritual warfare – Ephesians 6 in African imagery you might say:

‘If Satan troubles us

Jesus Christ

You who are the lion of the grasslands

You whose claws are sharp

Will tear out his entrails

And leave them on the ground

For the flies to eat’

And another fascinating point is, while in the West there remains a pretty major gulf between Pentecostals and others who are into healing, exorcisms, spiritual warfare etc and the ‘mainline moderate’ Christians, this gap tends to be closed in the Global South. Elsewhere Jenkins has said

“If you go to Tanzania, for example, one of the leading religious figures in that nation is a man who is famous as a prophet and a healer. He is also a Lutheran bishop. This is not the Lutheranism of Garrison Keillor. This is a different kind of religious tradition.”

All this continues to raise important questions. What do we Western Christians need to learn from brothers and sisters in the Global South in this whole area of good and evil? How much is our supposedly ‘contextless’  and ‘normal’ Christianity deeply shaped and moulded by our Enlightenment rationalist context?


2 thoughts on “World Christianity 08: Good and Evil

  1. Was reflecting on this just last week in preparation for what was a far too ambitious look at the Devil from a scriptural perspective… And there were 2 interesting factors that came out simply looking at the translations of the english text:
    1) the use of the word “wicked” in place of evil in many places in the AV… with “wicked” having specific connection with pre-christian/Anglo-saxon pagan practice (wicca, witchcraft etc)… whilst this may not have been an accurate translation of the Biblical concept of evil, particularly in the New Testament which reflected “that which weighs one down” it certainly reflected current cultural considerations… with a large number of witch-trials at the time of the translation of the AV (an a treatise on the subject by the King who commissioned it)

    2) Counterintuitively the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew is translated “deliver us from evil” rather than the other possibility (preferred in modern translations) of “deliver us from the evil one”. Was this because of a greater sense of evil pervading society?

  2. Interesting David.
    Despite seeing the gospel world, and maybe the ‘less developed’ global south, as more ‘primitive’ the West remains full of talk of ‘evil’ – evil paedophiles, evil rapists, the evil of the two lads who were on trial recently for torturing other younger children …
    But I wonder if this just safely isolates evil as ‘out there’, belonging to extreme cases of bad behaviour and not part of ‘normal good people’? And so talk of evil actually makes us feel better about ourselves in comparison to really bad people?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s