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
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?