Religion / Spiritual

Philip Jenkins “The Next Christendom” – in the long run . . . Christ wins out


Philip Jenkins has a joint appointment  at Penn State University and at Baylor University and  is also  the author of “The Lost History of Christianity”, another excellent book.  A respected professor of  history and religious studies who has been known for “going against the flow,” Jenkins argues that the rapid growth of  Christianity around the world (both within and alongside existing traditions) will literally reshape the world, with possible religious and geopolitic conflicts.  Jenkins observes that especially Pentecostalism, mainly a protestant renewal movement within Christianity (German: Pfingstler, Pfingstkirche, Pfingstbewegung), is steadily winning  millions of follower in Latin America, South America, Africa, India, Malaysia, China, and Eastern Europe, including Russia. There is also a Catholic Charismatic Renewal, which  Benedict XVI praised  highlighting its positive contribution.  According to the U.S. urban specialist Mike Davis “Pentecostalism is the largest self-organized movement of urban poor in the world”.

Between 1900 and 2000, the number of Christians in Africa grew from 10 million to 360 million, and by 2025 is expected to reach 633 million. In a post-modern world, religion returned to center stage in the 90s , and Jenkins revisits Huntington from a Christian perspective and new data. Jenkins contests Samuel Huntington’s thesis in The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, that “the relative Christian share of global population will fall steeply in the [21st] century, and that this religion will be supplanted by Islam.” Huntington predicted that “in the long run . . . Muhammad wins out,” mainly because Islam is advanced by “conversion and reproduction,” whereas “Christianity spreads primarily by conversion.” Both share many valid points, and even Philip Jenkins dryly notes in his own book difficulties to predict the future.  Both do agree on the danger of potential conflicts caused by religious and cultural differences.  Sociological and religious future trends interact – as always – and this perils are  unfortunately today’s reality.

Philip Jenkins “The Next Christendom”  is not entirely an optimistic book, but it is profoundly helpful and up-to-date. Another eye opener.

Ch. 1. The Christian Revolution

Jenkins’ opening chapter provocatively suggests, religious revolutions are not, as Western intellectuals too often propose against the history, mere spiritual, private matters. They bring with them profoundly this-worldly repercussions like genocides, wars, and what Samuel Huntington has famously termed ‘the clash of civilizations’. They can also renew and uproot societies. Jenkins argues that a ‘Christian revolution’ is already underway in the developing world, one that our political leaders ignore to the peril of all of us: “We are currently living through one of the transforming moments in the history of religion worldwide. – ” The Christian center of gravity has shifted to Africa, Asia, and Latin America   “By 2050, only about 1/5 of the world’s 3 billion Christians will be non-Hispanic Whites.” “The era of Western Christianity has passed within our lifetimes….”  “The emerging Christian world will be anchored in the Southern continents.” Growing from a handful to several hundred million, the Pentecostal movement is the most successful social movement of the past century that places special emphasis on a direct personal experience of God through the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

Ch. 2. Disciples of All Nations

The chapter reviews the history of Christian expansion, showing that it developed globally from the beginning. particularly it questioned the modernization requests to and attempts of the christian institutions, like the Catholic Church as the whole idea of ‘Western Christianity’ distorts the true scope of the religion’s development.  As the author already pointed out in his former book, even in the Middle East, African and Asian regions subjugated by Islam, Christian loyalties survived for centuries in some cases until today. In the Middle East, “Arab Christians remained politically powerful until the rise of a new Muslim fundamentalism in the 1980s.” Westerners apologize for the Crusades but do not suggest that Muslims apologize for the aggressive acts that gave them power over these various lands in the first place. Westerners have forgotten the once-great Christian communities of the Eastern world.

Ch 3. Missionaries and Prophets

Jenkins, states – “Undeniably, the Christian missions of this historical phase were intimately connected with political and imperial adventures, and Protestant and Catholic fortunes followed the success of the different empires.” and  “For all the hypocrisy and the flagrantly self-serving rhetoric of the imperial age, the dedication of the missionaries was beyond question.” He continues, “amazing as it may appear to a blasé West, Christianity exercises an overwhelming global appeal, which shows not the slightest sign of waning.” and “Many Westerners…see missionary Christianity as a kind of cultural leprosy.”  But why did Africans and Asians adopt Christianity?  “One all-too-obvious explanation is that individuals came to believe the message offered, and found this the best means of explaining the world around them.” Their convictions are illustrated by the many stories of zeal in the face of persecution.

Ch. 4. Standing Along

When the demise of European empires brought forward the moment for non-Western churches to stand alone, they had little trouble doing so.  Jenkins observes parallels between the developments he surveys in the ‘South’ and those that characterized a similar time of awakening, urbanization, and religious effervescence in the industrializing North. He states, that “Up until the end of the eighteenth century, large-scale missionary efforts were strictly the preserve of the Catholic powers….” The book argues, to connect the spread of Christianity only with imperial expansion is not entirely correct, since fate of the religion would be affected by the breakup of the old European empires. The countries with the largest number of Catholics are Brazil (137 million), Mexico (89 million), Philippines (61 million), the United States (58 million), and Italy (55 million). Catholic growth has been particularly dramatic in Africa, usually in former French and Belgian territories. In 1995, there were 16 million Catholics in all of Africa. Today, there are 120 million.  Jenkings states, “For the foreseeable future, the characteristic religious forms of Southern Christianity, enthusiastic and spontaneous, fundamentalist and supernatural-oriented, look massively different from those of the older centers in Europe and North America.” and “In the coming decades, the religious life characteristic of those regions may well become the Christian norm.”

Ch. 5. The Rise of the New Christianity

Population growth and contraction look poised to reduce European populations radically while a boom in many southern states continues apace. When turning to religious indicators, all of them suggest that the surge in southern Christianity has barely begun. The picture becomes even more interestingly when population mobility is factored into the equation. Immigration to Europe may well establish a renewed Christian presence on that continent. America looks set to become even more of a Christian nation than it is today, again due to immigration. Southern nations are growing rapidly but Northern states are relatively static. – “The stagnation of Northern and particularly European populations will be one of the most significant facts of the twenty-first century.”  “By 2050, there will be an ever-growing contrast between the age profiles of the global South and North, between the world of the young and very mobile and the world of the old and static.” “In another epochal change, these urban centers will be overwhelmingly Southern.” “A largely secularized First World confronts a rapidly growing ‘South’ in which religion thrives and expands.” But many in the South are moving north. “ “Looking at the spread of mosques across urban Europe, it would be easy to believe that Islam might indeed be Europe’s future religion. Yet a great many other European immigrants are Christian, and they raise the prospect of a revitalized Christian presence on European soil.” The number of Muslims in the U.S., is probably about 4 million or so, much less than the up to 8 million claimed. Many Arab-Americans are in fact Christian. “Any likely Muslim growth through immigration will be far exceeded by the continuing Christian influx from Africa, Asia, and above all, Latin America.” – “Christian predominance is likely to be still more marked in decades to come.”

Ch. 6. Coming to Terms

In ‘Coming to Terms’ Jenkins surveys how churches in the Two-Thirds world `inculturate’ the gospel in their cultural contexts. Though the results are sometimes alarming to Western Christians, Jenkins’ view is rather more sanguine, claiming that most of these adaptations are well within the parameters of recognizably Christian faith. As demographic changes favor the Southern churches, their patterns of life and worship-often visceral supernatural in their orientation-are bound to become the dominant ones in a new Christendom. “The rising churches usually preach a strong and even pristine Christian message.” “Another new ‘missionary century’ may dawn, although next time, the missionaries would be traveling northward.”

Ch. 7. God and The World

Jenkins’ seventh chapter prognosticates about the varying models of church and state that can be expected as important southern countries become demographically. The predictions are not all reassuring to heirs of a strong tradition of separation between the two. Americans keep church and state separate, but such a distinction is incomprehensible in much of the world. ‘Not only is Christianity flourishing in the Third World, but so are distinctively Christian politics. “Northerners are going to find themselves ever more out of touch with the religious dimensions that shape the new world, and literally unable to communicate with the new people of faith.” – “In one possible scenario of the world to come, an incredibly wealthy although numerically shrinking Northern population espouses the values of humanism, ornamented with the vestiges of liberal Christianity and Judaism.” “Meanwhile, this future North confronts the poorer and vastly more numerous global masses who waves the flags…of ascendant Christianity and Islam. …the have-nots will be inspired by the scriptures and the language of apocalyptic, rather than by the texts of Marx and Mao. In this world, we, the West, will be the final Babylon.” –  “The North would be secular, rational, and tolerant, the South primitive and fundamentalist. The North would define itself against Christianity.”

Ch. 8. The Next Crusade

Jenkins acknowledges that a world in which powerful adversaries take religion far more seriously than does today’s sophisticated North should keep strategic analysts alert. Simple parents like myself imagining the world in which my son will come of age already plans immigration for him out of Europe.“Religious loyalties are at the root of many of the world’s ongoing civil wars and political violence, and in most cases, the critical division is the age-old battle between Christianity and Islam.” (163) “The parochialism of Western public opinion is striking. When a single racial or religious-motivated murder takes place in Europe or North America, the event occasions widespread soul-searching, but when thousands are massacred on the grounds of their faith in Nigeria, Indonesia, or the Sudan, the story rarely registers. Come lives are worth more than others. In addition, a kind of religious prejudice helps to explain the silence about nations like the Sudan.  “No less than 10 of the world’s 25 largest states in 2050 could be profoundly divided between Islam and Christianity, and judging by present trends, any or all of them could be the scene of serious interfaith conflict.” -. “A number of European nations face huge disparities between very fertile immigrant groups and relatively static old-stock populations, and religious instability could easily result.” – “The fundamental question here is whether Islam and Christianity can coexist.” “What is most disturbing about the Sudanese experience is that it shows how, in the new religious climate, existing non-Muslim minorities can be reduced or even eliminated. The same bitter lesson may be in progress in…Egypt, the home of the ancient community of Coptic Christians.” -. “Some of the likely winners in the religious economy of the new century are precisely those groups who have a strongly apocalyptic mindset, in which the triumph of righteousness is associated with the vision of a world devastated by fire and plague.” “The situation could become so sensitive that a global catastrophe could be provoked by the slightest misjudgment –just like 1914.”

Ch. 9. Coming Home

Events since the late 90s have given the author some hard facts to work with. The southern churches are almost all theologically and culturally more conservative than their northern partners. But are they so distinct so as to be incapable of re-evangelizing secularized Europe and the USA?  A fundamental issue: How will the global North change in response to the rise of a new global Christianity? Will its religious character remain Christian, perhaps with a powerful Southern cast? Or will it entirely lose its Christian character?” . “While traditional Christianity is weakening in large sections of the North, it is indeed being reinforced and reinvigorated by Southern churches, by means of immigration and evangelization.

Ch. 10. Seeing Christianity Again for the First Time  

In the last and best chapter analysis is exchanged for what becomes almost an indictment of northern Christian scenario. From the view 2050 A.D., the persecution and poverty of which so much are made in the New Testament literature is also the context of the majority of today’s Christians (not to mention those who await their moment a half-century hence): “For whatever reason, Western investment in missions has been cut back dramatically at just the point it is most desperately needed, at the peak of the current surge in Christian numbers.” and “For the average Western audience, New Testament passages about standing firm in the face of pagan persecution have little immediate relevance…. “Millions of Christians around the world do in fact live in constant danger of persecution or forced conversion, from either governments or local vigilantes.”

When he says, “Looking at Christianity as a planetary phenomenon, not merely a Western one, makes it impossible to read the New Testament in quite the same way ever again”,   he has a particular strong point pointing out the Book of Revelation.  and that nevertheless,  “Christianity is flourishing wonderfully among the poor and persecuted, while it atrophies among the rich and secure.” I agree to the assertion,  “Christianity is never as weak as it appears, nor as strong as it appears. And whether we look backward or forward in history, we can see tat time and again, Christianity demonstrates a breathtaking ability to transform weakness into strength.”

3 thoughts on “Philip Jenkins “The Next Christendom” – in the long run . . . Christ wins out

  1. Pingback: Rejoice; the right men and right time – prayers heard | stOttilien

  2. Pingback: Phillip Jenkins writes an encouraging bo | timthetarheel

  3. Pingback: Pope says Vatican is spritual deaf in Curia address | stOttilien

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