The Next Christendom

The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, by Philip Jenkins, is the first book on the reading list for Culture and Mission: Social Theory for Theologians, the two week course I’m attending at San Francisco Theological Seminary. Published first in 2002, just after the September 11 bombings, the third edition came out in September 2011. Jenkins, a Catholic turned Episcopalian, teaches history and religious studies at Baylor University, a private Baptist university in Waco, Texas, and keeps his hand in teaching at Pennsylvania State University. Philip’s major current interests include the study of global Christianity, of new and emerging religious movements, and of twentieth century U.S. history. In this book he’s exploring the emergence of Christianity in the South, in Africa, Asia, South America and Central America. Read on for my summary and reflections after four days of class discussion.

The Next Christendom

Jenkins talks about the centre of gravity moving away from Europe and North America to Africa, Latin America and Asia where the largest Christian communities are found today. He reminds us that we should be careful not to rush into statements about what Christians believe, when we are largely unaware of the emerging values associated with movements in the new mainstream of the “South”. We’re about to see a shift in focus for global Christianity similar to that experienced in the move from the Jewish/Hellenist hegemony to the Germanic lands of Western Europe in the early Middle Ages. Jenkins sets out to use the term “Christendom” to refer to the loyalty given by Christians to an overarching movement that transcended national boundaries or loyalties. Jenkins suggests that we are seeing the emergence of two commonly held identities for Christians of the South, in the two continents of Africa and South America.

Jenkins sets out to debunk the myth of “Western Christianity” in his second chapter. The Christian movement had its first 400 years centred in the East, with major centres in Constantinople (now Turkey), Antioch (now Syria), Jerusalem (now Israel), Alexandria (Egypt) and Rome (now Italy), with a significant presence in North Africa. We’re reminded of the significant Christian communities in Ethiopia, Armenia and Egypt, along with the Nestorian missionary movement into Persia and China. Most Christians have little idea of the size of the Christian presence in Islamic countries such as Syria or Mesopotamia during the time of the Christian crusades. Middle Eastern Christian communities were decimated in the years following the first world war, for reasons associated with longstanding historical factors dating back to the Mongol invasions. Fascinating!

The second chapter goes on to explore the expansion of the Catholic Church in Central and South America on the coat tails of Spanish and Portuguese conquests. Catholic identity, mixed with indigenous beliefs and practices, helped to form what is now known as Latino culture. The same factors played out in African centres such as Angola and the Congo. Interestingly Jenkins overlooks mission work done with the indigenous peoples of North America. Jesuit priests travelled to China, Japan and Indian states, working hard on models of cultural adaptation. However the Vatican in 1704 ruled against the Jesuit attempts at inculturation, requiring all worship to be held in Latin and requiring a political Vatican presence in China. Within years Christianity was banned in China.

Protestant missionary movements, from the the beginning of the 18th century through to the 20th century, are also explored here. The rise of the British empire at the end of the 18th century accelerated the enthusiasm of Protestant activists in China, India, Africa, alongside the French Catholic missionaries in France and IndoChina. Jenkins, as through the whole book, totally ignores what was happening in the Pacific Islands, New Zealand and Australia.

The third and fourth chapters explore the development of Christianity in post-colonial Africa, South America and Asia. Critical to the long term effectiveness of mission movements was work done with younger generations, and with women. Jenkins tells the stories of indigenous church leaders, prophets and martyrs. Alongside “mainstream” churches such as the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian and Lutheran churches, there were many independent movements springing up led by charismatic leaders. It’s here that Jenkins picks up the emerging divide between Protestant and Pentecostal, particularly in South America. Jenkins reflects on the connection between large successful movements and the provision of arrangements for health, welfare and education. New movements seem to have been most effective when they provided an opportunity for community for urban centres in times of social change.

Jenkins goes on in chapter five to provide a speculative look into the future of Christianity outside Europe and the West. Population growth rates in the global South, if they continue, suggest that Christian populations may well continue to blossom. Rising nations to watch, according to Jenkins, include Nigeria, Bangladesh, Congo, Ethiopia, Uganda and the Philippines. However, as Jenkins admits, demographic change can be difficult to predict. Economic factors can change family size. Hubs of Christian community, as we saw in places such as China and the Middle East, can become endangered by wars and political changes. Jenkins doesn’t reflect much on generational changes accentuated by access to global youth cultures.

Chapter six, “Coming to Terms”, explores the dilemmas that are already being faced by global Christian movements in the face of demographic change. Practices and beliefs associated with European and North American inculturation over hundreds of years are now being challenged by those emerging in the fast growing churches in Africa, South America and China. Translation of scriptures into new languages brings new insights and new challenges for Christians, which can be received as an opportunity to learn in the global North, or an insidious threat. Liberation theology, developed in Latin America, has already shaped global Christianity. As always, inculturation is a risky business, that can err on the side of caution, or on the side of unreflective syncretism. Jenkins draws on Ernst Troetsch and his sociology of church and sect, anticipating that many informal “Spirit-led” movements are likely to develop more formal structures of training and administration.

Chapter seven focuses on the connections made between religion and politics in the growing South. In theory, there’s an expectation that church and state will be separated in North America and Europe, but of course recent Western history has been shaped time and time again by the efforts of key religious leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Jenkins reflects on the gradual, and sometimes sudden, decline of the church’s privilege under colonial or post colonial governments. Latin American Catholics in the 1960s and 1970s were often involved in the transition to new forms of government, including both protesting against dictatorship and serving as members and leaders of new governments. Likewise Christians were often behind the scenes in the transition away from colonial rule in African countries, and the end of regimes such as that of Marcos in The Philippines.

Jenkins lays out some warnings about the economic and political collapse of states, leading the way to inter-religious competition for control, as seen today in Sudan. Religious groups have been complicit in terrible atrocities, such as those in Rwanda, Burundi and the Congo.

Chapter eight, “The Next Crusade”, follows the growth of Islam in the global South, often associated with regions with high fertility rates. Elsewhere Jenkins debunks the distribution of statistics that hysterically suggest the Muslims will outbreed their compatriots in continental Europe and North America. See my post in May 2009. He points out that the Muslim world is dividing into countries with low birth rates (e.g. Algeria) and those with high birth rates (e.g. Pakistan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia). Jenkins suggests that highest flashpoints for violence in Muslim countries are where there are minorities representing 10 to 20 percent of the population, such as Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Uganda. Muslim reactions, he believes, have a strongly defensive quality. Jenkins says that while Christians and Muslims have in the past and can in the future live peacefully side by side, the prognosis is not encouraging. History shows us that outbreaks of fanaticism by small minorities can end hundreds of years of peaceful cooperation.

The ninth chapter, “Coming Home”, explores the impact of the growth of the Christian movements in the global South on denominations in European, North American and other Western countries. Issues such as ordination of women, equal rights for the GLTBI community, and interfaith dialogue, are becoming battle grounds for denominations with global connections such as the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion, and the United Methodist Church. I didn’t realise until this week that the UMC has 7.725 million members in the USA, and 4.4 million in Africa, Asia and Europe. It is by no means certain that the Episcopalian Church USA will still be in the Anglican Communion by the time of the next Lambeth conference in 2018. Jenkins writes about growing numbers of clergy from the South emerging as leaders in the North, in both traditionally mainline denominations, as well as in newly established extensions of African and South American movements.

The final chapter, “Seeing Christianity Again for the First Time”, explores strategies for the future. The first on the list is redeployment of leaders to help resource the growing churches of the South. The next challenge is for both Christian and Jewish movements of the North to get to understand the emerging Christianity of the South, along with the emerging Islam of the South. Resources need to be shifted to address the crippling poverty being experienced in failed states. The Old and New Testaments have new meaning when read through the eyes of the poor and persecuted who lived in deeply divided societies or who have been displaced by natural disaster or war.

Philip Jenkins’ work on emerging religious movements in “The New Christendom” provides me with renewed inspiration for the development of indigenous approaches to church among emerging generations in the Australian context. Inculturation of the Christian gospel is needed to connect with the majority of Australian residents, most of whom show little interest in the traditional inherited models of Christian formation currently used by Catholic, Protestant and Pentecostal churches. Working with new church development workers I am encouraging local home-grown approaches to worship, leadership, communication and Christian formation. Examples in Goulburn are a “kayaking faith community” in which prayer and learning is shaped around adventure and environmental action, and a “dinner church”, in which worship experiences are designed for all-age gatherings in the homes of participants. My contribution is to stimulate theological reflection on context and experience in a way that grows the capacity to create new liturgies, not just new litanies.

Philip Jenkins’ call for his readers to look beyond the world of the North resonates with my call to foster a global perspective among Uniting Church members and leaders. While the Presbytery in which I work currently has two specifically ethnic congregations, Korean and Tongan, it is likely that new migration patterns will lead to further diversity in the future. We will need to be prepared for the development of new ethnically-based communities, and cross-cultural communities appropriate for new waves of refugees from Sudan, Sri Lanka, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt and Syria, along with other flashpoints not currently identified. Population movement from Indonesia, South Korea, Tonga, Samoa, the Cook Islands, Fiji and Taiwan will inevitably lead to critical masses of people interested in forming new faith communities. These changes will increase the need for inter-generational capacity of hyphen communities (Indian-Australian, Tongan-Australian, Kiwi-Australian) as first generation migrants relate to 1.5, 2nd generation and 3rd generation migrants. The Uniting Church will have an ongoing role in building the cross-cultural capacity of Australians who have currently have little awareness of other cultures. This will involve communication skills and the ability to be present with poise as the guest in ethnic settings.

Philip Jenkins identifies a range of flash point issues of faith as a new wave of Christianity in the South comes into contact with established church systems in the “North”. In Australia discussions about homosexuality are already complicated by the concerns being expressed by groups representing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, Tongan, Korean, Samoan, Niuean, Filipino, Sudanese and Vietnamese sections of the Church. I am part of a small group designing dialog tools for the development of a Uniting Church theology of marriage, to be used over the next six years. It is anticipated that issues surrounding same-gender marriage will be accompanied by issues surrounding polygamy and arranged marriages for children. Theological reflection is at the heart of this cross-cultural and global approach to discernment.

The growth of religious diversity in Australia, associated with shifts in migration patterns, has led to a deepened need for inter-faith understanding and cooperation. As Philip Jenkins constantly points out, this work is likely to become more urgent as economic and environmental struggles accentuate global flows of people. My work with the Project Abraham project on the Gold Coast of Australia showed me the value of local partnership between leaders and members from mosques, synagogues and churches. In this case willing participants were brought together by the inspiration of outside parties who provided models for on-the-ground collaboration in hosting art installations, discussion forums and shared meals. The publicity from this project led to my involvement in growing partnership between a new Islamic school (opposed by conservative Christians) and the leaders of local Christian and state schools. I need to look into how I get involved with inter-faith work in Canberra.

Philip Jenkins writes about the development of a new wave of Christianity shaped by the contexts found in the “South”. My contribution in the Australian context includes finding ways to creatively explore what it means to form communities of the gospel, expressed in forgiving community, solidarity with the poor and suffering, communities of healing, reconciling and restoration. The work I do with emerging communities of faith will foster “third-way” hybrid approaches to worship and leadership development that learn from Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Pentecostal, Independent and even syncretistic approaches to church.

The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (Future of Christianity Trilogy)

Philip Jenkins

Jenkins has published 22 books which have been translated into 10 languages. Some recent titles include Mystics and Messiahs: Cults and New Religions in American History (2000), The Next Christendom: The Rise of Global Christianity (2002), Decade of Nightmares: The End of the 1960s and the Making of Eighties America (2006), The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South (2006),God’s Continent: Christianity, Islam and Europe’s Religious Crisis (2007), The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia: And How It Died (2009), Jesus Wars: How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, and Two Emperors Decided What Christians Would Believe for the Next 1,500 years (2011), Laying Down The Sword: Why We Can’t Ignore The Bible’s Violent Verses (2012).

Laying Down the Sword: Why We Can’t Ignore the Bible’s Violent Verses

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