Monday, March 5, 2007

Friday Night Frozen Dinner and an Intellectual: "The Next Christendom:The Coming of Global Christianity" by Philip Jenkins

This book has been on my radar screen for many a year and so I am glad that blogging has given me an opportunity not only to read it myself, but also to bring it to the attention of those who would be interested in its unique insight.
Professor Jenkin's book is a gaze into the future, a look at what the church at the end of the twentieth century might look like. It is both hopeful and disturbing. On the hopeful side, he profiles the practices and beliefs of the Church in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, and finds a high value placed on Scriptural authority and holy living. As the Church shrinks in Europe and North America, the numbers of Christians are growing in the third world. By 2050, white Europeans will no longer be in the majority in the Church. Not only will most followers of Jesus live outside traditional Christendom, but they will be those who reject western moral decadance. Their loyalty to Scripture will determine their practices. Witness todays isolation of the U.S. Episcopal Church over the isue of homosexuality. By ordaining an openly practicing homosexual as a bishop, the American church thought that it was moving the world-wide Anglican Communion towards its toleration of "alternate lifestyles." The Bishops and their flocks in the third world would have none of it, and today the American Church faces the likely prospect of being removed from the Anglican Communion. Some American Anglicans are already seeking to be put under the authority of Bishops in other countries who adhere to the mandates of Scripture. As the Church's future moves ever southward and to the east, this bodes well for Bride of Christ. It is possible that a strong church in the south may be used of God to bring revival to the West.
However loyal to Jesus the Southern and Eastern Church may be, it will not look like the fundamentalist Churches of America and Eurpope. For one thing, the twenty-first century Church will be more willing to acknowledge and do battle with supernatural forces that the Bible identifies as our true enemy. To people in these regions, the supernatural is an everyday reality, while we in the west equate such beliefs with pagan superstition that has to be done away with. Jenkins identifies this issue as the main distinguisher between western and future Christian belief. Churches that are Pentecostal in practice will have influence over three continents. Some will be independent in their roots, while churches that have their roots in Western Institutions will be prominant as well. How does this strike you? Does it make you fear for the Church's future. I do not. While I am not Pentecostal, I do welcome the Church's battle with the supernatural. Will there be excess? Of course. Yet this appears to be God's doing and I think God knows who is best to spread His message. The Societies of the third world are also patriarchal in nature. Christians from these regions are not likely to sympathize with a western feminist agenda. It looks as if the Church of the future will look to strengthen the family rather that seek policies that break it up. This is ironic indeed, considering that the religious left thought these regions, especially Latin America, ripe for political revolution and the establishment of Marxist governments. To paraphrase a quote from Jenkins: "The left chose the poor, and the poor chose the Pentecostals." Not only does it seem that this is the future of the Church elsewhere, but as Christians from the South and East come to be missionaries in the West and North, they may bring permanent cultural changes with them.
Jenkin's picture is not all optimism. The very regions where Christians are growing are also areas where the influence of Islam is expanding. With the proliferation of modern weponary, this could lead to catastophic wars of religion. Genocide could be practiced on a scale similiar to or greater than the genocide in Rwanda. The control of the world's natural resources could also come into play as Islamic states try to coerce the West into supporting Mulims over Christians. The U.S. support of Israel may be the target of blackmailers demanding we sever our ties to Israel or face a cutoff of oil. It is possible that Europe and the United States, once seen as the home of the Church may align itself against the Church for political reasons.
Jenkins presents compelling evidence for his vision of the Church's future. He gives readers compelling portraits of the Church in Africa and Latin America and Asia. His comparison of the strength between these churches and western ones is a withering indictment of the road the West has traveled. The end-notes provide excellent material for futher study. Of special interest are the end-notes containing websites that let one explore religious trends world-wide as well as those sites maintained by Churches themselves. In future posts, I hope to make use of these websites to give you a small glimpse into the Church of the future. One issue Jenkins barely addresses is how the Third World Church will be affected by Western culture. Will the Eastern and Southern churches be able to resist the worldly influences of a Western cultural invasion? Another issue Jenkins does not address in great detail is the influence of the "Prosperity Gospel." How many inroads will be made by this western heresy into the world-wide Church?
Jenkins has a new book out on how Christians in other countries seek to follow Jesus. This book will appear in "Friday Night Frozen Dinner and an Intellectual", as well as a book by Francis Collins, the head of the Genome Project, on science and religion. In the near future, I'll be keeping company with Marvin Olanski's "The Tragedy of American Compassion." I wish I had posted earlier on Jenkins, but I have been afflicted with a head-cold related to allergies. I believe I am allergic to my current residence.

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