The Next Christendom

by Philip Jenkins

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The basic point of this book is that the face of Christianity is changing. Christianity is not a Western religion anymore. The center of Christianity is pivoting away from Europe and North America. Jenkins says,

If we want to visualize a “typical” contemporary Christian, we should think of a woman living in a village in Nigeria or in a Brazilian favela. (2)

There is also an important demographic point that Jenkins makes. He points out that the world’s population is growing, but this growth is not coming from Europe and North America. The numbers are a stark reminder that the population is rapidly growing in South America, Africa, and Asia. If Christianity is also growing in these regions, then the face of Christianity will change again.

If we combine the figures for Europe, North America, and the lands of the former Soviet Union, then in 1900, these Northern regions accounted for 32 percent of the world population . . . By 2050, the figure should be around 10 or 12 percent. (79)

Another great quote show how different the faith of others can be. For people from the West, things like the supernatural are relegated to the realm of fiction and television. We do not actually believe in demons, witches, and the like. However, Jenkins points out that the supernatural—what is unseen—is very real to people in different lands. Hence, we are forced to rethink our worldview. Perhaps we can ask whether they are onto something that we have forgotten.

As Andrew Walls has remarked, “The role of ancestors and witchcraft are two important issues. Academic theologians in the West may not put witchcraft high on the agenda, but it’s the issue that hits ordinary African Christians full in the face.” (123)

Finally, too often persecution is a real-life event for many Christians around the world. Hence, there is a direct connection with the New Testament, such as when we read of Paul’s missionary journeys and the persecution he faced. All of this shows how different the life of faith can be among Christians from different parts of the world. We can learn from them.

For the average Western audience, New Testament passages about standing firm in the face of pagan persecution have little immediate relevance, about as much perhaps as farmyard images of threshing or vine-grafting. Some fundamentalists imagine that the persecutions described might have some future reality, perhaps during the End Times. But for millions of Southern Christians, there is no such need to dig for arcane meanings. Millions of Christians around the world do in fact live in constant danger of persecution or forced conversion, from either governments or local vigilantes. For modern Christians in Nigeria, Egypt, the Sudan, or Indonesia, it is quite conceivable that they might someday find themselves before a tribunal that would demand that they renounce their faith upon pain of death. (218)

In conclusion, Jenkins's book is a wonderful read, and it should be read, considered, and applied.

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