Philip Jenkins, The New Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity.
In 2002, Philip Jenkins unleashed a ground-breaking exposition onto the unsuspecting world of missions. Such laudable language is often used to sell academic books, but this one has earned every superlative. This book, while not the first (see Samuel Huntington's The Clash of Civilization and the Remaking of World Order, Simon and Shuster, 1996), laid the foundation for the specialization within Christian studies of global or world Christianity. Many authors have since published similar books, such as Lamin Sanneh's DiMples of All Nations, Ogbu U. Kalu's Interpreting Contemporary Christianity, and Mary Farrell Bednarowski's Twentieth-Century Global Christianity. Since the tragedy of 11 September 2001, much of the way we perceive the world has changed; therefore, Jenkins decided to update and expand this major work in order to reflect the tenor of the times.
Jenkins, now the Distinguished Professor of History and Religious Studies at Pennsylvania State University, explains that, although the original edition of the book was released after 9/11, the final draft was sent to publishers on 10 September 2001, the day before. Therefore, he felt some clarifications were needed. The calls to understand the role of religion in politics and to recognize the peril of global religious conflict have been excised because they now have become obvious to all. He also has removed the prediction that the lack of hostilities between Christians and Muslims is only temporary. This proved to be true when originally written pre-9/ll. Also, in response to criticism of the first edition, Jenkins discusses his use of the term Christendom. While not giving a direct definition, he describes it as transcending national boundaries: "In its origins, then, 'Christendom' has supranational and even antinational implications quite different from the term's use in common parlance" (p. xii). His description is reminiscent of Kierkegaard's use, but without the corruption. We might think of it as the praxis of the universal church. Where Christianity holds sway, Christendom exists.
An intention of the book was to rebut the liberal claim that Christianity is dying. Jenkins is quick to point out that as a result of secularization, Christianity in the Western world has been and continues to be in decline; but in the "global South" Christianity is increasing rapidly. Jenkins provides examples of how the most liberal and accommodating North American churches have suffered the greatest losses, while the "traditional" churches, such as in Korea and Kenya, cannot build their facilities fast enough to keep up with their growth (pp.10-11). For Jenkins, the Christendom of the West is being superseded by the "next Christendom" in the global South of Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
The book can be divided into two halves. The first half presents a historical look at missions, examining why they fail and why they succeed. He finds that "time and again, missions collapsed when those being introduced to the new faith feared that they might be subjecting themselves to some kind of foreign imperial domination" (p.38). The missions fail when they are seen as an extension of Western colonialism. When the faith was adapted into the culture, however, Christianity exploded. Through the inculturation of Christianity, the core elements of the faith are incorporated into the new culture, "but other parts of so-called traditional Christianity can perhaps be treated ... flexibly" (p.128). At this point, the question remains: What is cultural and what is a core element of the faith? If inculturation is left unchecked, it can lead to syncretism. Jenkins explains that the majority of churches recognize that the old beliefs of the people are so ingrained that either they make peace with the established ways or they incorporate them into the church praxis. As Christianity takes hold and explodes in the global South, the push southward is inevitable.
The second half of the book looks to the future trends, based on the statistics provided by David Barnett's World Christian Encyclopedia, and attempts to predict where we will end up in the next half century. He analyzes population growth patterns, the location of religious centres, conflicts between religious groups, and rechristianization efforts in the West. As population growth shifts from North to South, as the effects of industrialization wane, the relative population density of the North will stabilize at the appropriate levels, and the centres of population and Christian faith will relocate to the South. The encroachment of Christianity upon Islamic territories will produce inevitable militant backlashes. But as the population and faith centres shift southward, Christianity as we know it will change. The global South will shape the expression. Southern missionaries will flood into Europe and North America to evangelize the post-Christian North. Jenkins warns that the new Christendom is coming, and we had better prepare.
The criticisms of this edition are much the same as those of the first edition. Jenkins's analysis comes with no real solutions. He is like someone who stands on the rooftops shouting that a storm is coming, but does not tell us what to do about it. He should be addressing questions such as whether we should we support the global South as it continues to struggle against the sometimes violent clashes with other religions. Will they summarily reject our help as attempts to impose our cultural norms on them? Are we doomed to see our faith co-opted by a syncretized amalgamation of folk theology and the Bible? Is there anything we should do? Is there anything we can do? On these questions, Jenkins stops short. These unanswered questions can leave the reader with a sense of foreboding.
Another challenge for some readers is that Jenkins's views on issues of gender, homosexuality and the boundaries of Christianity come across as resoundingly liberal, which may threaten more conservative sensibilities. He explains that issues that are of great concern in the North are of little concern in the South.
Conservatives who read beyond these challenges will see value in the historical survey, the demographic trends, and the predictions presented in the book. Jenkins has presented a case that is supported by the data and predicts both hope for the future of Christianity as it outstrips all other faiths and doom for Western Christendom as it fades into post-Christianity.
While the updates of the first edition may not be good enough to warrant buying a second edition, for anyone interested in missions or global Christianity, this book remains a must read. The revised and expanded edition has updated material that seemed dated after the events of 9/11. The new edition provides a relevant and current assessment of the way Christianity is taking the lead as the first global faith.
Christopher J. Black is an adjunct professor and PhD candidate reading theology at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA.
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|Author:||Black, Christopher J.|
|Publication:||International Review of Mission|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Apr 1, 2010|
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