"World Christianity is the movement of Christianity as it takes form and shape in societies that previously were not Christian, societies that had no bureaucratic tradition with which to domesticate the gospel. In these societies, Christianity was received and expressed through the cultures, customs, and traditions of the people affected. World Christianity is not one thing, but a variety of indigenous responses through more or less effective local idioms, but in any case without necessarily the European Enlightenment frame."
- Lamin Sanneh, p. 4
1.2. The End of Western Christianity, the Dawn of Southern Christianity
All too often, statements about what “modern Christians accept” or what “Catholics today believe” refer only to what that ever-shrinking remnant of Western Christians and Catholics believe. Such assertions are outrageous today, and as time goes by they will become ever further removed from reality
- Philip Jenkins, p. 3.
The era of Western Christianity has passed within our lifetimes, and the day of Southern Christianity is dawning. The fact of change itself is undeniable; it has happened, and will continue to happen.
- Philip Jenkins, p. 3.
What is the basis for Dr. Jenkin's assertion of a dawn of a "Southern Christianity" (= Christianity with a geographic epicenter in the Southern Hemisphere or "Global South, " often referred to by the affluent West as the "Third World.")?
Christianity will continue to grow over the new century:
The majority of this growth will be in the Global South: Latin America, Africa, Asia:
In the year 2000, 45% of all Christians lived in Africa or Latin America, and 60% lived in Africa, Latin America, or Asia:
By 2025, nearly half of all Christians will in the world will live in Africa or Latin America, and two-thirds of all Christians will live in Africa, Latin America, or Asia:
The demographic shift to the Global South is even more dramatic in the largest single Christian denomination in the world: Catholicism.
Already, by the year 2000, 55% of Catholics lived in Latin America or Africa; and 65% lived in Latin America, Africa, or Asia.
By 2025, it is projected that 61% of all Catholics will live in Latin America or Africa; and nearly three-quarters of all Catholics will live in Latin America, Africa, or Asia:
This shift of Christianity to the South may be even more dramatic if we consider the rapid secularization of Europe over the past several decades. Many European "Christians" in the statistics are only nominally Christian:
“About the decline, the statistics are unequivocal. But beneath and beyond that has been a strategic retreat into isolation where the spirit seems to be wilting. It has taken the form of a mood swing in which people have been preoccupied with taking stock, with the setting sun and lengthening shadows, with memorial armbands, with shades of gray, with requiem. As Sir Edward Grey declared, brooding over the dark clouds of his time, the lamps have gone out all over Europe. The religious imagination seems to have been hit with a bout of melancholy as it labors with strains of “Abide with me, fast falls the eventide” and “The Day Thou gavest, Lord, is ended, / The darkness falls at Thy behest.” It’s the solemn vespers without the Gloria, and is a far cry from the confident, robust tones of “Onward, Christian Soldiers,” The Son of God goes forth to war,” or “Stand up, stand up for Jesus!”. . . Maybe too much history is a bad thing”
- Lamin Sanneh, p. 30
By 2050, only about one-fifth of Christians will be non-Hispanic whites. Philip Jenkins suggests that by then, the phrase “a White Christian” may sound like a curious oxymoron, as mildly surprising as “a Swedish Buddhist.”’
The growth of Christianity in Africa deserves special note: Christianity's growth there has been explosive over past half century, (since the end of the colonial period), and it will continue to be explosive into the new century:
Some notes on the growth of Christianity in Africa:
There are two reasons for the Growth of Christianity in the Global South:
World population is increasing:
Notice no European country makes the "top 20" list. Germany will be the most populous European nation, the 23rd most populous in the world:
In 2025 and 2050, seven of the ten largest Christian communities will be in Latin America, Africa, or Asia:
The size of cities will grow in the new century. By 2015, all ten of the largest metropolitan populations in the world will be in Latin America, Africa, or Asia:
…the centers of the church’s universality [are] no longer in Geneva, Rome, Athens, Paris, London, New York, but Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of the Congo), Buenos Aires (Argentina), Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) and Manila (Philippines)
- John Mbiti, Christianity in Africa, p. 154
Of the two reasons for the Growth of Christianity:
conversions will also continue to play a significant role in growth. Christianity is a strongly evangelical religion, responding to Jesus' call to "Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation." This good news has been taken in as "something felt in the marrow" by many in the Global South:
“We can suggest all sorts of reasons why Africans and Asians adopted Christianity, whether political, social, or cultural; but 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.”
- Philip Jenkins, p. 44
“It was not the mad logic of the Trinity that captivated him. He did not understand it. It was the poetry of the new religion, something felt in the marrow… He felt relief within as the hymn poured into his parched soul. The words of the hymn were like drops of frozen rain melting on the dry palate of the panting earth.”
- novelist Chinua Achebe (describing the impact of a sermon on a young Igbo man)
“Africans embraced Christianity because it resonated so well with the values of the old religions. . . People sensed in their hearts that Jesus did not mock their respect for the sacred or their clamor for an invincible Savior, so they beat their sacred drums for him until the stars skipped and danced in the skies. After that dance the stars weren’t little anymore. Christianity helped Africans to become renewed Africans, not remade Europeans.”
- Lamin Sanneh, p. 43
Why should we in the affluent West care about this booming growth of Christianity in the Global South, the shift of the population center of Christianity to the Southern Hemisphere, the end of the dominance of "Western" Christianity? What relevance does it pose for our lives (besides the profound reality that we are all joined together as members of the same body of Christ?)
There are at least four ways in which the growth of World Christianity may be quite relevant to "old time Western" Christians:
The taking in of the gospel message by a new culture may bring new insights, new ways of thinking about God:
188.8.131.52. The "African Creed" of the Maasai
The “African Creed” of the Maasai does not draw upon the Greek philosophic ideas about "substance" and distinctions between "begotten" but "not made", instead, it states:
184.108.40.206. The Incorporation of Ideas about Ancestors from African Native Religions
The Catholic Eucharistic Prayer (Africa Rite) draws upon the heritage of devotion to ancestors in native African religions, speaking of God the Father as the Great Ancestor:
220.127.116.11. The Confession of Faith of the Pygmies of the Congo
The Confession of Faith of the Pygmies of the Congo:
In the beginning was God,
Today is God,
Tomorrow will be God.
Who can make an image of God?
He has no body.
He is a word that comes out of your mouth.
That word! It is no more,
It is past, and still it lives!
So is God.
“Be nice to whites, they need you to rediscover their humanity”
- Archbishop Desmond Tutu
The rising Christian churches of the Global South may well prove to be a vital source of renewal for Western Christianity -- and have already been so:
“It was so depressing when I first arrived to find churches empty, and being sold, when in Uganda there is not enough room in our churches for the people. There is a great need for revival in Britain -- it has become so secular and people so inward looking and individualistic. The country needs reconverting.”
- Stephen Tirwomwe, Ugandan missionary in the rustbelt of Northern England
At present, Christianity in the Global South is strongly conservative and orthodox. This has already led to conflicts with the often more "liberal" and "progressive" theologies of the Western Church.
4.4.2. An Example from Catholicism
American Catholics who think the only barrier to a more progressive church (married priests, women priests, acceptance of birth control and abortion) is an out-of-touch, stodgy, conservative pope and Vatican hierarchy, are engaging in a typically Western, very parochial conceit.
In fact, the majority of Catholics live in the Global South and are very conservative and orthodox. Their dominance of Catholicism will only increase over the next 50 years:
The pope and the Vatican hierarchy are not in fact "out of touch", but are very much in touch with the majority of their flock.
4.4.3. An Example from Anglicanism: The Current Crises Arising from Bishop Robinson's Consecration
At the 1998 Lambeth Conference, Liberal Anglicans from Western Churches found themselves consistently outvoted by Anglicans from the larger, more conservative Churches of Global South.
However, unlike the hierarchical Catholic Church, the Western branches of Anglicanism are free to do as they wish, and have stretched the boundaries of the cherished Anglican tolerance of differences within their "Communion." The Episcopal Church USA has been declared to be “out of communion” with the many of the Anglican Churches of the Global South because of its consecration of the openly gay Bishop Robinson in New Hampshire on November 2, 2003.
4.5. Conflicts with Islam
Many of areas of booming and evangelical Christianity in Africa and the Far East lie at the interface with a booming and evangelical Islamic faith:
Some writers have suggested a new age of Christian "crusades" from the Christian South may compete with Muslim jihads and plunge the world into chronic conflict
The potential for conflict is perhaps greatest in those large nations in which either Christians or Muslims in are in the majority:
“As the media have striven in recent years to present Islam in a more sympathetic light, they have tended to suggest that Islam, not Christianity, is the rising faith of Africa and Asia, the authentic or default religion of the world’s huddled masses. But Christianity is not only surviving in the global South, it is enjoying a radical revival, a return to scriptural roots. We are living in revolutionary times.”