Today we look at Chapter 3 and 4 in our continuing discussion of Philip Jenkins book, "The Next Christendom."
Chapter 3 begins by pointing out the truth that Christian missionary work was often related to imperial/colonial expansion. Spain, Portugal, and Britain didn't just take Christianity, but they took their governments, customs, and laws with them--often claiming land along the way. A famous quote from Kenyan Jomo Kenyatta sums it up: "When the missionaries came to Africa, they had the Bible and we had the land. They said 'Let us pray.' We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land."
So it is no accident that in the minds of many Westerners and non-Westerners alike, Christian mission equals colonialism. "Christianity is a Western Religion." But the story is not quite so simple. Despite the imperialism, genuine Christianity did gain a foothold in Asia, Latin America, Africa and Asia and local movements rose up that were true expressions of the faith--not just imposed upon the people by Westerners. Local (indigenous) African expressions of Christianity that became movements showed up as early as the 17th century. By the 1950's, there were quite a few of these movements (certainly not all orthodox) led by African prophets totally disconnected from Western denominations. These churches are called African Independent Churches (AIC's). Independent denominations could be found by the 1880's and of course today, there are many large denominations that are completely African.
Chapter 4: This chapter deals with the denominational (and Roman Catholic) presence in the non-Western world and how institutional Christianity has been challenged by these new movements.
In 2001, according to the World Christian Encyclopedia, the present net increase of Christians in Africa was 8.4 million a year (23,000 a day). A large number of Africans still belong to institutional, Western churches like the RCC or the Anglicans.
In Latin America, growth has occurred most quickly amongst the Pentecostals and Evangelicals. They tend to be more committed to actual church attendance as well. Pentecostal Christianity usually grows fastest amongst the poor. The response is some places of the Catholic Church has been the emergence of charismatic Catholic Groups like El Shaddai in the Philippines. China, Vietnam, and Indonesia have all seen explosive growth of Pentecostal and charismatic groups. Much of this Christian growth is happening in urban centers with large populations of migrants. Women are often the pillars of non-Western churches.
Jenkins sums up nicely how Christianity is not viewed as spiritual hocus-pocus as it often is in the skeptical West:
"Southern Religion (non-Western Christianity) is not other worlds in the sense of escapist, since faith is expected to lead to real and observable results in this world. The believer's life in this world is transformed through conversion, and the change echoes through every aspect of lives, from ethics of work and thrift to family and gender relations. (p.77 first edition).
One of the things we would like to do here at Three Worlds is begin turning the page on the impression of Christianity as an imperialist religion: Particularly here in Europe and even in the Middle East. The truth is that the most dynamic, fastest growing churches in Europe are probably non-Western and do not trace their roots back to European Christendom.
This is a pretty big shock to the average person in Paris, London or Berlin. The impression is that Christianity must be Western and must be dying.
Even the choice of name "Three Worlds" was intentional as it gives us the opportunity to point out that there is not only one world of Christianity (the Western institutional one).
The logo begs the questions: "What is Three Worlds" and "What ARE the the Three Worlds?"
Most Europeans, Westerners, even Middle Easterners only know one of these worlds: the traditional world of institutional Christianity which seems to be on the decline. Jenkins entire book is about the explosion of the third world of Christianity: non-Western (southern) Christianity.
This 4th chapter is particularly pertinent to 3W because we are trying to act as a bridge between the Three Worlds and also as a link between institutional Christianity and the new forms of post-Christendom and non-Western Christianity that are forming around institutional Christianity. The reality is that not everything about institutional Christianity is bad or dying. It wasn't even at the height of the colonial enterprise. At the same time, however, non-Western Christianity must be allowed to emerge and challenge. But a final "however" is that there is such a thing as heresy, Christian cults, and unaccountable Christian movements and churches that do not act in a Biblical way. There is a role for any group or organization willing to be flexible regarding the emergence of new expressions of Christianity, but still committed to orthodox, Christian truth. Three Worlds aims to do just that.