We now turn to Chapter 9 and 10 in our discussion of Philip Jenkins' book, "The Next Christendom."
The final two chapters are pretty thin compared to the rest of the book. Chapter 9 discusses the divide between the "conservative" non-Western blocs of the Catholic Church and Protestant Church and the more liberal Western blocs. Jenkins points out (as he has before) that the church is growing must faster in Non-Western countries than in Europe or North America even though these are still viewed as the home of the Catholic , Anglican, Lutheran, and other churches.
The most interesting section of this chapter is the section that focuses on efforts by Non-Western missionaries to re-Christianize Europe and North America. One-sixth of priests in American parishes come from another country. Ireland is full of African priests. Great Britian has 1,500 missionaries from fifty nations. The Nigerian-based Redeemed Christian Church of God states: "...We will plant churches within five minutes walking distance in every city and town of developing countries, andwithin five minutes driving distance in every city and town of developed countries" (p.204-205).
Can these ethnic churches make inroads with the majority populations in Europe and North America? It is challenging because of the unique cultural expressions that these churches take. Jenkins gives numerous examples of non-Western churches creating a large presence in Western cities, however, to make this non-Western Christianity part of the natural landscape may require time and occur through mixed-ethnicity marriages.
Jenkins closes the book by peering into the future a bit. He thinks its vital that Westerners learn more about Islam since Islam and Christianity (and the West in general) will continue to have the potential to clash--and have a long history of clashing. Jenkins also feels that Christianity has gotten short-shrift in universities. While other religions are valued, taught and respected, Christianity is presented in a one-dimensional negative light.
The Western church also remains ignorant of the breadth and scope of non-Western Christianity. Jenkins points out that many years ago Ron Sider wrote a book entitled "Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger." Today it could be called "Rich Christians in an Age of Hungry Christians." Jenkins is pointing out that the average Christian today is not a wealthy westerner, but a poor person from an underdeveloped or developing nation. He concludes by pointing out that the Biblical stories of exile, immigration, oppression, persecution, famine etc. are highly relevant to the majority of the world's Christians. Consequently, the Bible has a special relevance to them that it does not to wealthy Westerners (this was the subject of Jenkin's follow-up book which is also worth reading).
So is Christianity on its way out: Jenkins concluding thoughts are worth quoting in full:
"In 500 AD, CHristianity was the religion of empire and domination; in 1000, it was the stubborn faith of exploited subject peoples, or of barbarians on the irrelevant fringes of teh great civilizations; in 1900, Christian powers ruled the world. Knowing what the situation will be in 2100 or 2500 would take a truly inspired prophet. But if there is one overarching lesson from this record of changing ortunes, it is that Christianity is never as weak as it appears, nor as strong as it appears. And whether we look backward or forward in history, we can see that time and again, Christianity demonstrate a breathtaking ability to transform weakness into strength."
Re-reading/reviewing the Next Christendom makes me glad we are doing Three Worlds. It seems highly relevant on many levels. About 10 days ago we had our National Leader from the Netherlands here. The churches there represent the Three Worlds of Christianity with a traditional church existing just a few miles from a Post-Christendom church, which is just down the way from a Congolese non-Western Church. It is into this mix that Daniel and Christy Kihm will be placed. They will have to navigate all three worlds all the time. Each church has its strengths and weaknesses---each worldview has its strengths and weaknesses. There is a dynamism and relevance that can arise out of the church at this particular time in history---if it is navigated correctly. That is why I think the work at Three Worlds is important. Because when the church can unify and express itself in a variety of ways, it has the power to moblize and change the world for the better. I'm excited to see what happens in the Netherlands and in the other places where we are seeing the re-invention of Christianity--always old and always new.
Thanks for following us on this in-depth book review. There will be others to follow.