January 14, 2008

The New Faces of Christianity 1: Shall the Fundamentalists Win?

Today begins the official launch of the ACFAR Network, a community of evangelical Christians that want to work together toward making a difference in Uganda and throughout the region. We will start by reading through The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South by Philip Jenkins. If you haven't bought the book or signed up yet, it is not too late to join! In any case, this week we are discussing chapter 1: "Shall the Fundamentalists Win?"


Playing off of American liberal Harry Emerson Fosdick’s sermon title, Jenkins concentrates on differentiating between the Christianity of the West and the Christianity of the Global South--between the Northern liberals and the Southern literalists. He states, "These controversies are grounded in attitudes to authority and, above all, to the position of the Bible as an inspired text" (1). Using the contemporary conflict in Anglicanism over homosexuality to illustrate his point, the author writes about the opposite directions that Christians in the North and South take on the authority of the Bible. While Northern liberals seek to interpret the Bible in light of today's world (thus homosexuality is acceptable), Southern literalists maintain the need for strict obedience to scriptural authority (hence homosexuality is sinful).

Jenkins goes on to summarize how the South's high view of the Bible impacts their beliefs. "We often encounter the same range of conservative themes in the religious thought of African and Asian Christians. These include a much greater respect for the authority of scripture, especially in matters of morality; a willingness to accept the Bible as an inspired text and a tendency to literalism; a special interest in supernatural elements of scripture, such as miracles, visions, and healings; a belief in the continuing power of prophecy; and a veneration for the Old Testament, which is considered as authoritative as the New" (4).

Next, the author shows through statistical and demographic research that Christianity worldwide is rapidly shifting from North America and Europe southward. He maintains, "By 2025, Africa and Latin America will vie for the title of the most Christian continent" (9). Due to this trend, we should see a global conservative shift in theology. No longer will western theology be labeled as "theology" whereas other theologies will be labeled "African Theology," "Asian Theology," etc. Rather, the Global South will play an increasingly central role in defining our faith.

With this in mind, traditional labels become irrelevant. Fundamentalism, liberalism, and conservatism developed as Western concepts and cannot be easily imposed on Christians in the South. We must seek to allow global Christianity to define itself.

My Thoughts

I really enjoyed reading about fellow believers in the Global South having a steadfast commitment to the Bible. At the same time, their commitment must be combined with the dedicated practice of biblical discernment. What good is devotion to the Word of God when Christians may embrace whatever someone claims the Bible says? The shift in Christianity demonstrates the essential need of developing discernment and the defense of our faith in the Global South. If we see the importance of apologetics in America and the West, then how much more important is it in the rapidly growing South?

Additionally, one statement in this chapter has given me a lot to think about: "Global South Christians, in contrast, do not live in an age of doubt, but must instead deal with competing claims to faith" (5). So much of our defense of the faith in the West is tied to questions of doubt: "How can God exist with so much evil in the world?", "How can you believe in God when science has shown that He is unnecessary?", etc. But if Jenkins is correct in this difference, then the most pressing issues in the Global South are not dealing with doubt but with religious pluralism. How would apologetics change in this context?

Your Turn

What do you think? Your thoughts do not have to be profound or anything. Please feel free to contribute to the discussion!