February 18, 2008

The New Faces of Christianity 6: Persecution and Vindication

Today the ACFAR Network continues 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! This week we are discussing chapter 6: "Persecution and Vindication."


Being murdered or persecuted for the sake of the gospel is something that very few Christians in the West really have to be concerned about. However, these are very real dangers for many Christians in the Global South. How do these regular threats impact the faith of Southern Christians? Jenkins gives us the answer in this chapter.

With dictatorships and corruption all around them, believers usually expect interference from the powers that be. Chances are good that they will be hurt or even killed for their faith. As a result, they read biblical texts on persecution and martyrdom in a very personal way, having a relevance that usually escapes Christians in the West.

The resulting division between Southern Christianity and those in power over them has led to different responses from believers as they seek to apply the Bible to their own circumstances. One of the main developments in the twentieth century was the formulation of liberation theology. The goal of liberationists is to overcome unjust social and political powers, replacing them with just and fair societies.

However, as last century progressed, liberation theology became riddled with problems and contradictions. The coming of globalization as well as the growth of economic freedom and capitalism undermined the communism that many liberationists maintained. The result has been a loss of faith in states and secular power while churches have become more and more influential. Churches are now the ones struggling for reform and human rights; they are the ones denouncing injustice and tyranny.

Again, Southern Christians turn to Scripture in understanding how they should relate to society. Biblical passages dealing with the theme of shepherds provide insight into their political and cultural roles. At the same time, the most important and influential book of the Bible for living in a secular world is Revelation. It directs us to God's ultimate supremacy and triumph no matter how overwhelming the evil in this world seems.

Today, believers in the Global South continue to remain skeptical about their relationship to secular states. Christians must not accommodate or water down our faith to stay in line with the changing secular environment that we live in. Our first and foremost commitment must be to God.

My Thoughts

This chapter caused me to step back and remember how much I have to learn from my brothers and sisters in Christ in the Global South. My life is so easy compared to theirs. Persecution is not a regular part of my life. I am not worried about being murdered for my faith. With this in mind, how faithful would I be to Christ if I were really faced with the kinds of difficulties and challenges they experience? My ministry in Uganda will not be me going over with all of the answers to straighten everything out. Rather, my ministry will seek to use the gifts God has blessed me with to build His church and His kingdom while also growing and learning from fellow believers in East Africa. Isn't this a beautiful picture--the global body of Christ working together to glorify our Savior? I can't wait!

At the same time, this chapter also shows me some areas where growth in biblical discernment is badly needed. Liberation theology is nothing other than a false gospel, placing hope in political and social reform rather than in Jesus Christ. Additionally, the author refers to the Joshua Syndrome, where the legacy of colonialism and imperialism can distort how Christians interpret the Bible. Jenkins states, "In some ways, then, identifying with the biblical setting can pose real problems for understanding the narrative in the ways it was intended" (138). Developing the ability to study Scripture properly is crucial.

All of this causes me to ask: How can I balance helping fellow believers better understand biblical truth with recognizing that I need to learn from them as well? In what ways can you see yourself helping and/or being taught by Southern Christians?

Your Turn

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