March 3, 2008

The New Faces of Christianity 8: North and South

Today the ACFAR Network completes reading 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 8: "North and South."


Jenkins concludes his book by bringing together the contrasts he established in the previous chapters between Northern and Southern "Christianities." What should we think of these differences? The author suggests that believers in the West need to listen to Southern Christians, regaining some themes and trends that they have long forgotten.

In much of the Global South, the Christians are first or second generation converts. The Bible has not been part of their culture and history, causing them to see aspects of Scripture not obvious to those that are used to its teachings and truths. And given the close relationship of their societies to Bible times, they connect with and find meaning in biblical texts not usually recognized in the traditional Christianity of the West. In many ways, Southern Christianity can cause other believers to reread their Bibles afresh.

However, we should not be too optimistic over the Christianity of the South. There are many problems in these churches that must not be overlooked. Christianity has spread rapidly but it is often shallow. At the same time, corruption of historical teaching is regularly found in the growing popularity of the Prosperity Gospel. In addition, some suggest that as these nations modernize, that they will leave their "primitive" faith behind. While this suggested shift may not occur, the future of Christianity in the Global South is by no means certain.

What believers can do is to learn from these North-South differences. Christians can rethink the role of the Old Testament. We may also examine again the idea of healing. People that believe in a God who cares about us and who is involved in our lives should not simply leave our physical needs in the realm of science. Churches in the West can be greatly enriched by listening to the faith of fellow believers in the Global South.

My Thoughts

I completed this book looking forward to the future. God is doing some amazing things around the world! He is demonstrating what our Savior promised to the Apostle Peter when He said, "on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18). Hell cannot overcome the global body of Christ, made up of believers from every tribe and language and people and nation (Revelation 5:8-10). We have a lot to learn from one another.

At the same time, I do believe that Jenkins can be too optimistic at times. He is not writing as a pastor, a missionary, or a theologian. This book is a work of secular contemporary history and sociology. As a result, he is too open to diversity in our faith, denying that there is an authentic and true Christianity. But when we begin with our Triune God who has revealed Himself in Scripture, we realize that His truth is something to defend. We must seek to prevent and root out error and corruption. Can we learn from Southern Christianity? Will it expose some of our own problems and oversights as well as add richness to our faith? Absolutely! We need them--and they need us. We must work together to glorify God and advance His kingdom.

What role do we have in all of this? We cannot sit back and think that God is done using us to preach the gospel, start churches, and teach believers His Word. As we have seen through this study, the Global South still has many challenges and problems to overcome. How can we help these brothers and sisters in Christ?

Your Turn

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