REVIEW

Book Review: The Next Christendom

March 09, 2009
Shantanu Dutta

What does the future hold for Christianity? Many books have been written which make a case that secular forces will instigate Christianity to grow to be more open-minded and less literal. Such statements may be confrontational and engaging, but they don't appear very convincing in light of the concrete demographic and geographic facts

These are some of the issues that are the subject of Philip Jenkins’ book on the possible future of Christianity. If Jenkins is correct, by the year 2050, six countries (Brazil, Mexico, the Philippines, Nigeria, Congo and the United States) will each have at least 100 million Christians and Europe will have long been displaced by Sub-Saharan Africa as the most important hub of Christianity, while Brazil itself will have at least 150 million Catholics and 40 million Protestants. More than one billion Pentecostals, among the poorest in their diverse populations, will be spreading their own beliefs to the rest of the world. And as Christianity moves steadily south, it is also taking on a new character: Kinshasa, Buenos Aires, Addis Ababa, and Manila are on their way to replacing Rome, Athens, Paris, London, and New York as the new focal points of the Christian Church.

While many Western analysts have stated that Christianity is in decay and that it must refashion its thinking or hazard being deserted by its followers ¾ or, even worse, becoming largely irrelevant, Professor Jenkins argues that just the contrary is true: Christianity is on the rise again and leading to a very different religion that barely resembles the Western reading of it. It is a variant of Christianity that most Westerners are not habituated to seeing

The book also parleys about how in spreading South, Christianity is in many ways returning to its native soil. Founded in the ancient near east, its earliest contact was greater toward the south and east than northwest into Europe.  Of course, Jenkins’s designation of Christianity is broad, encompassing notional believers (i.e., “Christians” spanning actual believers to those whose declaration to Christian associations is merely traditional or cultural) in the Roman Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Coptic, and Ethiopian traditions, and even Indian churches tracing their roots to the apostle Thomas, and branches like the Nestorians.

The books describes how Christianity is beginning to look as it journeys south: Southern Christianity tends to be visibly more traditional theologically than northern. They are far more likely to be Pentecostal. They wait for God to work in signs, wonders, and visions–and they see it happening. Latin America is becoming more Pentecostal than Catholic. They are sending missionaries north and west. The largest church in London today is led by a Nigerian pastor. They are competing hand to hand for numbers and members with Muslims, and often, as in Darfur and previously in Rwanda, experiencing unbelievable maltreatment. They are the face of Christianity

Most books on Christianity today have had a tendency to concentrate on the experiences of the Christians in the United States and Europe - hardly a surprise, since predisposition that is where most of the readership for books tends to be situated. However, this preconceived notion offers a patchy and erroneous portrait of the factual nature of global Christianity. Deciding by the books now presented, it is nearly as if Christianity doesn't exist in the South. Jenkins’ scholarly book shows that the truth is entirely unlike from what we might tend to assume.

Shantanu Dutta is a medical doctor by training and a development professional by vocation. His writings mostly deal with change, complexity and conversion and tries to look at a changing world through heaven's eyes.
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