Customer Reviews: The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (Future of Christianity Trilogy)
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on September 15, 2005
In a memorable passage from the movie APOLLO THIRTEEN, a military man in the tense Houston control room shares with a political figure his premonition that the tragedy unfolding before them will be *the* catastrophic moment for the space program. Mission control flight chief Gene Kranz overhears their conversation and addresses it: 'With all due respect, gentleman, I believe this will be our finest hour.' The scene could stand in for the hand-wringing that often accompanies the apparent demise of the Western church when it comes to prognosticating on its fate over against the perceived adversaries of secularism and post-modernism. Philip Jenkins reminds us that, when viewed through a wide-screen lens, the immediacy of threat often yields to a broad panorama of opportunity.

Over against the fear of resurgent religion that shows its face among our cultural elites, Philip Jenkins sketches the rise of 'global Christianity' in predominantly positive terms. The Penn State University scholar of religion has noticed long before most of us that the face of Christendom is already brown, southern, and confident. He helps us to work through the implications of this even as he persuades us that the hegemony of Euro-American Christianity is a thing of the past and that-unless we pay attention-we who are part of it are likely to be, as the old song says, the last to know.

In the first of ten compact chapters ('The Christian Revolution', pp. 1-14), Jenkins starts out with a bang. Professional analysts of global trends have missed out on perhaps the biggest one, a fact that the title of Jenkins' opening chapter provocatively suggests. Religious revolutions are not, as Western intellectuals too often suppose, mere matters of the heart. They bring with them profoundly this-worldly repercussions like crusades, wars, and what Samuel Huntington has famously termed 'the clash of civilizations'. They can also renew societies. Jenkins informs us that a 'Christian revolution' is already underway in the developing world, one that our political leaders ignore to the peril of all of us.

The historian who can write well-researched prose for a popular readership and manage to turn large assumptions on their head is a valuable person indeed. Jenkins accomplishes just this in his second chapter ('Disciples of All Nations' pp. 15-38). He helps us to see that Christianity is not best understood as a western religion. Its African, Middle Eastern, and Asian successes were large and entrenched centuries before it came to be perceived by some as the faith of white men. Even popular myth of Christian crusades dispossessing Muslims of their ancestral turf is misleading in the extreme when viewed against the historical facts of Islamic expansionism and enduring Christian communities among those peoples whom we today identify reflexively as Muslim. Europe entered late into this story. Jenkins wonders, with one of his sources, whether the universal Christianity he describes is not best seen as the 'renewal of a non-western religion', a suggestion that gains credence when one ponders how alien Western skepticism immediately appears when placed beside the biblical documents, on the one hand, and ancient or emerging Christian movements from Africa or Asia, on the other.

If Western mythology about the missionary enterprise(s) is to be believed, it is the power of kings, companies, and missionaries that enforced a European Christian faith upon the reluctant peoples of the Two-Thirds World. Jenkins does not believe it, however, arguing that even when these institutions are given their due, Christianity has become an indigenous brushfire in many of the regions under review ('Missionaries and Prophets', pp. 39-53). Indeed, Christian faith of one variety or another-and sometimes several at once-appears to have thrived since the retreat of colonial powers. A guilty missionary conscience would appear to be a neurosis suffered largely in the West.

When the demise of European empires brought forward the moment for non-Western churches to stand alone, they had little trouble doing so (Ch. 3, 'Standing Alone, pp. 55-78). Indeed, the European retraction coincided with several significant Christian advances that affected both the European-founded churches and newer autochthonous movements. Academic interest in the latter often overshadows the at least as remarkable health of Roman Catholic, Anglican, and other traditional churches. Jenkins observes parallels between the developments he surveys in the 'South' and those that characterized a similar time of awakening, urbanization, and religious effervescence in the industrializing North.

Jenkins' fifth chapter ('The Rise of the New Christianity', pp. 79-105) produces some plausible and startling speculations based upon demographic trends extrapolated out from evidence that is available today. Population growth and contraction look poised to reduce European populations radically while a boom in many southern states continues apace. When turning to religious indicators, all of them suggest that the surge in southern Christianity has barely begun. The picture becomes even more interestingly when population mobility is factored into the equation. Immigration to Europe may well establish a renewed Christian presence on that continent. America looks set to become even more of a Christian nation than it is today, again due to immigration.

In 'Coming to Terms' (ch. 6, pp. 107-139), Jenkins surveys how churches in the Two-Thirds world `inculturate' the gospel in their cultural contexts. Though the results are sometimes alarming to Western Christians, Jenkins' view is rather more sanguine, claiming that most of these adaptations are well within the parameters of recognizably Christian faith. As demographic changes favor the Southern churches, their patterns of life and worship-often viscerally supernatural in their orientation-are bound to become the dominant ones in a new Christendom.

Jenkins' seventh chapter prognosticates about the varying models of church and state that can be expected as important southern countries become demographically Christian ('God and the World', pp. 141-162). The predictions are not all reassuring to heirs of a strong tradition of separation between the two. Even more unsettling is the possibility of a secular north looking down its nose at-and perhaps coming to blows with-a fervently religious south. In the limited but important realm of ecclesiastical politics, events since the 2002 publication of the book make Jenkins look prescient, a virtue he takes scholarly care to disown. Developments in the American political landscape make one wonder whether this country might become divided in two along the same lines rather than ease into alignment with its secular northern compeers. The sight of sophisticated American Episcopalians separating from local oversight, calling themselves 'Anglicans', and placing themselves under the pastoral care of African bishops may be the robin that calls this particular Spring.

Jenkins' book is highly quotable and for this reason often brandished as a triumphalist Christian tract. That this is a misreading of his work is nowhere more obvious than in his prediction of continued and severe Muslim-Christian conflict ('The Next Crusade', 163-190) in those regions where both Islam and Christianity are experiencing a resurgence. Jenkins acknowledges that a world in which powerful adversaries take religion far more seriously than does today's sophisticated North should keep strategic planners up at night. Simple parents imagining the world in which their children will come of age might also join this insomniac corps.

What effect will southern Christianity have on northern churches and culture? This is Jenkins' question in 'Coming Home' (pp. 191-209). Events since the late 90s have given the author some hard facts to work with. The southern churches are almost all theologically and culturally more conservative than their northern partners. But are they so distinct so as to be incapable of re-evangelizing secularized Europe and the USA? Maybe not. Stay tuned.

Jenkins takes up his final opportunity ('Seeing Christianity Again for the First Time', pp. 211-220) in the first person plural, for the first time plainly identifying himself as a Christian social scientist who cares deeply about the 'we' of Christian faith. Dispassionate analysis is exchanged for what becomes almost an indictment of northern Christian myopia. From the angle which Jenkins permits us to view the world of, say 2050 A.D., the persecution and poverty of which so much are made in the New Testament literature is also the context of the majority of today's Christians (not to mention those who await their moment a half-century hence).

As a Christian reviewer whose work takes him to those corners of the world (or are they its centers?) that Jenkins surveys, I find in Jenkins' work the ring of truth. Many Christians exult in the statistics of Christian resurgence that crowd the pages of this book and allow its title to sound something other than arrogant. In my judgment, they have misread Jenkins. There is more challenge here than pom-poms for waving by those of us whose historical circumstances make it comfortable to cheer on impoverished brethren who remain-by and large-at a safe distance.

This is not an optimistic book, though it is profoundly hopeful. It is perhaps among the two or three that Western Christians ought first to read in this decade, as we hope for a revision of this fine work in the next. We live on the cusp of extraordinary Christian advance, indeed it is already upon us. In the light of these demographic trends, however, the ancient voice of Tertullian sounds ever more pertinent to the world that is already taking shape, a world that Jenkins urges us to see from an entirely fresh angle. 'The blood of the martyrs', that church father still soberly reminds us, 'is the seed of the church.'
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on June 20, 2002
Jenkins's *The New Christendom* is an incredibly thought-provoking estimate of the new faces Christianity will wear in the next half century. Given that population and religious enthusiasm is waning in the northern hemisphere, and just the opposite is going on in the southern one, Jenkins predicts that Christianity's center of gravity will migrate to Africa and Central and South America in the immediate decades ahead. This will result in the emergence of new symbols, new styles of worship, new metaphors, and new ethical sensibilities, all of which mean that Christianity will no longer be dominated by an Eurocentric history and ethos.
Because southern Christianity will become increasingly pentecostal, evengelical, and politically and morally conservative, northern sensibilities, which already tend to take the Christian message with an urbane grain of salt, are likely to dismiss Christianity even more. It will be dismissed as "jungle religion," (p. 169) contrary to both enlightened and postmodern ways of viewing the world. Thus the north will find pseudo-legitimation for its steady move toward secularism in religious revival of the south.
In defending this thesis, Jenkins indirectly raises serious concerns about the spiritual health of North American and European Christianity. If his predictions are in any way true--and they certainly have the ring of plausibility--then it follows that mainstream institutional Christianity, Catholic and Protestant alike, needs to reflect seriously on both its style and convictions. If it's become so indifferent to its own message that it finds enthusiastic support of that message distasteful, things have reached a sorry state. In predicting the rise of a "southern" Christendom, then, Jenkins has done more than suggested a demographic migration. He's also implicitly invited "northern" Christians to take a hard look at themselves and their beliefs, and ultimately to cut bait or fish.
Jenkins is a good writer with a fluid and lively style. The first four chapters, in which he makes the statistical and demographic case for his predictions, are nonetheless rather slow-going. Readers with no head (or patience) for statistical tables might wish to read the first two chapters and then skip immediately to Chapter 5.
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on March 17, 2002
If you are interested in the future of religion in general and Christianity in particular, the one must read book this year has been written by Phil Jenkins.
A respected professor at Penn State University who has been known for "going against the flow," Jenkins argues that the rapid growth of primitive/Pentecostal Christianity around the world (both within and alongside existing traditions) will literally reshape the world, with possible religious conflict affecting everything from historic European denominations (already happening in Anglicanism) to geopolitics.
In a post-modern world, religion returns to center stage, and Jenkins has already turned on the spotlight. This is a must-read for all futurists--including the armchair variety such as myself. After reading Jenkins' seemingly airtight (even understated) analysis, it is difficult to give credence to any author suggesting the passing of Christianity. For every empty cathedral in Europe, there is a burgeoning congregation in Africa or Latin America. In fact, the western, modern version of Christianity may be be all but swept away in the next 50-100 years, but the primitive variety is reemerging at an incredible pace.
Not many works from Oxford University Press read like thrillers. This is an exception.
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This is a response to the reviewers who gave the book between 1 and three stars. My primary observation is that there is no way that a book aimed at a popular audience can touch all bases, personalities, issues, and prognostications. Let us be thankful that Jenkins has made known to us something about "Christianity South" and "Christianity East."

I was quite surprised, for example, at the relative growth of Christianity versus Islam in sub-Saharan Africa (by the way, that is everything in Africa south of the Sahara, down to the Cape of Good Hope.) But like some of the complaints from the one and two star reviewers, there is not much said about the explanation for this fact, except to suggest that African Christianity has found its own source of inspiration, and grows on that. It is no longer driven by European and American missionaries. But there is no citation for "Liberation Theology" in the index, which I found odd. This is a sign that the author's primary interest is demographic and social, not theological.

If you order a used copy, you want to be sure you are getting the third edition. I compared the table of contents for the first and third editions, and there is much added, especially on "The Rise of the New Christianity". On a contemporary topic, you will be missing something if you don't have the latest edition.

If you are interested in world Christianity, you can hardly find anything as illuminating as this 3rd Edition popular book.
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on January 4, 2009
In The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, Philip Jenkins paints a picture of the future of Christianity in colors unfamiliar to typical American thinking. He clearly delineates the characteristics of the rapidly growing Christian churches outside Western Europe and the United States: conservative and charismatic. He illustrates the potential conflicts between Christianity and other major religions such as Islam or Hinduism. And he speculates about what the effects will be on established churches of having a Christian majority outside the West. The information he presents is fascinating and paradigm-altering. His writing is clear and his organization straight-forward. Nevertheless, I found the book to be tedious. The writing is dry and seemingly designed only for the utilitarian purpose of conveying information, far removed from any literary pleasure. But the information contained in this book is critical for formation of an accurate picture of the past, present, and future of global Christianity. On those grounds I recommend it to anyone interested in the growth of the Christian church, although I wouldn't recommend it for reading enjoyment.
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on September 5, 2002
The author argues we stand at the threshold of historical point, one that is as important at the original Reformation. Historians will regard the twenty-first century as the time when religion replace ideology as the motivating force in human affairs.
The first Reformation marked an end to the status quo in religious affairs; relations between religions and governments, to say nothing of relations between dominations because symbiotic, chaotic and often violent. The Reformation, and the Counter-Reformation it provoked, touched every manner of life, not just the practice of religion.
Christianity, today, is experiencing a worldwide resurgence that coincides with an ebbing of religion in what is now the Christian West. News reports are filled with incidents demonstrating the growth of an often angry Islam. Yet in its variety, vitality and reach, the author says, Christianity will leave the deepest mark on this new century. Only the foolish would venture specific predictions about the nature of the religious picture 100 years from now, but it is certain to have an outsized influence on human affairs, guiding concepts and attitudes of political liberty, the nation state, conflicts and wars.
This is a thought provoking book, one that will shake the self-centered beliefs of western readers to their core.
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on November 5, 2011
The Next Christendom is a much-needed antidote to the pessimism of so many American Christians about the future of Christianity in the world. Jenkins paints a compelling picture of a vibrant and growing Christian faith in Africa and Asia - a faith with many weaknesses, to be sure, but one that is in many ways on the right track and growing in the right direction.

Christians have confessional reasons to be optimistic about the future of the church - Daniel 2 says the kingdom will grow, and Jesus made it clear that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church he is building. He ascended to heaven as one who has received all authority in heaven and on earth. The church's victory is along the path of suffering and death - but it is victory nonetheless. Jenkins argues that we can see this growth happening around the world. Whatever weaknesses - and even decline - we may think is present in the West, Western Christians need to fight their myopic tendencies and broaden their sense of the kingdom. We should be able to be excited about what God is doing around the world.
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on January 17, 2007
A little over twenty years ago David Barrett published his book World Christian Encyclopedia (1982; 2002) that documented a growing change in Christianity's center of gravity. After flourishing around the Mediterranean perimeter, Christianity was overtaken by Islam by the eighth or ninth century. For the next millennium, Christianity migrated to Europe. Now, with Philip Jenkins's new book, we can say with confidence that yet another massive shift has occurred in Christianity, away from the wealthy and primarily white regions of the northern hemisphere, to the poor and non-white regions of the southern hemisphere.

Here in the wealthy west believers wrangle over gay rights, the role of women in ministry, declining membership in mainline denominations, increased secularity (at least by some measures), clergy celibacy and the like. But a counter reformation of sorts has already occurred among poor believers in the south, says Jenkins. Their orientation is theologically and socially conservative, with unapologetic belief in the supernatural, healing, exorcisms and so on. With so many failed states and dysfunctional governments in these parts of the world, the leaders of these ascendant Christian movements have gained increased power and prestige.

This upsurge of conservative Christianity runs counter to so much of the modern west, but according to demographics, in the case of the Gospel the modern west might matter less and less. In 1900 Africa was about 10% Christian; today about 46% of the population is Christian. In fifty years, half of the world's Christian population will be in Africa and Latin America, and only about 20% of believers will be non-Latino whites. A Nigerian pope? It might only be a matter of time. If you cannot read his book length version, Jenkins has an abbreviated version of his research in the Atlantic Monthly (October 2002), pages 53-68.
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on April 13, 2012
Revised in 2010 and published in 2011, this third edition is enlightening. The keys points are: Christianity is projected to remain the biggest faith at least in the next half a century; the center of gravity will be shifting to the "Southern" world, viz. Africa, South America and perhaps even some parts of Asia. These areas are where population growths are and will be highest. Christianity in these burgeoning places are quite different from the so-called "traditionalist" western ones. In these poverty stricken and politically turbulent regions, where supernaturalism still has a bearing, the New Testament has such a verisimilitude that renders the Christian faith relevant and poignant but also otherwise puzzling to the less informed in "the West". Meanwhile, the specter of potential religious conflicts hovers.

A must read for those who are interested in the current state of Christianity, whether one belongs to this faith or not. Four stars.
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on September 10, 2005
The Next Christendom, by Philip Jenkins, 258 pages.

This may be the most important book you'll read this year. "The Next Christendom" is a well-informed prophet's prediction about what the church will look like in the next century. Jenkins, professor of History and Religious Studies at Penn State, has thoroughly researched the current trends of the church worldwide, unlike most contemporary church literature, which tends to focus only on the U.S. His conclusions are filled with hope for a growing church, but challenging for the northern hemisphere in which mainline churches are dying.

The face of Christianity in the next hundred years will no longer be dominated by white faces and English voices. It will be primarily African, Latin American, and Southeast Asian, what Jenkins calls the "Southern churches." The West has been criticized for capitalizing on missions. Jomo Kenyatta said, "When the missionaries came, they had the Bible and we had the land. They said, `Let us pray.' We closed our eyes. When we opened them, we had the Bible, and they had the land." Nonetheless, though colonialism has died, the churches have not. Southern churches are now actually sending missionaries back to Europe. There are 1500 of them in England. Stephen Tirwomwe of Uganda said, "The country needs reconverting." The church of the next hundred years will be lead by the results of the last century's missionary efforts. "The empires have struck back," says Jenkins.

The next Christendom is fundamentally charismatic. In the Southern churches, people attend because they get healed. They are "simplistically charismatic, visionary, and apocalyptic. In this thought-world, prophecy is an everyday reality, while faith-healing, exorcism, and dream-visions are all basic components of religious sensibility." Furthermore, theologically, "...a Southernized Christian future should be distinctly conservative." Christians in the United States tend to look askance at the miraculous. No one will have to convince them, says Jenkins; they are simply being left behind.

Of course the great religious conflicts of the next century will be between Christianity and Islam. African countries like Niger are now probably 45% of each, with both competing for control of the government. Pakistan currently has a potential death sentence for evangelizing Muslims. The 1960's witnessed bloodshed between the faiths in Africa, and riots through the 90's.

Africa will be more and more on our radar screen in coming days. Episcopalean bishops in Africa are ordaining conservative North American priests in reaction to that denomination's views of homosexuality. Warfare in Rwanda and Sudan are more frequent in the media.

This book is a must read for any informed Christian or church observer.
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