Missionary Global Christianity        

                                                                                                                A book review by David Orton

                        When the missionaries came to Africa 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.

                                                                                        Jomo Kenyatta, Kenyan leader, p. 40

                                            The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity
                                             by Philip Jenkins. Oxford University Press, New York, 2002,
                                                            270 pages, hardcover, ISBN 0-19-514616-6.


            I heard the author of the above book, Philip Jenkins, being interviewed on the CBC radio program "Tapestry"
        not too long ago. Tapestry is an hour-long weekly program of religion-related affairs. Jenkins is a professor of
        history and religious studies at Penn State University in the United States. What Jenkins had to say about a
        re-birth and re-vitalization of Christianity, and its different, more socially conservative but charismatic/evangelical/
        apocalyptic and mystical doctrinal emphases, in Africa, Latin America and Asia, aroused my interest because of
        the social implications of Christianity as a new dynamic social movement. This was a different factor to consider
        in a post September 11th world. It motivated me to read his latest book, The Next Christendom: The Coming
        of Global Christianity
. I am glad I did.

        Increasing Christian influence

            Jenkins argues in this book, and I accept his basic position, for an increasing influence of Christianity on the
        world stage. But it will be a different kind of Christianity than can be observed in North America, in Western
        Europe, or in Australia and New Zealand. For example, in southern Africa Jenkins states that:
                Some independent churches have retained a wide range of traditional practices, including polygamy,
                divination, animal sacrifices, initiation rites, circumcision, and the veneration of ancestors.
 p. 120

            This view of increasing influence, was interesting to me, given (a) the commonplace North American and
        European observation, that Christianity was of declining influence in the world, with the growth of modernization
        and secularization in most peoples' lives; and (b) the fixation in the West that most of us have on the growing
        influence of Islam in our world, and the sense in contrast to this, that Christianity is somehow a "has been"
        religious movement. Jenkins' book really blows these two views out of the water. Both Islam and the new
        Christianity are competing missionary religions, with rival concepts of God, and with aspirations "to convert the
        entire globe."
(p. 159) Jenkins points out how the stakes for the individual can be high. For example:
                "For a Muslim to abandon his or her faith is apostasy, an act punishable by death under Islamic law.
                As the maxim holds, 'Islam is a one way door. You can enter through it, but you cannot leave.'"
(p. 168)

            This is one of those books which helps us better understand the societies around us, necessary for bringing about
        the kind of revolutionary ecological and social changes that deeper Greens seek. As a professor of religious studies,
        the author is interested in the various changes occurring within Christianity. He discusses what such changes mean
        for religious institutions, like the Catholic Church, where the majority of the world's Catholics now have residence in
        the global South. This concern, while of some interest, is not the focus of my review of  The Next Christendom.

            Jenkins' talk fitted into my general awareness of the increasing importance of religious values in social affairs. He
        argues that we in the West are misreading the "state of Christianity," and that this religion is actually of growing
        importance in the world in peoples' lives. All of us are aware that some countries internally seem locked into a very
        competitive and often violent battle between Christianity and Islam, e.g. Nigeria, Sudan, Pakistan, Egypt, Indonesia
        and the Philippines. But Jenkins argues it is a very different Christianity than that to which most of us in the West
        are accustomed to. This is a Christianity which is overwhelmingly non-white and non-Western. The heart of
        Christianity is better seen as no longer situated in the West but as located in Africa, Latin America and Asia.

            Jenkins, like Samuel Huntington's The Clash of Civilizations: Remaking of World Order, argues that this
        growth of a  non-Western Christianity is an important factor in religious identification, asserting precedence over
        adherence to nation states. Says Jenkins:
                "It is precisely religious changes that are the most significant, and even the most revolutionary, in
                the contemporary world."
(p. 1)
        This seems to be a hard, but necessary pill to swallow, for those of us who define ourselves as Left in some way.

                Globalization, the ruthless penetration of global capitalism throughout the world, brings in its wake not only
        the commodification and subjugation of the natural world, but immense social disruption which nation states,
        particularly in the non-Western world are overwhelmed by. It is in this breakdown of any real national social safety
        net that religions like Christianity and Islam come, so to speak, into their own. In a curious, unintended paradox,
        global capitalism or "modernization" spawns religious revivalism! That religious revivalism can, ironically in the case
        of Christianity, not only send non-white priest 'missionaries' back to Western Europe and North America but also,
        in the case of fundamentalist Islam, send jet planes aimed at the citadels of global capital.

        Daring views on Israel

            For a US academic, I find Jenkins views on Israel very daring:
                "American Christians have usually followed their government in expressing an absolute and generally
                uncritical support for the state of Israel. This fact infuriates not just the bulk of the world's Muslims,
                but also many Third World Christians (not to mention the millions of Arab Christians). Islamic
                fundamentalism would not have enjoyed the success it has over the past thirty years if it had not been
                for the continuing provocation of the existence of Israel."
(p. 181)

            He sees Western governments' pro-Israeli policies essentially grounded in Holocaust guilt. (p. 181) Whereas I see
        U.S. unwavering support linked through (a) a cultural identity connection; and (b) seeing Israel as a strategic
        beachhead in an oil-rich Middle East. There are about one billion Moslems in the world and under 20 million Jews.
        Jenkins sees Southern Christians as identifying more with the oppression of the Palestinian people. The author also
        shows that there is a powerful Muslim cultural influence on Southern churches, for example in retaining traditional
        women's roles.

        Criticism and conclusion

            There is a lot of new contemporary data in this book, which can be useful for those supporting a radical deep
        ecology world view and who are struggling to see how to implement this. Reading this book made me think of Marx,
        sitting in the British Museum in the 19th century and reading those note books of the British factory inspectors,
        which gave him the data for his account of the destructiveness of Capital. The inspectors gave the data and Marx
        supplied the analysis. So Jenkins book is a data book, but his values and analysis, like those presumably of the
        British factory inspectors, one does not necessarily share.

            There is no ecological dimension to this book, just the standard point of view that economic growth is good.
        There is an equating of capitalism with democracy, brought out in the following quote:
                "A growing Pentecostal community tends to create a larger public base for the growth of democratic
                capitalism and, in the long term, perhaps for greater secularism."
(p. 138)
        So there is a conventional view of the virtues of capitalism and economic growth.

            I also feel that Jenkins, presumably as practitioner of the religion in the title of his book, leans more on Islam:
                "In the world as a whole, there is no question that the threat of intolerance and persecution chiefly
                comes from the Islamic side of the equation."
(p. 170)

            In a strange way, Jenkins brings a class perspective to this book, in that he shows that today global Christianity
        is flourishing where its social base is the poor and persecuted, whereas in the wealthy countries, among the rich
        and secure, it atrophies.

            This book deserves to be read. Yet its subject matter is completely anthropocentric and concerned with the
        affairs of the Christian God and Man. Nature and non human life forms remain outside of the universe under

                                                                                                                                            March 14, 2003

                            Printed in the online journal The Trumpeter, Vol. 19.2:  http://trumpeter.athabascau.ca/content/v19.2/   

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