Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

The New Faces of Christianity

Jenkins_newfaces_9780195300659Philip Jenkins, whose latest book The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South will be out in , has an article on the rapidly changing global face of Christianity in the most recent issue of The Christian Century. Here are some of the highlights:

Fifty years ago, Americans might have dismissed the conservatism of Christians in the global South as arising from a lack of theological sophistication, and in any case regarded these views as strictly marginal to the concerns of the Christian heartlands of North America and Western Europe. Put crudely, why would the “Christian world” have cared what Africans thought? Yet today, as the center of gravity of the Christian world moves ever southward, the conservative traditions prevailing in the global South matter ever more. To adapt a phrase from missions scholar Lamin Sanneh: Whose reading—whose Christianity—is normal now? And whose will be in 50 years?

The move of Christianity to the global South might suggest a decisive move toward literal and even fundamentalist readings of the Bible. Traditionalist themes are important for African and Asian Christians. These include a much greater respect for the authority of scripture, especially in matters of morality; a willingness to accept the Bible as an inspired text and a tendency to literalistic readings; a special interest in supernatural elements of scripture, such as miracles, visions and healings; a belief in the continuing power of prophecy; and a veneration for the Old Testament, which is often considered as authoritative as the New. Biblical traditionalism and literalism are even more marked in the independent churches and in denominations rooted in the Pentecostal tradition, and similar currents are also found among Roman Catholics.

Several factors contribute to a more literal interpretation of scripture in the global South. For one thing, the Bible has found a congenial home among communities that identify with the social and economic realities the Bible portrays. To quote Kenyan feminist theologian Musimbi Kanyoro, “Those cultures which are far removed from biblical culture risk reading the Bible as fiction.” Conversely, societies that identify with the biblical world feel at home in the text.

LINK to The Christian Century article.

Recent Comments

There are currently no comments.