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Excerpt from The New Faces of Christianity

The New Faces of Christianity: Believing in the Bible in the Global South is the sequel to Phillip Jenkins’ The Next Christendom, which changed the way people think about the future of Christianity. In his new book, Jenkins looks more closely at Christianity in the global South, painting a clear picture of what it is like, and what it means for the future. Below is an excerpt from The New Faces of Christianity:


In my 2002 book The Next Christendom, I remarked on the different Facesapproaches to the Bible that prevailed in the churches of the global South, of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. I observed that “Southern churches are quite at home with Biblical notions of the supernatural, with ideas like dreams and prophecy. Just as relevant in their eyes are that book’s core social and political themes, like martyrdom, oppression, and exile. In the present day, it may be that it is only in the newer churches that the Bible can be read with any authenticity and immediacy, and that the Old Christendom must give priority to Southern voices…Looking at Christianity as a planetary phenomenon, not merely a Western one, makes it impossible to read the New Testament in quite the same way ever again.” I also wrote of the new Christianity’s undergoing a “return to scriptural roots.” My thoughts on this theme developed further when I had the opportunity in 2004 to deliver the William Belden Noble lectures at Harvard’s Memorial Church, and this book grows directly from those presentations.

I will address a number of specific issues here. Though the term “global South” conventionally refers to Africa, Asia, and Latin America, in the present book I will touch on Latin American matters only in passing. This is because in matters of Bible reading and interpretation, many African and Asian societies have a good deal in common, especially in the relative noveltly of the faith and its recent emergence from non-Christian backgrounds. In terms of approaches to the Bible, similarities with Latin America certainly exist, but the differences are too marked to make possible any kind of meaningful generalizations…

Chapter One: Shall the Fundamentalists Win?

Our understanding of the Bible is different from them. We are two different churches.

Archbisop Benjamin Nzimbi (Kenya)

In recent years, gatherings of the worldwide Anglican Communion have been contentious events. On one occasion, two bishops were participating in a Bible study, one an African Anglican, the other a U.S. Episcopalian. As the hours went by, tempers frayed as the African expressed his confidence in the clear words of the scripture, while the American stressed the need to interpret the Bible in the light of modern scholarship and contemporary mores. Eventually, the African bishop asked in exasperation, “If you don’t believe the scripture, why did you bring it to us in the first place?”

Christian denominations worldwide have been deeply divided over issues of gender, sexual morality, and homosexuality. These debates illustrate a sharp global division, with many North American and European churches willing to accommodate liberalizing trends in the wider society, while their African and Asian counterparts prove much more conservative. These controversies are grounded in attitudes to authority and, above all, to the position of the Bible as an inspired text. Fifty years ago, Americans might have dismissed global South conservatism as arising from a lack of theological sophistication, and in any case, these views were strictly marginal to the concerns of the Christian heartlands of North America and Western Europe. Put crudely, why should the “Christian world” care what Africans think? Only as recently as 1960 did the Roman Catholic Church choose its first black African cardinal. 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…

Philip Jenkins has written original pieces for the OUPblog in the past. Check some of them out:

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