Friday, February 23, 2007

Review of "The New Faces of Christianity"

As I mentioned last weekend, I have been reading Philip Jenkins' book, The New Faces of Christianity (Oxford University Press, 2006). It is a sequel of sorts to his earlier work, The Next Christendom as Jenkins expands on his earlier observations the growing, vibrant church of the South. He demonstrates further how the Church in the South (i.e. non-Western) is typically more conservative theologically, committed to the absolute authority of the Bible, open to supernatural manifestations, and persecuted. They also make up the majority of Christians in the world today!

None of this was particularly to me, as one who has traveled extensively on behalf of VOMC and with another mission prior to that. I also recognize from my discussions with church leaders around the world that they are troubled by developments in the Northern church, especially in regardless to sexuality (and homosexuality in particular), the role of women in the church, the authority of scripture, and a number of other issues. The fact is, the church in the South (Asia, Africa, and South America) are not creating a new Christendom (as Jenkins prior book labeled them); they are the defenders of the old one! It is we in the West who are abandoning the foundations of the faith. Frankly, I am greatly encouraged by the Church in the South, although we must not idolize it or think that it is without its problems. Those of us who minister there (and national church leader themselves) recognize this.

The most significant lesson I learned from The New Faces of Christianity, however, was the observation that Christians in the South (and in Africa particularly) identify powerfully with the world of the Bible; an agriculturally-based rural society marked by famine, poverty, plague and exile. As such, it is helpful to listen to their understanding of Biblical passages, as it often throughs light on what is probably the original intent of the passage (cf. my blog of February 17, Sowing With Tears for an example).

Overall, I found the book a worthwhile read, although I wish that he had made more references to the church in South America and Asia. The book draws heavily from African sources. This is fine but the rapid growth of the Church in South America would beg for further examination and comparison. Asia is dealt with better than South America but still not as thoroughly as Africa. As such, those wanting to serve the Lord in Africa would find this book especially helpful, whereas those ministering in South America would likely be disappointed.

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