In Case You Missed It

1) What hath pastors to do with politics? The ERLC blog, Canon and Culture has a good series of posts dealing with this question. In part 2, Jonathan Leeman responds to the views of Jeffery Ventrella. It’s worth reading both posts.

2) You must read this excellent essay at CT magazine by Philip Jenkins on the possible extinction of Mideast Christians. Possible, he reminds us, is a tricky word.

3) Southeastern communications director, Amy Whitfield, writes about the temptation and dangers of living in a bubble.

4) Trevin Wax has a fascinating interview with Jake Hanson about his new book, Igniting the Fire, which looks at the early years and mentors of Billy Graham’s life.

5) The end of time as we know it? I think God, the creator of time, may have some input on this, too.

Global Context: Europe, Islam, and Christianity

God’s Continent: Christianity, Islam and Europe’s Religious Crisis

Reviewed By: Bruce Riley Ashford

Entire forests have been chopped down in order to promulgate the literature that has been written on the religious crisis in Europe, including especially the secularization of Europeans and influx of Islamic immigrants. Bat Y’eor, in Eurabia (2005), argued that Europe is being subverted by Islamic hostility toward the very virtues, values, and vision of Europe herself. Bruce Bawer, in While Europe Slept (2007) argues that radical Islam is destroying the continent from within. Mary Habeck, George Weigel, Richard John Neuhaus, and others have also written of the threat that Islam poses to Europe.

God’s Continent is Philip Jenkins’ contribution to the debate. He thinks that many of the doom and gloom prophecies about Islam and Europe are “wildly unlikely.” Even though there are millions of Muslim immigrants in Europe, and even though their birth rate is significantly higher than the Europeans’, Jenkins begs to differ. He argues that (1) European nations can assimilate minorities, just as the United States has done; (2) Muslims will likely secularize; (3) when they do secularize, they will stop having so many children; (4) most of the Muslims in Europe are moderates; and (5) what threat Islam does pose will likely invigorate Christianity anyway.

If Philip Jenkins writes a book, it is probably worth the read, and this book is no exception. He is probably correct that many immigrants to Europe (whether Muslim or not) will secularize, have less babies, and assimilate to some extent. However, the book has weaknesses of which the most significant is this: Jenkins seems not to grasp the threat that Islam poses to Europe. With Islam comes a radically different view of the relationship of religion and the state, of religious liberty, of family, etc. Further, he seems not to grasp the threat that contemporary jihadism poses. He too quickly dismisses the arguments made in books such as Bernard Lewis’ The Crisis of Islam (2003) Mary Habeck’s Knowing the Enemy (2007).

It is for this reason that his his analogy with the United States is hardly helpful. He suggests that Europe will be able to assimilate Muslim immigrants in much the same way that the U. S. has been able to assimilate its Mexican immigrants. But Mexican immigrants to the United States (many of whom are Catholic) are a rather different case than the millions of African, Middle Eastern, and Asian Muslim immigrants to Europe. Americans have to adjust to Mexican Catholics who sometimes glue St. Christopher to the dash for traveling safety, while Europeans must adjust to Muslim immigrants whose religion demands nothing less than the religious, social, and political submission of their nations to the Allah of Islam. Hardly a helpful analogy.

God’s Continent is worth the read, even if it is not up to the level of The Next Christendom and The New Faces of Christianity, the first two books of his trilogy. Perhaps the best thing that Jenkins’ book can do is to turn the church’s attention toward Europe, the home of 821 million people, many of whom (whether European or immigrant) are without Christ and without hope in the world.

Book: God’s Continent (2007)

Author: Philip Jenkins

Region: Europe

Genre: Current Affairs

Length: 340 pp.

Difficulty: Intermediate

Global Context: A New Christendom with New Faces

Global Context Series: A New Christendom with New Faces

By: Bruce Riley Ashford

Philip Jenkins believes that we are living in the midst of a monumental moment in religious history, and he has written two books to make his case. The first, The Next Christendom, contains the meat of his argument while the second, The New Faces of Christianity, follows up on certain strands of the argument. The following is a brief review of both books.

Jenkins was affected by recent events in the Anglican Communion and in particular the 1998 Lambeth Conference which condemned homosexuality as incompatible with Christian ministry.

What really raised eyebrows is that the resolution was passed against the will of the English prelates, because of the numerical clout of the burgeoning African church. Bishop John Shelby Spong’s comments were representative of the wrath and condescension of many of the European bishops: “I never expected to see the Anglican Communion, which prides itself on the place of reason in faith, descend to this level of irrational Pentecostal hysteria.”

In The Next Christendom, Jenkins takes a look at this phenomenon. What is the tectonic shift that has allowed the African bishops of the Anglican church to have more clout than the English and American bishops? His answer is that “we are currently living through one of the transforming moments in the history of religion worldwide.” The nerve center of Christianity, Jenkins argues, is moving South and East. The era of Western Christianity (centered in Europe and the United States) is passing and the day of Southern Christianity (centered in Africa, Asia, and South America) is arriving. If present trends continue, Jenkins, argues, then by 2050, only about 20% of the world’s Christians will be non-Hispanic Caucasians.

The doctrinal implications of this are many, as Jenkins demonstrates in The Next Christendom and expands upon in The New Faces of Christianity. The new Southern Christianity has held to the traditional Christian positions on abortion, homosexuality, divorce, gender and ministry. A majority of these Southern churches are heavily influenced by the charismatic and Pentecostal movements. Services are often marked by spontaneous and emotional worship, tongues, healings, and exorcisms. These churches, however, are also markedly different than many charismatic churches in that they often emphasize the blessedness of poverty and suffering.

Further, Jenkins argues, this growth of Christianity could spawn an era of religious wars, particularly between Islam and Christianity: “Across the Muslim world, many believers have shown themselves willing to fight for the cause of international Islam with far more enthusiasm than they demonstrate for any individual nation. Putting these different trends together, we have a volatile mixture that could well provoke horrific wars and confrontations.”

If this were merely the story of an ethnic and geographic shift, that would be significant in and of itself. However, it is much more. It is a story of a massive shift in belief and practice. In an article, “After the Next Christendom,” Jenkins reflects upon the reactions to his book. He writes that he “was fascinated by the reactions of alarm and near-horror that surfaced in liberal circles, aghast at the prospect of legions of Southern fundamentalists about to begin a Long March against the centers of Western Christianity….Conservatives, in contrast, were delighted by the prospect of a traditionalist and biblically oriented Christianity arising in Africa, Asia, and Latin America…” Indeed, Southern Christianity is, in juxtaposition to mainstream churches in Europe and America, very conservative.

Although this monumental shift reaches across the face of nearly all denominations and church networks, the Anglican communion once again is illustrative. The African Anglican churches accuse the Western Anglican church of rejecting Biblical and historic Christianity. Various statements have been issued, including the following declaration of the Nigerian church: “The unscriptural innovations,” they write, “of North American and some western provinces on issues of human sexuality undermine the basic message of redemption and the power of the Cross to transform lives. These departures are a symptom of a deeper problem, which is the diminution of the authority of Holy Scripture.”

However, there are many flavors of “conservative,” and many American evangelicals would not be happy with the Southern flavors. Larry Poston, in his article “Interfacing with ‘The Next Christendom,'” pointed out seven issues that will be central in defining the relationship of Northern and Southern Christianity. They are worthy of mentioning here: (1) The inscripturated Word of God versus the “Word of God for today;” (2) Signs and wonders: accept or reject? (3) Demonic Forces: Respecting their power but avoiding neo-Animism; (4) Theological systems vs. “only trusting in the Spirit;” (5) The public square: important or not? (6) Gender roles in society and church; and (7) the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches: What is the relationship?

These are some of the challenges, for better or for worse, that lie ahead as the center of Christian gravity moves from the North to the South. As Jenkins puts it, “Christianity, a religion that was born in Africa and Asia, has in our lifetimes decided to go home.” Both books, The Next Christendom and The New Faces of Christianity, are worth the read for anybody interested in state of the global church.