The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity

The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity

by Philip Jenkins

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780199767465
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Publication date: 09/13/2011
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 680,493
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Philip Jenkins is Distinguished Professor of History and Religious Studies at Pennsylvania State University. He is the author of many books and articles, including Hidden Gospels, Pedophiles and Priests, and The New Anti-Catholicism. He lives in State College, PA.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Christian Revolution

Europe is the Faith.

Hilaire Belloc

The end of the twentieth century was marked by an obsessive compilation of retrospective lists, which assessed the greatest moments and the most important individuals of the previous hundred years. Some observers, still more ambitious, tried to identify the high and low points of the whole millennium then passing. Yet in almost all these efforts, religious matters received remarkably short shrift. When religious individuals were highlighted, they were usually those most closely identified with secular political trends. Martin Luther King Jr. is an obvious example. After all, the attitude seemed to be, what religious change in recent years could possibly compete in importance with the major secular trends, movements like fascism or communism, feminism or environmentalism? To the contrary, I suggest that it is precisely religious changes that are the most significant, and even the most revolutionary, in the contemporary world. Before too long, the turn-of-the-millennium neglect of religious factors may come to be seen as comically myopic, on a par with a review of the eighteenth century that managed to miss the French Revolution.

    We are currently living through one of the transforming moments in the history of religion worldwide. Over the past five centuries or so, the story of Christianity has been inextricably bound up with that of Europe and European-derived civilizations overseas, above all in North America. Until recently, the overwhelming majority of Christianshave lived in White nations, allowing theorists to speak smugly, arrogantly, of "European Christian" civilization. Conversely, radical writers have seen Christianity as an ideological arm of Western imperialism. Many of us share the stereotype of Christianity as the religion of the "West" or, to use another popular metaphor, the global North. It is self-evidently the religion of the haves. To adapt the phrase once applied to the increasingly conservative U.S. electorate of the 1970s, the stereotype holds that Christians are un-Black, unpoor, and un-young. If that is true, then the growing secularization of the West can only mean that Christianity is in its dying days. Globally, the faith of the future must be Islam.

    Over the past century, however, the center of gravity in the Christian world has shifted inexorably southward, to Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Already today, the largest Christian communities on the planet are to be found in Africa and Latin America. If we want to visualize a "typical" contemporary Christian, we should think of a woman living in a village in Nigeria or in a Brazilian favela. As Kenyan scholar John Mbiti has observed, "the centers of the church's universality [are] no longer in Geneva, Rome, Athens, Paris, London, New York, but Kinshasa, Buenos Aires, Addis Ababa and Manila." Whatever Europeans or North Americans may believe, Christianity is doing very well indeed in the global South—not just surviving but expanding.

    This trend will continue apace in coming years. Many of the fastest-growing countries in the world are either predominantly Christian or else have very sizable Christian minorities. Even if Christians just maintain their present share of the population in countries like Nigeria and Kenya, Mexico and Ethiopia, Brazil and the Philippines, there are soon going to be several hundred million more Christians from those nations alone. Moreover, conversions will swell the Christian share of world population. Meanwhile, historically low birth rates in the traditionally Christian states of Europe mean that these populations are declining or stagnant. In 1950, a list of the world's leading Christian countries would have included Britain, France, Spain, and Italy, but none of these names would be represented in a corresponding list for 2050.

    Christianity should enjoy a worldwide boom in the new century, but the vast majority of believers will be neither white nor European, nor Euro-American. According to the respected World Christian Encyclopedia, some 2 billion Christians are alive today, about one-third of the planetary total. The largest single bloc, some 560 million people, is still to be found in Europe. Latin America, though, is already close behind with 480 million. Africa has 360 million, and 313 million Asians profess Christianity. North America claims about 260 million believers. If we extrapolate these figures to the year 2025, and assume no great gains or losses through conversion, then there would be around 2.6 billion Christians, of whom 633 million would live in Africa, 640 million in Latin America, and 460 million in Asia. Europe, with 555 million, would have slipped to third place. Africa and Latin America would be in competition for the title of most Christian continent. About this date, too, another significant milestone should occur, namely that these two continents will together account for half the Christians on the planet. By 2050, only about one-fifth of the world's 3 billion Christians will be non-Hispanic Whites. Soon, the phrase "a White Christian" may sound like a curious oxymoron, as mildly surprising as "a Swedish Buddhist." Such people can exist, but a slight eccentricity is implied.

    This global perspective should make us think carefully before asserting "what Christians believe" or "how the church is changing." All too often, statements about what "modern Christians accept" or what "Catholics today believe" refer only to what that ever-shrinking remnant of Western Christians and Catholics believe. Such assertions are outrageous today, and as time goes by they will become ever further removed from reality. The era of Western Christianity has passed within our lifetimes, and the day of Southern Christianity is dawning. The fact of change itself is undeniable: it has happened, and will continue to happen. So little did we notice this momentous change that it was barely mentioned in all the media hoopla surrounding the end of the second millennium.


The idea of Christianity literally "going South" is not unfamiliar, at least to religious studies scholars. The theme is well-established in Europe, where African affairs are more attended to than they are in the United States. As long ago as the 1970s, this global change was discussed in well-known works by European scholars like Andrew Walls, Edward Norman, and Walbert Buhlmann, and the theme was consecrated by its inclusion in the World Christian Encyclopedia, first published in 1982. It was Buhlmann who coined the term "the Third Church," on the analogy of the Third World. The phrase suggests that the South represents a new tradition comparable in importance to the Eastern and Western churches of historical times. Walls sees the faith in Africa as a distinctive new tradition of Christianity comparable to Catholicism, Protestantism, and Orthodoxy; it is "the standard Christianity of the present age, a demonstration model of its character." When in 1998 the World Council of Churches commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of its founding, it decided to meet in Zimbabwe, as an explicit recognition of the growing significance of Africa in world Christianity.

    Yet outside the ranks of scholars and church bureaucrats, few commentators have paid serious attention to these trends, to what I will describe as the creation of a new Christendom, which for better or worse may play a critical role in world affairs. In the catalogues of North American religious publishers, materials either from or about Africa or Asia are rarely in evidence. This does not mean that publishers willfully refuse to present the information for sinister motives, but they know from experience that Third World topics rarely attract a general audience of the sort that would make a new title profitable. For whatever reason, Southern churches remain almost invisible to Northern observers. When in 2000, the popular evangelical magazine Christian History listed the "hundred most important events in Church history," the only mention of Africa, Asia, or Latin America involved the British abolition of the slave trade. Missing from this top hundred was church growth in modern Africa, where the number of Christians increased, staggeringly, from 10 million in 1900 to 360 million by 2000. Nor were there any Southerners among the same publication's list of the ten most important Christians of the passing century. (In fairness, the list did include two African Americans, Martin Luther King Jr. and Pentecostal pioneer William Seymour.) An evangelical-oriented survey of 100 Christian Books That Changed the Century featured three or four books about missions in Africa and Asia, but scarcely a word about Latin America. The only work actually by a Southern writer was Cry the Beloved Country, by White South African Alan Paton.

    The imbalance is just as evident in the Western academic world, in which published studies of Third World religion represent only a tiny fraction of scholarship on Christianity. At the same time, the volume of academic studies coming out of Africa and Latin America has shrunk as universities in those regions have been crippled by lack of resources. To quote John Mbiti once more, "It is utterly scandalous for so many Christian scholars in [the] old Christendom to know so much about heretical movements in the second and third centuries, when so few of them know anything about Christian movements in areas of the younger churches." Matters have changed somewhat since Mbiti wrote in the 1970s. Some excellent books are now available on Southern religion, notably Harvey Cox's influential Fire from Heaven (1995), and we have some fine studies on Latin American Pentecostalism. But the general observation about what most Western religious studies scholars actually work on is still applicable. While we can endorse Walls' remark that "anyone who wishes to undertake serious study of Christianity these days needs to know something about Africa," it scarcely reflects common scholarly perceptions.

    If most writers are neglecting the present-day realities of Christianity, they are still worse on projecting the future. In North America at least, most visions of the coming century are based firmly on extrapolating familiar domestic conditions. The imagined future looks a lot like the American present, only with Western liberalism ever more in the ascendant. Robert Wuthnow's Christianity in the 21st Century has basically nothing to say about conditions in the Third World. There is only a little more in a book with the promising title Toward 2015: A Church Odyssey, although one of its co-authors is an Episcopal bishop. Not even Anglicans and Episcopalians are looking South, although that is where virtually all of the growth is occurring in their Communion.

    If the religious world, the old Christendom, is so cavalier about these epoch-making changes, it is not surprising that secular commentators are largely oblivious. Nobody, for instance, has asked the crucial question of just what Western civilization means when what were once its critical religious aspects are now primarily upheld outside the "West." One key exception is Samuel P. Huntington's book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, one of the most widely read analyses of current global trends, which does pay serious attention to changing religious patterns. Even Huntington, though, understates the rising force of Christianity. He believes that the relative Christian share of global population will fall steeply in the new century, and that this religion will be supplanted by Islam: "In the long run ... Muhammad wins out." But far from Islam being the world's largest religion by 2020 or so, as Huntington suggests, Christianity will still have a massive lead, and will maintain its position into the foreseeable future. By 2050, there should still be about three Christians for every two Muslims worldwide. Some 34 percent of the world's people will then be Christian, roughly what the figure was at the height of European world hegemony in 1900.

    Huntington's analysis of the evidence is misguided in one crucial respect. While he rightly notes the phenomenal rates of population growth in Muslim countries, he ignores the fact that similar or even higher rates are also found in already populous Christian countries, above all in Africa. Alongside the Muslim efflorescence he rightly foresees, there will also be a Christian population explosion, often in the same or adjacent countries. If we look at the nations with the fastest population growth and the youngest populations, they are evenly distributed between Christian- and Muslim-dominated societies. I dispute Huntington's assertion that "Christianity spreads primarily by conversion, Islam by conversion and reproduction." Huntington's lack of interest in the epoch-making Christian growth in Africa is odd because elsewhere he has written so knowledgeably about the role of the Catholic Church in promoting democratic movements across the continent. Throughout his Clash of Civilizations, though, he refers to "Western Christianity" as if there could be no other species. The same kind of tunnel vision affects another recent work on global mega-trends, Benjamin Barber's Jihad vs. McWorld. For Barber, Third World religion is discussed chiefly in terms of Islam, and Christianity just means North American fundamentalism. There is no recognition that the gravest challenge to "McWorld" might not come from Jihad, but rather from what we might call the forces of Crusade, from the Christian Third World.


The numerical changes in Christianity are striking enough, but beyond the simple demographic transition, there are countless implications for theology and religious practice. To take a historical parallel, Christianity changed thoroughly when a movement founded in a Jewish and Hellenistic context moved into the Germanic lands of Western Europe during the early Middle Ages. Although it is only a symbolic example, we can learn something from the way in which the English language imported its large Christian vocabulary. Familiar words like "church" or "bishop" are borrowed from Greek originals, although in radically mutated forms. "Church" derives from kyriakos oikos (house of the Lord), "bishop" from episkopos ("supervisor," or one who watches over the community). We can imagine the Roman and Greek missionaries to the Anglo-Saxons confronting the notorious English incapacity to deal with foreign tongues, and hearing their elegant terms butchered into the words we have today.

    In this instance, the substance of the words survived the cultural transition intact, but in other vital ways, a largely urban Mediterranean Christianity was profoundly changed by the move to the Northern forests. In art and popular thought, Jesus became a blond Aryan, often with the appropriate warrior attributes, and Christian theology was reshaped by West European notions of law and feudalism. European Christians reinterpreted the faith through their own concepts of social and gender relations, and then imagined that their culturally specific synthesis was the only correct version of Christian truth. In fact, it was about as far removed from its origins as the word "church" is from kyriakos oikos. As Christianity moves southward, the religion will be comparably changed by immersion in the prevailing cultures of those host societies.

    But what would this new Christian synthesis look like? One obvious fact is that at least for the foreseeable future, members of a Southern-dominated church are likely to be among the poorer people on the planet, in marked contrast to the older Western-dominated world. For this reason, some Western Christians have since the 1960s expected that the religion of their Third World brethren would be fervently liberal, activist, and even revolutionary, the model represented by liberation theology. In this view, the new Christianity would chiefly be concerned with putting down the mighty from their seats, through political action or even armed struggle. All too often, though, these hopes have proved illusory. Frequently, the liberationist voices emanating from the Third World proved to derive from clerics trained in Europe and North America, and their ideas won only limited local appeal. Southern Hemisphere Christians would not avoid political activism, but they would become involved strictly on their own terms.


Excerpted from THE NEXT CHRISTENDOM by Philip Jenkins. Copyright © 2002 by Philip Jenkins. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Table of Contents

List of Tables
Chapter One: The Christian Revolution
Chapter Two: Disciples of All Nations
Chapter Three: Missionaries and Prophets
Chapter Four: Standing Alone
Chapter Five: The Rise of the New Christianity
Chapter Six: Coming to Terms
Chapter Seven: God and the World
Chapter Eight: The Next Crusade
Chapter Nine: Coming Home
Chapter Ten: Seeing Christianity Again for the First Time

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Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Insightful. Informative.Challenging and thought provoking. My interest was greatly sparked to learn more about how Christianity is spreading among the Dalith people (the untouchables of India)and the rising Hindu backlash. Fascinating to read how the message of Hope is giving meaning to the poorest of any society, but, also a rising global change that will alter the future of many in this millenium.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Do you think the world is secularizing? Or that the only dynamic and vigorous religion is Islam? Think again, this book offers some strong scientific support (both quantitative and qualitative) that Christianity is on the rise.
disneypope on LibraryThing 5 months ago
this book is a wake up call to those of us in the church of the western global north. charts out where the church is headed in the next 50 years and reminds the church in the global north, the church is exploding in all other parts of the world except here.
seoulful on LibraryThing 5 months ago
An interesting thesis concerning a major global shift in the center of Christianity from the West to the areas of Asia, South America and Africa. The new members from these areas, coming in record numbers, are characterized as poor, conservative, Pentecostal and fervent in their beliefs. The author theorizes that this phenomena has been under-reported because the more liberal Western Church does not find this a satisfying situation. The book is carefully researched with charts and maps and covers the hot-button issue of where the rise of Islam fits into this developing scenario.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago