15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 31 October 2008
One of the beauties of scholarship is the ability to analyse a 'foreign' culture without the need to immerse oneself completely in it. As a Nigerian, who was brought up as a Christian, I am foreover intrigued by Christianity's appeal to my non-Christian ancestors. Philip Jenkins' The Next Christendom probes my childhood religious milieu and excels in its analysis of 'Southern' i.e. non Euro-American Christianity. In this marvellous book, I could recognise the traditions in which I was raised and how they relate to Western Christianity.
Jenkins' basic premise is that Christianity is no longer a strictly Euro-American religion. He argues that Christianity's centre of gravity has shifted to the Global South i.e. the developing world. The faith has metamorphosed to accommodate non-Western cultures and, in doing so, has prospered beyond David Livingstone's wildest imagination. Jenkins buttresses his main point with ample statistical and demographic evidence. For example, he offers statistical projections showing that in 2025 only 2 of the 10 countries with the largest Christian communities will be Western (USA and Germany).
Of course statistics do not tell the entire story. Why did non-Western (usually conquered) peoples accept the White Man's religion? If Christian proselytising in the 19th century was driven, at worst by, imperialist/racist attitudes to non-Europeans, and, at best,by European paternalism, why then did Christianity persist in the Third World after the collapse of the European empires? Jenkins posits that the reasons are varied: from a desire to imitate the West to an all-too-obvious explanation - many Africans and Asians believe the Christian message.
Jenkins challenges the popular stereotype of Southern Christianity as a reincarnation of deep-seated, pre-Christian religious beliefs. He argues that the assumption underpinning this stereotype is that Western Christianity is the norm. Christianity, a near Eastern religion, adapted to the late Roman world of antiquity. For example, pagan temples became the site of some of the great Christian Churches such as St Paul's in London. By the nineteenth century when Europeans took their faith to non-European peoples, Christianity had become so 'inculturated' into Europe that the missionaries naturally assumed that Christianity should reflect their European cultural assumptions. There is no reason why Christianity's age of enculturation should have stopped in the Middle Ages.
How might a world in which the populous countries such as Nigeria and Indonesia are evenly split between Christianity and a resurgent Islam be like? Jenkin's conclusion is a Huntingdonian world in which the borders between Islam and Christianity will be bloody. The future, according to Jenkins, is one in which Islam and Christianity will colour developing country conflicts over everything from access to the benefits of modernisation to social policy. Sadly, the evidence in places like Nigeria and Indonesia largely support Jenkins' conclusion.
Christianity's demographic future is largely in the Global South. Like any responsive multinational corporation, churches are actively pursuing this growth market with vigour. According to Jenkins, Southern Christianity is still work in progress; any hopes that a vibrant Southern Christianity will take up 'Northern' social issues such as feminism, gay rights, environmentalism etc, will be dashed because the Southern Churches will increasingly be focused on Southern issues. The world is not made in Europe's image.
Despite a severe reversal in its fortunes (at least in the West), Christianity is alive, hale and hearty in the Developing World. The New Christendom illustrates this point with candour and insight. The book is well-researched and richly annotated. It is not just a dry academic tome; Jenkins seems to have perched on the walls of the churches in downtown Lagos and captured the vibrancy and the hopes of the congregation. What's more, he has put Southern religious expression in its historical and global context.
After reading his previous book, God's Continent, I had come to expect a very high standard of scholarship from Professor Jenkins. The New Christendom has delivered on all points and them some. It is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand why Christianity is such a powerful force in the Developing World. I highly recommend this book and it deserves my 4 stars.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 2 December 2007
This book is an update of Jenkins' ground-breaking book published nearly a decade ago and is still a fascinating and timely read today. The book amply demonstrates that our idea of 'traditional' or 'mainstream' Christianity is the result of the situation of Western European society over the last millennium and is not a true reflection of the current situation. Philip Jenkins reminds us that the Western part of global Christendom is shrinking and its importance, numerically speaking, is waning; the new Christendom will probably consist of the Southern churches - Africa, Asia and South America - whose experience of Christianity is very different than ours. Much of their Christian experience is more akin to the early church with supernatural elements being part of daily life, healings and prophecies common and their concept of culture completely different to ours.
Jenkins provides much statistical evidence to back up his points as well as a thorough discussion of how global Christianity spread through mission work in the past and how it might change in the future. There is much encouragement in this book, mainly in the reminder that Christianity is still a growing religion globally and that perhaps Islam will have less of an effect than we think, but it was also occasionally sobering in discovering that the form of Christianity that many of the Southern churches use is not one that would be a comfortable fit with post-Enlightenment western Christians.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on 4 June 2003
In this fascinating book, professor Philip Jenkins proclaims that there is coming, within this 21st century, a new Christendom. The first chapter looks at the Christian Church of the past, and shows that the popular conception of a Christian West surrounded by a purely non-Christian world is fallacious; that Christianity took root in other parts of the world than Europe, and survived there all the way to the present. After that, the book looks at the spread of Christianity in the so-called "Third World," the same parts of the globe that are experiencing the fastest population growth.
Having (to my satisfaction, anyway) shown that soon many times more Christians will be living in other parts of the globe than Europe *and* North America combined, the author then goes on to suggest that this new phenomenon will potentially change the very face of Christianity. Prepare to see a new Christianity, one as different from the modern, Western Church as the Medieval Church was from the Church of the Roman Empire.
I must say that this is one of the most fascinating books that I have read in a long time! The author punctures many comfortable ideas about the Church, and prepares the reader for the coming of a new world, a world that will not look like the one we have now. If you are interested in Christianity, or even just in trends that are bound to affect the world you live in, then you must get this book!
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 26 March 2002
Phil Jenkins has written a blockbuster. An iconoclastic professor at Pennsylvania (US) State University, Jenkins argues that the rapid growth of Pentecostal Christianity around the world (both within and alongside existing traditions) will literally reshape the world. This movement is a mere 100 years old. In a post-modern world, religion returns to center stage, and Jenkins has already turned on the spotlight. This is a must-read for all futurists--including the armchair variety such as myself. After reading Jenkins' seemingly airtight analysis, it is difficult to give credence to any author suggesting the passing of Christianity.
2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 25 November 2005
The author establishes that contrary to popular opinion, Christianity is not a European religion. Its origins are outside Europe and it was centuries before its strength was centered in Europe. The future of Chrstianity will be in Africa and Latin America. There is a global shift. Europe faces a bleak, depopulated secular future as far as its native peoples are concerned acording to present trends. Southern Christianity will be charismatic and ethically conservative. The author's prophecies are those of a demographer. He predicts increasing confict between Christians and Muslims.