The Next Christiandom: The Coming of Global Christianity

By Philip Jenkins
Oxford. 2002. 270 pp. Pb. $28.00. ISBN 0-19-514616-6

— reviewed by Ben Lacy Rose, Richmond, Va.

The thesis of this book is that, contrary to much that is being written and heard today, Christianity is alive and well in the world, and will continue in good health into the foreseeable future. The "God is dead" movement is dead, but God is still very much alive.

The author, who is a distinguished professor of history and religious studies at Penn State University, declares that Christianity and Islam will both experience nearly equal growth well into the next millennium, but very significant changes have taken place and will continue to take place in world Christianity. Although these changes are historically quite crucial, they have been all but ignored by the secular press in this country.

The primary change is that the “center of gravity in the Christian world” is shifting from the Northern Hemisphere to the Southern Hemisphere. The number of Christians in Africa, for example, grew from 10 million in 1900 to 360 million in 2000. The growth rates for Brazil and Mexico are similar. The Christian centers of Geneva, Rome, London and New York are giving way to São Paulo, Kinshasa, Mexico City and Addis Ababa.

Another change is that the new global Christianity has shed most of its European and colonial accretions and has adjusted to and adopted local cultural customs. Christianity is no longer seen by Africans or Brazilians as a foreign religion. It has acquired a Latin flavor in Brazil and an African flavor in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Another significant fact about “the coming global Christianity” is that it takes the Bible more literally than does current Western Christianity. Bultmann’s “demythologizing” is ignored. Today in almost every country in “the South” (the Southern Hemisphere), Christians are inclined to Pentecostal practices, to healings and exorcisms, to dreams and visions. They take Christ at his word when he promised these things to believers. Christians in the new Christendom also take the moral teachings of the Bible more strictly than do Christians in “the North.” Significant also is the fact that in the South there are far more believers among the poor and the lower classes than in the middle and upper classes.

The author’s propositions and prophecies are supported by wide research, by an abundance of statistics and by much on-the-spot investigation. I commend this book especially to anyone who is worried about the future of Christianity.