The Next Christendom

Philip Jenkins recent work, The Next Christendom, focuses on the growth of Christianity outside of the Western world in the twentieth century. The book explores the emergence of powerful and dynamic Christian movements in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The author emphasizes that by 2050 only about one-fifth of the world’s three billion Christians will be non-Hispanic whites and concludes that the rise of Christianity in the Third World will exacerbate the confrontations with Islam.

Jenkins draws his conclusions on the clash of civilizations theory advanced by Samuel Huntington. According to this, the future world conflicts will be between cultures with radically different religious views. One of them is the clash between the Christian and Islamic civilizations. Therefore, the author goes into a great detail on the description of cultural (ethnic and religious) war between Christianity and Islam.

In chapter one Christianity and Islam will grow both by birth and conversion and that by 2050 (again at least nominally), Christians will likely still outnumber Muslims (pp. 5-6). This chapter introduces the three main arguments of the book:
1. Christianity will be dominated by churches in the Southern hemisphere
2. Southern Christianity is conservative, fundamentalist and traditional
3. Understanding Christianity requires understanding Southern Christianity

In chapter six Jenkins identifies the common growth characteristics of such churches as the Brazilian-based Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, or The Full Gospel Central Church in South Korea, or the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ on Earth of the Prophet Simon Kimbangu in Congo. The text observes their dynamics and growth in the midst of difficult and oppressive circumstances. These characteristics are summarized in the following list:
1. Emphasis on the Holy Spirit
2. Charismatic leadership
3. Definite doctrine/teaching
4. Social direction toward identity, community, and eternal hope.

Many of these new churches/movements follow a conservative theological trajectory with a close and even literalistic reading of the Bible. Jenkins sees a definite connection between this non-Western churches and some new churches and in the South that are fundamentalist and charismatic by nature and theologically conservative, with a powerful belief in the spiritual dimension, in visions and in spiritual healing (p. 137).

He further claims, that the real battle for religious strife in the near future will be the armed conflicts between Christians and Muslims in Africa and Asia. One of the possible scenarios of the future world is that the Northern population will decrease tremendously, still supporting the values and ideology of liberal Christianity and Judaism. There will be also a future confrontation with the the poorer and more numerous global (pp. 160—161). In this same chapter, on page 118, Jenkins writes, “There is now talk that the Virgin [Mary] might be proclaimed a mediator and co-Savior figure, comparable to Jesus himself, even a fourth member of the Trinity.” To me this was quite a misunderstanding point.

In chapter eight (“The Next Crusade”) the author discusses inter-religious relations, particularly between Christianity and Islam.

Chapter ten (“Seeing Christianity Again for the First Time”) declares that the considering a possible is descriptive of the present day (p. 218).

To present Pentecostalism, as an answer for Christianity and church praxis in the beginning of postmodernism is not a new strategy. A similar study has been already introduced by Dr, Harvey Cox in his book “Fire from Heaven.” His work observes primarily Latin America and suggests that Pentecostalism is indeed that wing of Christianity that will serve for its postmodern interpretation. The Christian churches have indeed been successful in the South. The reason for this is that they have become missions for social needs. Countries with great economic and demographic difficulties have experienced Pentecostalism as the answer for these social, economical and political earthquakes.

Moves of Christian culture such like the one described by Jenkins are not new either. Christ has commission the church to witness of his resurrection in Jerusalem, Galilee, Samaria, and to the outermost parts of the earth. Then, as the church reaches Europe, the New Testament gives a clear movement toward North West – Rome and Spain. Moves toward the North have been present in the evangelization of Eastern Europe during the Byzantium period, as well as later North Eastern moves of Christianity toward Russia. The move toward the West can be placed along with the discovery of the New World. In this trend of thought, if must claim a southern move of Christianity, then places like Australia and New Zealand must be the main target of such mission. As an overall “The Next Christendom” is informative and rich of factual support. It presents unique information. Although its claims are offered with caution, foretelling world’s history was not its best side.