THE NEXT CHRISTENDOM: The Coming of Global Christianity
by Philip Jenkins
(Oxford University Press, 2003, 270pp, $29.95 PB $55.95 HB. Available from AD Books)
Philip Jenkins, who is a Professor of History and Religious Studies at Pennsylvania State University, challenges the opinion of people such as Samuel Huntington, who believe that "in the long run ... Muhammad wins out", and Bishop Spong, who has called for Christianity to abandon its "outmoded supernatural doctrines and moral assumptions."
Jenkins quotes the World Christian Encyclopaedia's prediction that by 2050 there will be three Christians for every two Muslims and counters Spong by showing that in Africa, Asia and Latin America, Christianity is growing very fast, while his secularist approach is passé.
The centre of gravity of the next Christendom will move away from Europe, where it has been for the last 1000 years or so, and move to Africa and Latin America. This is nothing new since for the first 500 years Christianity was more Mediterranean and Byzantine than European. While Rome was the centre, most Catholics lived in the Middle East, and Northern Europe had not been evangelised.
The new Christianity would, of necessity, absorb some of the local African and Latino practices and be more Bible-based, especially amongst the Protestants and evangelicals. Jenkins illustrates this by reference to the debate on homosexuality which finds little acceptance amongst them unlike their co-religionists in the West.
Like Huntington, he considers the possibility of conflict between Islam and Christianity and devotes a whole chapter to "The Next Crusade." This would seem to imply a Christian-initiated action, whereas what we are witnessing, and he writes about, is Muslim fundamentalism erupting in a number of countries, e.g., Nigeria and Indonesia.
On the other hand Muslims and Christians have been collaborating on moral and family issues, especially at the UN. The World Congress of Families - 1997 Prague, 1999 Geneva and 2004 Mexico - were attended by substantial Muslim delegations. Geneva was addressed by Madam Sadat, the widow of Egyptian President Sadat, and she received the only standing ovation of the Congress.
Jenkins can see a dangerous dichotomy emerging with a secular, rationalist over-tolerant North and a primitive, fundamentalist South. This would make the North anti-Christian and the Christians in these countries having to make a difficult choice - support moderate Muslims and run the risk of giving help to fundamentalists; or let the secularists remove all vestiges of Christianity in our institutions, e.g., no reference to Christianity in the EU Constitution.
The book provides an excellent coverage of the emergent situation but suffers from unexamined theological opinions on such matters as women clergy and the ordination of homosexuals. Jenkins' analysis of the composition of the College of Cardinals and the Vatican's clear opposition to syncretisms made interesting reading especially at a time when the Catholic Church is on the verge of selecting a new leadership group in Rome.
John Barich is WA State President of the Australian Family Association.