The Next Christendom

Relevance: Jenkins offers a broad scale analysis of the current and coming state of Christianity around the world- a foundational thesis for the theme of this course.

Contribution: Using both historical and statistical analysis, Jenkins establishes a case for the global character of past, present, and future Christianity. Although Jenkins does not offer new observations, he does offer them to a new audience. In reflection upon the vast and voluminous influence of Christianity, Jenkins explores possible reasons for its longevity and global presence. He concludes that while Western domination and emulation has played a part, they can not account for the whole of Christianity’s remarkable residue, “…emulation can not be the whole answer. If the faith had been a matter of kings, merchants, and missionaries, then it would have lasted precisely as long as the political and commercial order that gave it birth, and would have been swept away by any social change (43).”

Critique: While Western achievements in sociology, mathematics, and science have contributed to the expanse and affect of global Christianity in many positive ways, it appears that Jenkins (and Christian missiologists) may be placing too much faith in statistical projections. Commenting on the shift of Christianity’s historical centers of influence Jenkins writes, “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 (2).” While population projections may provide some degree of accuracy, population growth does not ensure spiritual growth. Akin to the success of local meteorologists, global forecasting is something not even the scientific prophets can do accurately. Thus Jenkin’s dependence upon statistical extrapolation would seem to presume upon the actions of both mankind and Providence. However, many of his conclusions about Western ethnocentric assertions are prophetic and powerful. For instance, when speaking about “what Christians believe” and “how the Church is changing” should be done with the global contours of Christianity in view.
Explanations of growth are chalked up to the forces of urbanization and modernization, resulting in the displacement of traditional communities, many people reaches the city without a sense of community.

Moreover, if anything has been learned from the travesties and tragedies of ethnic cleansing and genocide over the last century, it would be that humanities’ actions and the course of nations are anything but predictable. R.J. Rummel, professor of political science at the University of Hawaii estimates that from 1900 to 1987 governments murdered almost 170 million people- a figure that far exceeds the 34.4 million battle deaths thought to have resulted from all the international and civil wars fought during the same period. A country with such a population would, today, be the sixth largest on earth. Taken from “Murder by the State”, Atlantic Monthly vol. 292, Nov 2003
While helpful in their place, such modernist-driven modes of mobilization may, if left unchecked, result in a subtle shift in Christian faith from Christ to statistics. In short, sociology replaces eschatology.
To be fair, Jenkins does offer a word of warning regarding projected Protestant expansion (62), but in chapter five attempts to justify “foolish speculation”.
Although spiritual formation is not the thrust of Jenkins’ book, statistical projection can not produce the kind of humility necessary to foster a truly global, yet indigenous Christianity. Such changes in missions methodology require a transformation of both the heart and the head.