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'The Next Christianity' Phillip Jenkins: Atlantic Monthly October 2002

An Article Review by Lisa Kasper

Parliamentary Intern in the office of  David Kilgour

The article, "The Next Christianity", by Phillip Jenkens in the Atlantic Monthly for October 2002 analyses the current global state of Christianity. The following essay will briefly summarize the article's main arguments, followed by an evaluation.  The ideas and arguments suggested in Jenkins's article have an impact on both a macro – level, globally speaking and on a micro – level, domestically speaking for North America.

History is scattered with numerous religious movements. One in particular Jenkins discusses is the Reformation movement.  The Reformation promoted an individualistic model of religion, as compared to the communal models of the past.  The Reformation saw these communal models as being far too constrictive.  In doing so, the Reformation was a welcomed movement within the progressive West at the time, specifically among the educated.

Today, there is a general lack of consensus among the academic and religious communities, on the causes and consequences of the Reformation.  However, there is a general agreement on the fact that the Reformation movement left a lasting mark on history, especially in the areas of politics, culture, economics, education, law and religion.

In discussing the Reformation, Jenkins seeks to draw attention to the similarities between the current global state of Christianity and the Reformation movement.  Jenkins believes that the current Christian movement will have a profound impact on history as the Reformation once did.  Furthermore, in Jenkins's opinion, the twenty – first century will be seen as a time in history when religion replaced the importance once occupied by ideology.  Christianity will be viewed as having a significant effect on the world's belief systems.

At a global level, beginning in the South, Christianity is moving exponentially towards a belief system based on divine authority, literal interpretations of the New Testament, super – naturalism, neo – Orthodoxy, mysticism, personal devotion, and communal relationships.  This new Southern form is strikingly conservative in direct contrast to the liberalism of the West, both in a theological and moralistic sense.  This rapid movement has often been referred to as the "third church", and is rapidly spreading in: Africa, Asia, and Latin America.  Jenkins concludes, that the growth of the "third church" is expanding at a rate positively correlated to the increasing state of political oppression and corruption in these regions.  Furthermore, Jenkins points to the parallels between this current trend and the unstable Middle Ages.

There is a strong emphasis placed on physical healing in the "third church" as a result of the current devastating public health crisis experienced in the Southern regions of the world.  Christianity is a welcomed phenomenon in these countries, as most Southern persons view Christianity is providing a desperately needed sense of unity and loyalty.  In highlighting this rapid growth, Jenkins notes, " By 2025, 50 percent of the Christian populations will be in Africa and Latin America, and another 17 percent in Asia."

This Southern trend has already occurred in Catholicism, where Euro – Americans are the minority in global terms.  The religious conservatism of the South has paced these countries in opposition to the liberal Euro – American North.  Jenkins suggests that the North will be increasingly viewed by the South as being heretic in nature, and in dire need of re – evangelization. 

Throughout the article, Jenkins raises many strong and relevant arguments.  To begin, Jenkins argues that the South will soon need to address and reach a resolution regarding the     age – old debate over the appropriate relationship between church and state.  In considering this relationship, questions of tolerance, diversity, minority relations, and the role of religious laws in the public realm will soon require resolution.  Jenkins believes it will be educational for the West to observe how the South handles these difficult issues.  In reaching a resolution, it will be healthy and productive for an ongoing dialogue to occur between the church and state in addressing their relationship.  As the North has been struggling with the relationship of church and state for years, it will be interesting to see if the North will be able to gain any newfound wisdom on this issue from the South.

Secondly, in Jenkins's opinion, the current trend in Christianity of becoming largely concentrated in the South will never reverse back to the North.  Jenkins compared this situation to the current gap that occurs between the North and South on the technological revolution.  In the North, rapid technological innovation is in direct contrast to the stagnant technological growth found in the South.  Through this technological analogy, Jenkins argues that the religious North/South divide is impossible to close, just as it is impossible for the South to catch up to the North technologically.  To some extent this argument does possess merit.  However, one must address the possibility that the North might realize and appropriately address the religious transformations of the South in the very imminent future.  This would allow the North an opportunity to reverse this trend.  In doing so, the North could very likely develop a working dialogue with Christians in the South.  However, if the North does indeed fail pay attention to the trends and events in the South, then it is clear, as Jenkins stated, "…in a decade or two neither component of global Christianity will recognize its counterpart as fully or authentically Christian."

Thirdly, Jenkins argues that in the future Northern religions will be increasingly characterized by promoting a faith focused on decentralization and privatization.  On the other hand, the Southern religions will be primarily grounded in the ideals of traditional authority and community.  One must note that Jenkins failed to take into account the devastating and life altering attacks of 911 in New York City, and the subsequent global consequences following the attacks.  As a result of these attacks, in contrast to Jenkins opinion, the North American continent has demonstrated a desperate search and desire for the safety net provided by religion. Fourthly, Jenkins argues that it is absolutely necessary for the political institutions of the world to pay attention to the religious transformations in the South.  To begin, in the South there is a strong emphasis placed on the martyrdom and anticipation for the literal return of the kingdom of God on Earth.  Furthermore, religious tensions in the South have the potential to make the current, already unstable state of affairs in the South drastically worse.  In regards to the Southern view on achieving righteousness, the South foresees ultimate righteousness as being fulfilled when the world is devastated by a plague.  It is clearly evident that these groups are made up of a plethora of tension, and have an incredible potential to erupt into a state of chaos.  Thus, it is absolutely imperative for global political institutions to address this issue before the situation becomes irreprehensible.   The North needs to aim towards becoming more attuned with global affairs.  Thus, by taking on a pro – active role in the current religious transformation, the North will have a greater likelihood for success with building a stronger relationship with its Southern neighbours.

In presenting his arguments, Jenkins alludes to how the Southern reformation will affect the North.  In regards to Canada, one can infer that it is absolutely imperative for Canadians to take on a leadership role in addressing the role of Christianity in guiding political ideologies.  Religious moral leadership is growing in the South, and soon these regions will be required to deal with the difficult issues regarding the complex relationship of church and state.  Canadians should strive towards becoming leaders in this debate and work towards the development of more concrete solutions.

It is absolutely essential that Canadians no longer view Christianity as being a European and North American faith.  Canadian Christians in particular need to reach this conclusion as a united community and formulate an appropriate response in regards to this transformation.

Lastly, Christians need to take the initiative in educating themselves accurately about the current religious transformation.  Christians need to create and maintain a working dialogue on how they as a community see their faith in the future.  Furthermore, the Christian community should aid in educating the Canadian government about the current religious transformation occurring on a global scale and encourage it to provide aid to the unstable situation presently in the South.  The Canadian government has the potential to play a key role in preventing the current tense situations in the South form erupting into irreprehensible chaos.

It is essential for today's Christians to maintain a futuristic view of their faith as compared to a stagnant one.  In doing so, they will be better prepared to address the complex issues of the future and intern ensure their livelihood and prosperity at both a global level, as well as in the Western regions.


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