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Christianity in an Increasingly Borderless World

Remarks by Hon. David Kilgour, Member of Parliament (Edmonton Southeast) and Secretary of State (Asia-Pacific) to the Evangelical Ministerium at “The Place Next Door”

Ottawa, Ontario

June 6, 2003

Desmond Tutu has noted about our increasingly borderless world: “We are bound up in a delicate network of interdependence.” Miram Adeney of Christianity Today says, “we’ve been hit in the solar plexus with the truth that we are globally connected and cannot cut loose.”

Despite this, there is still a major lack of attention in the media paid to the relationship between globalization and faith groups.  We Christians must also become more fully acquainted with rapidly changing global faith trends.  Another necessary step if other faiths friction and violence is to be reduced is more effective bridge building between faith communities.

The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity

I’d like now to turn to a book recently published by Phillip Jenkins entitled: The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity. Jenkins, who is a professor at Penn State University, argues that the present global trends of Christianity will have an impact on the world similar to major religious movements such as the Reformation.

For Jenkins, the twenty-first century will be seen as a time in history when religion replaced the importance once occupied by ideology.  Christianity will have a major impact on all of the world’s belief and ideological systems.

It barely registered on Western consciousness until recently that Christianity is growing with phenomenal speed in Africa, Asia and Latin America.  In Africa, according to the World Christian Encyclopaedia, the present net increase of Christians on the continent is an astounding 8.4 million a year, or 23,000 persons a day.  Put another way, there were about ten million African Christians in 1900; in 2000 there were 360 million.  My friend Sam Okoro, from Nigeria, asked why, says it’s partly because Africans have lost confidence in governments.  Only faith in God, he says, provides hope.

Below the Equator, Christianity is moving 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 Southern approach is in direct contrast to the liberalism of the North both in a theological and ethical perspective.  In particular, Southerners are experiencing an exponential rise in Pentecostal churches. Jenkins’s notes, “...Pentecostal expansion across the Southern Hemisphere has been so astonishing as to justify claims of a new reformation.” The sense of family and fellowship that is felt within Pentecostal communities is key to its attraction for millions.

Southern membership in Pentecostal and independent churches already runs into the hundred of millions; within a few decades, Jenkins thinks they could represent a majority of Christians worldwide.  He notes that there were only a handful of Pentecostals in 1900, but according to some projections they could number more than a billion by 2050.  Jenkins argues that as a result of this phenomenon, the North will increasingly be viewed by the South as being heretic in nature and in need of re-evangelization. Jenkins’s argues that the current trends in Southern Christianity will not be reversed.

In highlighting this growth, Jenkins notes: “By 2025, 50 percent of the Christian populations will be in Africa and Latin America, and another 17 percent in Asia.”  In other words, the centre of gravity of the Christian world will be deep in the Southern hemisphere, creating new pockets of influence and power.  Until now, the foolish stereotype in the North was, as Jenkins says, that Christians are “un-Black, un-poor and un-young”.  In fact, before too long, the phrase “a white Christian” may be something of an oxymoron.   

A word about Asia, South Korea in particular.  The book notes that there were only about 300,000 Christians in the whole of Korea in 1920, but that today there are 10-12 million.  In fact, when I was in Seoul recently, I was told that almost half of the population are now Christians, which could put the figure above 20 million.  The Fall Goyee Central Church in Seoul, notes Jenkins, now has half a million members. The Presbyterian Church I attended in Seoul last Sunday has about 7000 members and they offer five or six services each Sunday.

Christianity and Islam

One of the consequences of the phenomenal growth of both Christianity and Islam is that the two great religions are competing intensely for converts in many nations.  Unfortunately, this could lead to civil wars and horrific international conflicts.  Says Jenkins:  “Imagine the world of the thirteenth century armed with nuclear warheads and anthrax.  In responding to this prospect, we need at a minimum to ensure that our political leaders and diplomats pay as much attention to religion and to sectarian frontiers as they have to the distribution of oil fields.” 

Can anyone disagree?

Jenkins’s concludes his book with this:

If there is one overarching lesson from this record of changing fortunes, it is that Christianity is never as weak as it appears, nor as strong as it appears.  And whether we look backward or forward in history, we can see that time and again, Christianity demonstrates a breathtaking ability to transform weakness into strength.                

Role of Christians

We as Christians in the North should address these global trends and play a useful role. As Miriam Adeney of Christianity Today argues, “of all people, Christians are to love our neighbours.  When our neighbourhood expands to include the globe, then we’re called to love globally.”  Christianity should no longer be viewed as being a European and North American faith. In particular, we need to reach this conclusion as a united community and formulate an appropriate response to this transformation.

Christian communities everywhere should concentrate on maintaining a dialogue on where the future of the faith lies and as a result become better qualified to address complex issues of the future. Christians must assume active roles in addressing whether the level of global awareness present in all of our institutions, including at the educational and church levels, is appropriate or needs to be improved upon.   


In expanding our contacts with communities around the world, it is important to reflect on the power of forgiveness in past strained relationships.  As Bishop Tutu once said: “the past, far from disappearing or lying down and being quiet, has an embarrassing and persistent way of returning and haunting us unless it has been dealt with adequately.  Unless we look the beast in the eye we find it has an uncanny habit of returning to hold us hostage.”  Are these words not equally applicable to Canadians?

For example, at the time of Nelson Mandela’s inauguration on May 10, 1994, he was joined by numerous heads of sate and prominent world figures.  Included was a former jailer of the president.  Mandela demonstrated his capacity to forgive and work towards achieving reconciliation from those who had harmed him in the past.

We are not called to forget the past; we all know that there is inherent danger in forgetting misdeeds.  We are called to drop the burdens of anger and resentment  that weigh us down and direct our will towards reaching forgiveness and reconciliation.                                             

Interfaith Dialogue

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “unless we learn to live together as brothers [sisters] we will die together as fools.”  In building stronger relationships and a deeper level of respect and understanding among other faith communities and persons of different languages and cultures, one does not need to sacrifice beliefs; instead, we should view it as an opportunity to enrich our faiths. People with whom we rub shoulders ought to see in us God’s message of kindness and unconditional love for humankind.  One does not need to travel abroad to make a useful contribution towards inter-faith dialogue. As a community, inter-faith dialogue needs to begin at home.

In closing, Miroslav Volf of Croatia argued in his wonderful book, Exclusion and Embrace,“there can be no peace among nations without peace among religions. Since religious peace can be established only through religious dialogue... reconciliation between the peoples depends on the success of the inter-religious dialogue.” For reconciliation to take place, the inscriptions of hatred must be carefully erased and the threads of violence gently removed.

Thank you. God bless the work of your ministries richly. 

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