The center of Christianity has continually shifted throughout history. The United States has been the center of Christianity for a small portion of the church's history. But, here in the United States, it's all we've known. We have thought of ourselves as being the most influential Christian bloc for many years. But, this is changing. If influence is determined by numbers, then we are in the twilight of our dominance. The sun is setting the North American Christendom.
[The shift in culture here in the US isn't my focus here. We'll touch upon that in the future. Particularly, what should be our posture and perspective in this culture. For now, Russell Moore does a great job summing it up in the first five minutes of this video.]
This shift in Christendom is much more profound than geography. As the gospel is apprehended by cultures, its expression and emphases change. So what is the character of Christianity in the Global South (S. America, Africa, Asia)?
Philip Jenkins, in The Next Christendom, reports that the kinds of Christianity that are taking root and expanding across most of the Global South have several key distinctives:
- They are more traditional in their view about religious authority.
- They are open to the spiritual nature of dreams, prophecies, and visions.
- They are deeply committed to the reality of supernatural healing.
These are not possible outcomes, but actual characteristics of vast numbers of followers of Jesus across the Global South.
What's the takeaway?
First, we have to understand that when the gospel enters a culture the expression of faith may look different than our own expressions. As the gospel permeates a society, those within the society will place emphasis where their culture places emphasis. That's why liberation-type theologies are prevalent in regions where oppression is rampant.
Second, as we engage, relate to, and edify the Global South, we must learn how to critically evaluate expressions of faith. We aren't bringing the gospel to them (many of them are bringing it to us), but we do have the opportunity to help our brothers and sisters understand how the gospel interacts with their culture and context. We can help them avoid some pitfalls into which we ourselves have fallen. We can humbly help them faithfully live out the gospel in their contexts.
This, however, requires an accurate understanding of the interaction between culture and gospel . . .