Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom; The Coming of Global Christianity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002)
A little over twenty years ago David Barrett published his book World Christian Encyclopedia (1982; 2002) that documented a growing change in Christianity’s center of gravity. After flourishing around the Mediterranean perimeter, Christianity was overtaken by Islam by the eighth or ninth century. For the next millennium, Christianity migrated to Europe. Now, with Philip Jenkins’s new book, we can say with confidence that yet another massive shift has occurred in Christianity, away from the wealthy and primarily white regions of the northern hemisphere, to the poor and non-white regions of the southern hemisphere.
Here in the wealthy west believers wrangle over gay rights, the role of women in ministry, declining membership in mainline denominations, increased secularity (at least by some measures), clergy celibacy and the like. But a counter reformation of sorts has already occurred among poor believers in the south, says Jenkins. Their orientation is theologically and socially conservative, with unapologetic belief in the supernatural, healing, exorcisms and so on. With so many failed states and dysfunctional governments in these parts of the world, the leaders of these ascendant Christian movements have gained increased power and prestige.
This upsurge of conservative Christianity runs counter to so much of the modern west, but according to demographics, in the case of the Gospel the modern west might matter less and less. In 1900 Africa was about 10% Christian; today about 46% of the population is Christian. In fifty years, half of the world’s Christian population will be in Africa and Latin America, and only about 20% of believers will be non-Latino whites. A Nigerian pope? It might only be a matter of time. If you cannot read his book length version, Jenkins has an abbreviated version of his research in the Atlantic Monthly (October 2002), pages 53–68.