Periodical Reviews -- By: Robert D. Ibach, Jr.

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 160:637 (Jan 2003)
Article: Periodical Reviews
Author: Robert D. Ibach, Jr.

Periodical Reviews

by the Faculty and Library Staff of
Dallas Theological Seminary

Robert D. Ibach


“The Next Christianity,” Philip Jenkins, Atlantic Monthly (October 2002): 53-68.

Perhaps this finely crafted, trenchant analysis of one of history’s most far-reaching shifts of power will be the impetus for Western church leaders, politicians, and financial institutions to look beyond their self-imposed horizons of self-interest and see a phenomenon they can ill afford to ignore much longer. The world is not just changing; it has already changed in ways few, if any, in the West fully appreciate.

The dynamic engines of change in most of the world bear little resemblance to the geopolitical and economic issues that shape public opinion, and by extension, public policy in North America. The decisive forces for change in the world today are religious, deeply felt spiritual allegiances that transcend nations. Surely the attacks on America on September 11, 2001, brought Islam and the problems of Islamic fundamentalism into the public eye. But it is Christianity, not Islam, that enjoys the most dynamic growth rate and scope of influence of any religion worldwide. Jenkins insightfully predicts, “In its variety and vitality, in its global reach, in its associations with the world’s fastest-growing societies, in its shifting centers of gravity, in the way its values and practices vary from place to place—in these and other ways it is Christianity that will leave the deepest mark on the twenty-first century” (p. 54).

The so-called Christian West is not leading the charge in Christianity’s worldwide growth, for Christianity in Europe, Oceania, and North America annually loses a portion of its percentage of the world’s Christians. Meanwhile the Christian populations of Africa, Asia, and Latin America explode with a dynamism of growth that amazes the materialistic and secularized West. Jenkins complains, “I suspect that most see Christianity very much as it was a century ago—a predominately European and North American faith” (p. 68). Evangelicals can no longer afford to make that mistake.

The power of Jenkins’s interpretation of the demographic realities noted above lies in his provocative comparison of the current shifts in thinking and power in Christianity with the sweeping changes brought about through the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation. Using the ubiquitously intoned litany of sex scandals continuing to embarrass Roman Catholic leaders and enrage Western Catholic laity, Jenkins notes that calls for change in Catholic polity and theology are interpreted by

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