Archive for the ‘next evangelicalism’ Category

In God’s Continent, Philip Jenkins examines the developments and changes occurring in the religious landscape of the European continent. The author has emerged as a key voice in the study of the growth of the church in non-Western settings. It could be argued that Jenkins has done more than any other American academic to bring into the mainstream of American thought, the reality of a changing global Christianity. Jenkins’ award-winning and highly-acclaimed work The Next Christendom serves as the most recognizable and broadly-received statement to the church of the reality of the changing face of Christianity.  Philip Jenkins currently serves as the Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of the Humanities at Penn State University and works in both the History and Religious Studies departments. Jenkins has dozens of books to his credit, many on the topic of global Christianity.

In God’s Continent Jenkins directs his attention towards the current state of religion in Europe. While the story of European Christianity has been well documented in church history books, God’s Continent explores the more recent developments in European religion.  Jenkins offers an alternative narrative to the dominant assumption that Islam is ascending in the context of an overly secularized, post-Christian Europe. The assertion that “Europe is acquiring much greater ethnic and cultural diversity is certain, but [for Jenkins] the religious implications are less clear” (14). “The core issue, then, is less the ethnic character of a future Europe than is religious tone, and that question remains very open” (19).

Jenkins explores three different threads to develop his examination of European religion. First, Jenkins examines the changes in European Christianity and challenges the assumption that the European continent has lost its Christian presence and has slipped into a deep and entrenched anti-religious secularism. Second, Jenkins focuses on the development of Islam in Europe and reveals a more complex picture of the presence of Muslims in Europe. Finally, Jenkins projects the future of religion in Europe and provides a more nuanced trajectory for European religion.

Similar to Jenkins’ previous works on global Christianity, God’s Continent contains statistical analysis (usually showing the numerical trends of decline and ascension in different areas of the world) and a future projection of potential conflict between emerging faiths (typically between Christianity and Islam). God’s Continent follows that pattern by tracing the changing demographics and statistics of European religion. Jenkins points to the decline of Christianity as evidenced by the declining number of baptisms and the plunging number of seminarians, while simultaneously emphasizing the rise of Islam.

Contrary to his previous works, Jenkins presents a more nuanced argument regarding the complex nature of European religion. While acknowledging the numerical decline of Christianity in Europe, Jenkins asserts that this decline is not a simplistic phenomenon. “In western Europe too, some incidents suggest that Christianity is less moribund than the formal statistics might suggest” (58). The sustaining of religion in Europe may surprise some because it runs against a simplistic application of secularization theory. “Contrary to widespread assumptions, then, rising Islam will not be expanding into an ideological or religious vacuum” (54).

Christianity in Europe has been subject to simplistic analysis and depicted as succumbing to a triumphant wave of secularism.  While there has been a notable decline of church participation, Jenkins notes that “falling levels of observance and church attendance cannot simply be equated with pure secularism, suggesting instead that people are ‘believing without belonging’” (64). Furthermore, the decline of Christianity in Europe could spur on new expressions of Christianity that may contain greater vibrancy. “In a minority setting, Christianity can restructure itself to serve the needs of a new society, demanding more commitment and involvement in some areas of life while acknowledging greater flexibility in others” (56).  Jenkins sees life in European Christianity by pointing towards the resurgence and revivalism among established Christians like the Anglicans, the growing strength of the Evangelical Alliance, and the growth of immigrant churches among Africans, Asians, and Latin Americans.

The strength of this contribution rests on Jenkins’ more nuanced argument regarding European Christianity. Jenkins presents a more layered perspective by presenting the resilience of Christianity in Europe. Jenkins believes not only in the survival of Christianity in Europe, but the potential resurgence of Christianity. Jenkins’ analysis, therefore, does not rely upon the heightening of conflict between Christianity and Islam. The weakness of this contribution hinges on Jenkins’ reversion to the confrontational language employed in his previous works. While acknowledging a more nuanced reality, Jenkins still employs potentially inflammatory language. His use of terms like “conflict” (when addressing the relationship between Christianity and Islam), “clashing values,” and “tension” does not offer a conciliatory posture.

As one of the more recognizable voices in the burgeoning story of world Christianity, Jenkins’ work on European Christianity should serve to sharpen our dialogue on the changing religious landscape of Europe. The hope is that this dialogue would not deteriorate into confrontational language. An ongoing key contribution of Jenkins could be the presentation of a religious reality that gestures towards a potential reconciliation between the different strains of religion that are emerging in Europe and throughout the rest of the world.

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Play along with me. If you had one million dollars to spend to help stimulate the economy, what would you do? What would I do?

Option 1:  Give the money to a billionaire, in the blind hope that the billionaire will pass along that million to his employees in some form. Or that he’ll spend it on a nice luxury product that (hopefully) will be an American product. Or that he won’t exercise the many loopholes that still exist and he’ll give that whole amount back to the U.S. government to spend. And of course, pray that the money won’t go into an offshore investment account somewhere in the Caribbean or Switzerland.

But what would Jesus do? What investments would Jesus make that I would want to make as well?

Option 2:

I’d like to invest a small part of that one million to provide food stamps for a struggling family. I’d want the nine year old in that family to have access to a healthy meal that could mean the difference between performing well in school and dropping out of school. Along the same lines, I’d want to invest a small part of that one million to make sure that my local school has free breakfast and free lunch for families in need. A student that has breakfast in the morning will outperform the student that goes hungry. A small investment for the future. Probably won’t pay off with rising housing prices before a President’s four year term is up.

I’d like to invest a small part of that one million in one of my students and give him a Pell Grant or a Federally subsidized student loan so that he can continue to pastor his inner city church while getting an education that will strengthen his ministry. As his ministry grows in impact, he will continue to raise more leaders from his inner city youth group. Those young leaders will impact the future of that inner city neighborhood. It is a long bet. But I know that my student’s long-term impact on his community can be strengthened with a solid education.

I’m even willing to invest a small part of that one million in a “foreign” investment. I would like to make sure that food and medical supplies are sent to places throughout the world that encounter catastrophic disasters. But not just investing in disaster, I’d like to invest in community development efforts that bring fresh water, sanitation, and hygiene. In the long run, this investment might prove to be a more shrewd investment than increasing the number of ships in our navy. If it came down to it, it would seem like an easy choice: a destroyer or food/medicine.

I’d like to invest a small part of that one million to make sure that my 80-year-old mother continues to get her prescription medication benefit. This investment is not for the future. But given all that she has done to secure my future, I can’t imagine denying her this small return on her immense contribution.

So my investment strategy is a diverse portfolio rather than betting it all on one fat cat. I would love to believe that the one million dollar investment in the billionaire’s benevolence would result in a deep and wide dispersion of that investment into many sectors of the American economy. But I am also a student of history and know where that story has taken us before.

The myth of trickle down economics is that a rising tide lifts all boats.  That’s true for those with luxury yachts and even sailboats. But the poorest of our communities and the very least of our brothers and sisters drown without safety nets. And I seem to remember my Bible telling me that whatever I’ve done to the very least of my brothers and sisters, I’ve done to Christ.

Every Christian needs to have read something by Andrew Walls. Even if it’s a portion of his writing, like the landmark article, “The Ephesian Moment.” I offer a review of one of his foundational works.

In The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History, Andrew Walls seeks to provide missiological and theological insight into the significant changes that have occurred in Christianity, particularly during the twentieth century. Walls’ primary intention is not to document or statistically verify the demographic changes in world Christianity, but instead, to focus attention on the ways that the ongoing cultural adaptation of Christianity contributes to these demographic changes.

Beginning with the historical event of the cross, Walls examines the sweep of church history.  Walls proceeds to reflect on the ongoing movement of God in the current context of world Christianity and emphasizes the cross-cultural, barrier-crossing nature of Christianity – a process that has endured for over two thousand years. The ongoing story of the Church relies upon the cross-cultural process of adaptation and transmission for its robust growth.

Walls’ thesis leads to an explication of the Ephesian moment in church history. Walls describes the Ephesian moment as the emergence of a new cultural expression of Christianity that is not an abrogation of an older expression, a syncretism with a newly encountered expression, nor a synthesis of the old with the new. “The very height of Christ’s full stature is reached only by the coming together of the different cultural entities into the body of Christ. Only “together,” not on our own, can we reach his full stature” (77).  For Walls, the ongoing crossing of cultures and the embodiment of Christ in different cultures is the fulfillment of the move of God in the church. “The Ephesian moment, then, brings a church more culturally diverse than it has ever been before; potentially, therefore, nearer to that ’full stature of Christ’ that belongs to his summing up of humanity” (81).

The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History is a landmark book in the study of missions and church history in the twentieth century. Walls successfully contrasts the 1910 World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh[1] with the subsequent changes in world Christianity. While the 1910 Edinburgh Conference anticipated the inevitable triumph of Western Christianity in the twentieth century, the actual history of twentieth century Christianity revealed a Christianity that went beyond the cultural boundaries of Western Christianity.  Instead, the twentieth century witnessed the expansion of Christianity fostered by cultural adaptation.

The strength of Walls’ argument lies in his ability to honor the work of Western missionaries in the 20th century, while simultaneously challenging the prevailing narrative of a triumphalistic Western missionary endeavor.  In short, Walls honors the legacy of 20th century Western missions, but at the same time, offers an alternative interpretation of Western missions and points the church towards a dynamic future. Walls demonstrates the positive theological outcomes of these demographic changes and places these changes in the context of a larger view of church history.


[1] Walls claims that the Edinburgh conference “was a landmark in the history of mission; . . . the high point of the Western missionary movement and the point from which it declined” (53).

When I was a 17 years-old-year Senior in High School, I was in several Advanced Placement courses. As the school year drew to a close, I wanted to take the AP test that would allow me to attain college credit. The AP tests, however, were very, very expensive. I went to my guidance counselor. She said that they could waive the fees for the exams if I qualified for the school’s free lunch program.

I had avoided the free lunch program for years. I had been on the free lunch program in elementary school and middle school but was always embarrassed by it. So when I got to high school, I didn’t apply for it. I picked up a part time job so I could pay for my own lunch. But now, I wouldn’t be able to take my AP exams if I didn’t fill out the free lunch program form.

So I agreed to fill out the form. Later that day, my guidance counselor sent a student aide with the form to my social studies class room, where in front of the entire class, she declared that I needed to fill out the free lunch form. I remember the shame of not only my classmates laughing at me that day, but my high school teacher bursting out in laughter as well.

My family was poor. My father abandoned our family when I was in elementary school, leaving my mom to raise four children by herself. I don’t know of many people that worked harder than my mom. She worked two jobs for many years to keep our family together. She worked in an inner city Baltimore sub shop (the kind of store with the thick plexi-glass barrier and the small turnstile to exchange money and food). After her ten-hour day shift, she would head over to the inner city nursing home to work the graveyard shift as a nurses’ aide. She would return home at seven in the morning to make us breakfast, grab a quick nap, before heading back to work at 10am. She worked nearly 20 hours a day, six days a week. She insisted on keeping the Sabbath holy and would reserve all day Sunday for service at our church. A devout Christian woman with an incredible work ethic.

Despite her long hours of work, she had trouble making ends meet. Our family lived in a small two bedroom apartment in a rough inner city Baltimore neighborhood. For long periods of time, there would be nothing to eat in our refrigerator. I tell my 11 year-old daughter who is coming dangerously close to being as tall as I am, that if I had had proper nutrition when I was her age, she would never be close to me in height.

So back in the 1980’s, my mom applied for food stamps. We used them to buy groceries and food. We needed this safety net to eat, to survive.

Years later, I remember sitting in an evangelical seminary classroom as a student in a Christian ethics class. The topic was government programs that helped the poor. I sat listening to the vitriolic venom spewed by these good Christian men about freeloaders and welfare queens. I sat in stunned silence listening to future pastors judging people they did not know — sitting in their seminary ivory tower casting dispersion on all these freeloaders.

A few weeks ago, North Park University (where I am now privileged to serve as a member of the faculty) sponsored a viewing of The Line, a short feature documentary produced by Sojourners. The film showed images of everyday poverty throughout American (apparently a topic that is taboo in Presidential politics). Seeing the courage of these individuals sharing their struggles emboldened me to share my story. So this tenured professor who holds four advanced degrees from two Ivy League institutions with a fifth advanced degree on the way, shared with a group of undergraduates that he had once been on food stamps. That I wouldn’t have made it through my education without government help – through food stamps, free lunches, Pell grants, and government-backed student loans.

So maybe my story makes me a part of the 47% that has grown dependent on government and would never vote for a self-made man. Maybe some will view me as the offspring of a welfare queen. Or maybe I fulfill a new political category tinged with racial overtones: the food stamp professor.

Or maybe my story makes me an American.

Let’s be clear. In a secular state, a candidate’s religion should not matter. Religious affiliation should not categorically eliminate any individual from holding public office in a secular state like the United States. Freedom of religion allows our civic society to survive.

However, I am becomingly increasingly disturbed by how much religion plays a dysfunctional role in our electoral politics. The co-opting of evangelicals by one political party has diminished the Christian prophetic voice. The converse of that trend would not help matters.

The open process of electing a public official such as the President is rife with a wide range of perspectives and opinions. When our faith influences our politics, it can have a powerfully positive effect — such as advocacy for the very least of these. Or it can lead to a warped sense of election — that one candidate is anointed and the other is to be demonized. It happens on both sides.

As a Christian and as an American citizen, I need to apply Biblical principles to my political choices, while at the same time, being careful not to force religious values upon a secular state. Specifically, I want to be careful not to elevate my high view of the United States to a form of idolatry. The conflation of American exceptionalism and American Christianity is a dangerous trend in American politics. It is an idolatry that must be challenged and confronted in Christian circles. There is an inherent danger when a nation sees itself as a chosen, exceptional people destined to be the hope and salvation of the world. This conviction carries over to other faiths. When Islamic jihadists justify violent actions in the name of God, it is also a misappropriation of religious faith.

So I cannot put aside my dis-ease and discomfort with Gov. Romney’s view of American exceptionalism. Gov. Romney closed out the third and final debate on Monday night with a disturbing statement that Christians MUST disavow. He said: “America is the hope for the world.” Even a cursory familiarity with Mormon theology would reveal that Mormonism holds to a high view of America as God’s chosen nation. America replaces Israel in Mormon theology. This perspective of American exceptionalism is also found in certain sectors of evangelicalism.

There is NO Biblical support for American exceptionalism. America is NOT the new Israel. America is NOT the hope for the world. When a nation positions itself as the hope of the world, all sorts of possible abuses arise. When a nation claims that it carries out its actions in the name of God, there are no checks to that nation’s actions. A nation can act in any manner that it wishes because it is blessed and ordained by God. It is a form of jihad.  Where any action can be justified because it is being carried out in the name of God. It is NOT a biblical worldview.

In Revive Us Again Joel Carpenter offers a picture of fundamentalism in the second quarter of the twentieth century that challenges the prevailing notion of a movement in retreat destined for extinction. While wounded, fundamentalists did not dissolve into the sea of secularization and modernity after the public confrontations of the 1920s, but grew in strength during subsequent decades. Carpenter depicts a robust fundamentalism that spent those decades regrouping and forming infrastructures of media, educational institutions, and para-church organizations. The successful engagement with the surrounding American culture made straight the path for a public resurgence in the 1950s.  Evangelicals in the latter half of the twentieth century inherited not only a theological conservatism, but also the surprisingly nimble cultural adaptability of fundamentalists. Carpenter offers a well written, thoroughly researched, and convincing narrative of a movement that took pride in its uncompromising separatism but ultimately flourished in the twentieth century because of its adaptability.

In the pursuit of establishing the fundamentalist roots of evangelicalism, Carpenter draws too straight a line connecting the two movements. Carpenter portrays the successful Graham revivals as having a direct link to the fundamentalism of the previous decades. The burgeoning evangelical movement in the 1950s owes a great debt to the foundational efforts of fundamentalism. However, Carpenter does not offer a clear distinction between fundamentalists and evangelicals, oftentimes using the two terms interchangeably. Carpenter diminishes the possibility that the evangelicalism that emerges in the second half of the twentieth century links to a longer thread that weaves together the Protestant Reformation, Puritanism, Pietism, Methodism, Pentecostalism, Holiness traditions and other expressions of American Christianity. What Carpenter characterizes as the re-insertion of fundamentalism into American life could be interpreted as the re-forming of fundamentalism into American evangelicalism.

North Park University presents the 2012 JUSTICE SUMMIT. This conference brings together theologians, teachers, students, and activists from across the country. Participants at this two-day event will learn how to engage people in ministries of compassion and mercy, challenge policies through advocacy and community organizing, and partner with programs and projects of community-based organizations for the sake of Christ and his kingdom.

Today’s schedule:
9am – Jim Wallis

10:30 – Workshops, including presentations by Curtis Evans (U. of Chicago), Tim King and Lisa Sharon Harper (Sojourners), Corey Brooks (the rooftop pastor), Dan Hodge (NPU’s Director of Youth Studies), David Byrd (Chicago Urban League).

NOON: Lunch forum/reception to learn about the NEW Urban Ministry Certificate Program (hosted by yours truly).

1:15pm: Judy Peterson (North Park University)

2:45: Workshops

7:00: Dr. Cornel West

It is not too LATE!  Register at the door.  Hope to see you there.

Come by to say hi at the Urban Ministry Certificate Launch at NOON (Carlson Building, Room 28)