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.


Easter Ninja?

Posted: January 24, 2013 in Uncategorized

A quick blog update about Easter Ninja.

My initial concern for the conference reflects my previous concerns about evangelical authors, publishers, conferences, and churches misappropriating Asian culture in stereotypical ways. I have stated my concerns about this pattern in my books and in numerous blogs. I am so tired of dominant culture “using” another’s culture to promote a marketing agenda. Other cultures do not exist for dominant culture to exploit and stereotype. That is not God’s intention for culture. I see this as a larger problem of evangelicalism’s inability to properly engage other cultures in a healthy and appropriate way. In other words, my concern is not just one conference or one publisher, but a problematic ethos in American evangelicalism. I am truly sorry that my attempt to raise a problem within evangelicalism would disproportionately effect individuals, in this case, the organizer of this conference.

I had a great conversation with the organizer of the conference a few nights ago. I appreciated his willingness to engage this issue. I appreciate his explanation of the use of the theme and the use of the images. I understand his assertion that “ninja” has moved beyond a specific cultural expression in American culture. I have heard kids talk about ninja skills without necessarily connecting it to Asian culture. I can understand where the use of that term could have no specific cultural reference, maybe most evident among kids and teens. (Whether adult conferences geared towards pastors should use terms that make the most sense to kids and youth is another matter, but not an issue of racial justice).

I think my concern was that not only was the phrase employed, but that the images that went along with the phrase reflected stereotypes and racially and culturally-tinged images. Towards that end Bob has agreed that the images may be sending the wrong messages (unintended as they may be) and is willing to re-work those images so that they do not evoke racially and culturally insensitive stereotypes. My gratitude towards Bob for his willingness to do this for the sake of Christian unity.

I am aware that Bob definitely received blowback from previous issues that seemed to be reflected in his conference.  I.e. – previous issues with Deadly Viper and with Lifeway clearly heightened the level of ire over the images used for this conference.  But that history is not in Bob’s control or purview. I was particularly upset that Lifeway (which never publicly apologized for their actions over a decade ago) would continue in this vein. So my sincerest apologies for not making a clear distinction between past history and present issues and how that blew back on one particular individual. That’s a fine line we Christians need to continue to work through, particularly in the realm of race relations, but that’s another issue for another time.

Bob and I agreed to disagree about the bringing of this issue to the public forum. I continue to contend that a public sin needs to be addressed publicly. This has been a question raised in previous issues as well. If someone has an issue with a public action I put forth, such as the writing of a book or the creation of a website, I believe that offense can and should be addressed in public. For example, because my books are in the public realm, I have no problem with a opposing review in a public forum. If I make a website that reflects a deep offense, I believe it is appropriate for that  issue to be addressed publicly. Otherwise, we revert to back room conversations and never learn from each other.

I am learning from this public issue.

I am learning that Twitter has a particular role different from Facebook and from blogs. I always assumed that blogs were the places to start protests, not Twitter. Twitter was for silly soundbites and quick throw away lines. I prefer blogging to really unpack what I want to say, not a 144 character message.

I am learning that I need to be clear about my distinction between guilt and shame. Guilt operates in the individual personal realm and leads to individual change. Shame operates in the corporate, public realm and should lead to systemic transformation. Guilt should be felt by the individual, shame should be experienced by the community. My first two books both have sections on Western guilt and non-Western shame.

If this blog post seems disjointed and somewhat incoherent, my apologies. I’m a bit swamped with several projects with imminent deadlines and am writing this post on the fly.

Let me say up front that I am pro-life, which is not a popular position right now. But I believe that the Scripture calls us to advocate for all life. However, I am deeply disappointed in those that are supposedly leading this charge in our common political life. And I am deeply disappointed in those of us who have bought into a miracle strategy that has disappointed us for the last thirty years. So I offer my take on the miracle strategy against abortion as offered by the religious right for the last thirty years.

Find a candidate for President who is pro-life. He must be a pure pro-life candidate who is singularly dedicated to overturning Roe vs. Wade or at least offer up the rhetoric that he would be dedicated to this task. He must not waver (from now on) in this one quest. We must ignore all other elements of the candidates’ policies and ignore numerous unbiblical aspects of his platform.

Get that candidate to win his party’s nomination. Even if (see above) you end up supporting unbiblical aspects of the candidates’ platform. Eventually we may actually like some of these policies.

Next, get that candidate to win the national election. Be sure to demonize the opposing party’s candidate by any means necessary to get your pro-life candidate elected. One potential side effect: we may end up supporting a campaign financing structure that completely destroys and undermines the democratic process.

Once that President is in office, wait for a death. Or more realistically, multiple deaths. We will need at least one, most likely two Supreme Court justices to die. And it has to be the right Supreme Court justices that die. Not one of the ones we like.

Bring the right nominee for the Supreme Court. He must be someone who is unequivocally pro-life and committed to overturning Roe v. Wade. At the same time, there can be no indication in any of his rulings that he is pro-life because that would derail his candidacy. Pray that he is an activist judge (i.e. – willing to change the law of the land from the bench on issues like abortion and health care) but at the same time a non-activist judge (unwilling to change the law of the land from the bench on issues regarding civil rights).

Wait for the right court case to come along that makes its way through the entire federal court system in a timely fashion, before the makeup of the court changes. So this time, we’re NOT praying for a death, at least not the death of one our judges. Be sure to elect the right President to a second term so that the court’s makeup doesn’t change again.

When the right court case comes along, pray that it is worded and framed in just the right way so that it is able to overturn Roe v. Wade. We must also pray that none of the justices have shifted in their thinking or that they may actually want to adjudicate the law rather than make the law. (Thanks a lot Justice Roberts for acting upon your judicial morals rather than politicking from the bench).

Make sure that Congress will not create any new laws that would undermine the SCOTUS decision. So now we must work in every state to insure that the right candidates get elected into office, even if that means we continue to tolerate unbiblical values in the government.

Essentially, this approach has been our strategy for the last thirty years. How has it worked so far?

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.