This is a review and application of The Next Christendom by Philip Jenkins for my Church History class. I am writing this out of discerning my next steps after seminary but also gently holding what this conversation opens up for us in the next 50 years of Christianity. Come explore this topic with me. I’ve briefly skimmed the top.
According to Jenkins, over the last 100 years Christianity has drifted away from Westernized countries has spread to the global “South” of Asia, Africa, and Latin America (including Central and South America). Christianity has risen and will continue to grow in these areas due to the stability of the church during massive societal instability, evangelization of missionaries, and integration into existing traditional and spiritual cultures. Most importantly, the South is and will continue to become the future of Christianity as the faith continues to decline in the West. Westerners must embrace the South as the embodiment of Christianity and learn the cultural and spiritual practices of the South.
Southern culture helped spread Christianity due to traditional values and emphasis on spirituality. Values such as “honor, fealty, seigniorial rights, and acknowledging the proper claims of lordship” are highly important and ingrained in culture. Thus, God filled the role of feudal Lord and traditional values resulted in dedication to Christian belief and practice. The traditional value of family life, leading to population growth, laid the fodder for the faith to rise. In addition to traditional cultural values, there existed an underlying current of “enthusiastic and spontaneous, fundamentalist and supernatural–oriented” expressions of previous religions, such as Buddhism or tribal religions. One may call this the generic though oft-used term “spirituality.” Certainly, this could drift into syncretism and outside the streams of Christianity orthdoxy. But that’s not what has happened everywhere. These expressions, ingrained in culture and integrated with traditional values, resulted in Southern Christianity as a “deep personal faith and communal orthodoxy, mysticism, and puritanism, all founded on clear scriptural authority.” Ultimately, this became a new global hybrid of Catholicism and Pentecostalism: charismatic Catholics.
So what does this mean?
Ok. Really. Truly. Sit down. Let’s talk about this.
I’ve been considering charismatic Catholicism.
Both Catholicism and Pentecostalism are the new Christianity in the South. Those will be the two dominant expressions of global Christainity in the next 50 years.
This semester, I took Church History along with Theological Tensions (we discuss major questions and heresies in the church from the 1st century on) and it has brought me intentional reflection toward my future involvement in the evangelical or non-denomination churches. I dislike that non-denominational churches have no rails; it can become based on the personality or knowledge of one to two people. This is alarming when I consider the breadth and depth of the two millennia of church history tradition and compare it to the breadth and depth of one to two people in an evangelical church. Just the writings of mystics alone (*cough* that Protestants ignore…but are, notably, bringing back into the church) would cause me to reconsider Catholicism. It also concerns me that a church with no connection to any tradition could fall apart because one leader leaves. Certainly, the church can grow and make new decisions, such as the Catholic church considering ordaining gay clergy, and I agree with change through intentional, prayerful and communal reflection. Spiritual Direction is being revisited in non-denom churches as an incredibly valuable tool for believers to wisdom from a spritiual mentor in a prayerful, reflective space. Again, Catholic tradition and absolutely beautiful. There is also an inherent beauty to tradition that pulls me toward Catholicism in the liturgy and in the architecture versus the oddly prison-like resemblance of evangelical worship spaces.
My personal barrier to conversion of Catholicism lies in their doctrines and theology. I struggle with how they experience the Holy Spirit (or lack thereof) and Marianism. A hierarchical gender structure (i.e. absence of egalitarianism) is huge-huge-huge concern for me. Egal. reflects the heart of God and how he wants to be in friendsihp with us. Beautiful-beautiful gospel. What’s not beautiful is that we’ve created gender hierarchies instead of listening to God’s heart. Because Adam was made first, he gets first dibs (or ribs, HA!) on dominating his “other half” of a gender. How do you dominate your other half? How do the legs dominate the arms? We need to reconsider Genesis as a metaphorical creation story. AND we take Old Testament and New Testament out of societal-cultural context and try to copy/paste their cultures on top of our own. Doesn’t work. All denominations have a muddy and bloody past; yeah Catholics have done some violent things and, not surprisngly, so have Protestants. That’s not a huge blocker but I am grieved about both. But, consider our trajectory and where we are headed too.
Thus, if Catholicism were to become more charismatic and if Pope Francis decides to ordain women, I would absoultely reconsider Catholicism for myself.
What about the charismatic piece?
I rarely meet a denominationally-associated Christian who is genuinely excited about attending church. Yet every Pentecostal that I meet absolutely adores her church; there is something beautiful about a believer wanting to go to church and feeling the hole in her week if she misses a service. I want to be a part of that expression. In light of learning more about Southern Christianity, perhaps I should consider moving to the Southern hemisphere so I can be among Pentecostal Christians who are actually excited about their faith instead of Western somniferous denominations.
Add charismatics to the mix of liturgy and tradition (Catholicism) and you get charismatic Catholicism.
Let’s wrap it up
Christians need to consider Christianity as a primarily global and newly Southern religion, not a Caucasian Western religion. This will undoubtedly create tension, like basing an independent church on one personality or drifting outside the streams of orthodox Christianity through enculturation. But Southern Christianity, as the new face of the faith with traditional cultural values integrated with deeply spiritual lives, will spread belief to all parts of the globe and will provide hope to the poor, sick and displaced. The spread of Christianity to the South and different expressions of Christianity are “no mirror image of the Old, it is a truly new and developing entity – just how different from its predecessor remains to be seen.”
Jenkins, Philip. The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, 3d ed. New York City: Oxford University Press, 2011.