The Coming of Global Christianity


Philip Jenkins

Oxford University Press, 2002, 269 pp.



Jenkins is a professor of history and religious studies at Penn State University.  This is an important secular study of the social impact of the growth and spread of Christianity.  Compared to other books about Christianity it has received much attention, largely because it projects instability and potential warfare in areas where Christianity and other religions are growing in close proximity.  The October 2002 issue of The Atlantic Monthly featured an interview with Philip Jenkins about this book.  37 pages of end notes!


Ch. 1.  The Christian Revolution

“We are currently living through one of the transforming moments in the history of religion worldwide.”  (1)  The Christian center of gravity has shifted to Africa, Asia, and Latin America (2)


“By 2050, only about 1/5 of the world’s 3 billion Christians will be non-Hispanic Whites.”  “The era of Western Christianity has passed within our lifetimes….”  (3)  “The emerging Christian world will be anchored in the Southern continents.”  (14)


“Nobody…has asked the crucial question of just what Western civilization means when what were once its critical religious aspects are now primarily upheld outside the ‘West.’”  (5)  Southern Christians are far more conservative in terms of both beliefs and moral teaching.  (7)


Growing from a handful to several hundred million, the Pentecostal movement is the most successful social movement of the past century.  (8)


“Whether Muslim or Christian, religious zeal can easily turn into fanaticism.  Such struggles might well provoke civil wars, which could in turn become international conflicts.”  “A worst-case scenario would include a wave of religious conflicts reminiscent of the Middle Ages, a new age of Christian crusades and Muslim jihads.”  (13)


Ch. 2.  Disciples of All Nations

“The whole idea of ‘Western Christianity’ distorts the true pattern of the religion’s development over time.”  The chapter reviews the history of Christian expansion, showing that it developed globally from the beginning.  “Even in those African and Asian regions subjugated by Islam, Christian loyalties survived for centuries.”  (20)  In the Middle East, “Arab Christians remained politically powerful until the rise of a new Muslim fundamentalism in the 1980s.”  (21)  Christianity has been in China as long as Buddhism in Japan or Christianity in England.  In the Middle Ages there may have been as many Christians in the Eastern states than in the Western states.  (23)


Westerners apologize for the Crusades but do not suggest that Muslims apologize for the aggressive acts that gave them power over these various lands in the first place.  Westerners have forgotten the once-great Christian communities of the Eastern world. (25)


“Up until the end of the eighteenth century, large-scale missionary efforts were strictly the preserve of the Catholic powers….”  (33)  “Undeniably, the Christian missions of this historical phase were intimately connected with political and imperial adventures, and Protestant and Catholic fortunes followed the success of the different empires.”  (34)  “For all the hypocrisy and the flagrantly self-serving rhetoric of the imperial age, the dedication of the missionaries was beyond question.”  And they did make important concessions to native cultures.  (36) 


“In 1800, perhaps one percent of all Protestant Christians lived outside Europe and North America.”  By 1900, that number had risen to 10 percent.  Today it’s about 2/3 of all Protestants and Catholics.  (37)


Ch 3.  Missionaries and Prophets

“Amazing as it may appear to a blasé West, Christianity exercises an overwhelming global appeal, which shows not the slightest sign of waning.”  (39)


“Many Westerners…see missionary Christianity as a kind of cultural leprosy.”  (40)  Novels, movies, journalism,  etc. often reflect the idea that missions are wrongheaded, inflicting prejudices of one culture on another.  Christianity is pictured as being less authentic, less valid and less desirable than the models it seeks to replace.  (Gives a number of examples) (40-42)


Why did Africans and Asians adopt Christianity?”  “One all-too-obvious explanation is that individuals came to believe the message offered, and found this the best means of explaining the world around them.”  Their convictions are illustrated by the many stories of zeal in the face of persecution.  (44)


The African independent churches represent one of the most impressive stories in Christian history.  These include a wide range of Africanized variants of European or American churches.  (51)


Ch. 4.  Standing Along

“Since the spread of Christianity had closely coincided with imperial expansion, it seemed certain that the fate of the religion would be affected by the breakup of the old European empires.”  The breakup process extended for about half a century after the Second World War.  The Soviet empire was the last great vestige of European colonialism, collapsing in 1991.  “Yet with a few exceptions, the new churches survived and flourished.” “ Just as Western colonialism ended, Christianity began a period of explosive growth that still continues unchecked, above all in Africa.”  (55-6)  “Whatever their image in popular culture, Christian missionaries of the colonial era succeeded remarkably.”  (56)


The countries with the largest number of Catholics are Brazil (137 million), Mexico (89 million), Philippines (61 million), the United States (58 million), and Italy (55 million).  “Catholic growth has been particularly dramatic in Africa, usually in former French and Belgian territories.  In 1995, there were 16 million Catholics in all of Africa.  Today, there are 120 million.  (58)


In 1940 Latin America had barely 1 million Protestants.  Since 1960 they have grown at a 6% annual rate.  Today there are about 10% or 50 million Protestants. (59)  Pentecostals account for 80-90% of the growth since 1950.  (61)  Third world Christianity is becoming steadily more Pentecostal.  (67)


There are almost twice as many Presbyterians in South Korea as in the United States.  (71)


The Muslim world continues to remain impervious to Christianity.  (72)


Much recent scholarship on Pentecostalism in Latin America stresses the sweeping changes that religious conversion can make in the lives of women and their families.  “In practical terms, the emphasis on domestic values has had a transformative and often positive effect on gender relationships….”  It means a significant improvement in the lives of poor women.  “Christianity is far more than an opium of the disinherited masses: it provides a very practical setting in which people can improve their daily lives.”  (75-6)


“For the foreseeable future, the characteristic religious forms of Southern Christianity, enthusiastic and spontaneous, fundamentalist and supernatural-oriented, look massively different from those of the older centers in Europe and North America.”  “In the coming decades, the religious life characteristic of those regions may well become the Christian norm.”  (78)


Ch. 5.  The Rise of the New Christianity

Southern nations are growing rapidly but Northern states are relatively static.  (80)  “The stagnation of Northern and particularly European populations will be one of the most significant facts of the twenty-first century.”  (81)  Ever larger portions of the world’s people will be living in the economically less advanced regions.  (84)  This will revolutionize global power balances and have an impact on the world’s religious structures.  (85) 


The author includes as “Christian” “someone who describes himself or herself as Christian, who believes that Jesus is not merely a prophet or an exalted moral teacher, but in some unique sense the Son of God, and the messiah.”  (88)   


“For all its evident secularization, Europe is still overwhelmingly Christian, and appears to remain the world center of Christianity.  This approach acknowledges that people often do retain a lingering cultural loyalty to a church label, even when actual religious involvement is nonexistent.”  (88)


The projected largest Christian communities in 2025:  U.S., Brazil, Mexico, Philippines, Nigeria, Zaire, Ethiopia, Russia, China, Germany.  (using U. S. government statistics) (90)


By mid-century there are likely to be more Christians in Uganda than Germany or Britain, perhaps more than the largest 4 or 5 European nations combined.  By 2050, the Philippines should be the 3rd or 4th larges number of Christians on the planet.  Today the Philippines has more Catholics than any individual European state and they are growing fast.  (91-2) 


“By 2050, there will be an ever-growing contrast between the age profiles of the global South and North, between the world of the young and very mobile and the world of the old and static.”   “In another epochal change, these urban centers will be overwhelmingly Southern.”  “The Southerners are also likely to be much more committed in terms of belief and practice.”  (93-4)


“A largely secularized First World confronts a rapidly growing ‘South’ in which religion thrives and expands.”  But many in the South are moving north.  “About half of London’s people are now non-White….”  (96)   


“Europe’s baby boom generation will begin to retire in 2010, and by 2020, the vast demands on social security could well crash fiscal systems across the Continent.”  “Southern peoples will face continuing pressures to move northward en masse, due to poverty and environmental catastrophe.” (“By 2015 nearly half the world’s population – more than 3 billion people – will live in countries that are ‘water-stressed.’”)  “Demographic changes naturally have their religious consequences, since the new immigrant groups follow cultural patterns more akin to their home societies than to the host nations.”  (97)


“Looking at the spread of mosques across urban Europe, it would be easy to believe that Islam might indeed be Europe’s future religion.  Yet a great many other European immigrants are Christian, and they raise the prospect of a revitalized Christian presence on European soil.”  “Currently, about half of all churchgoers in London are Black.”  (98)


“Far from what anyone foresaw at the time, the 1965 Immigration Act had vast consequences for American religion.  “…around half the congregations active today in the Boston-Cambridge area worship in languages other than English.”  “Today, around a third of the Black population of Massachusetts is foreign-born, with roots in the Caribbean or Africa itself, and this influx is suggested by a new wave of Black churches.  The whole concept of ‘African-American’ identity is in urgent need of redefinition.    (101)


The Hispanic presence has radically altered the nature of U.S. Catholicism.  About 70 percent of U.S. Latinos are Catholic, while 20 percent more are evangelical Protestants.  (101)


“For all the writing over the past decade or so on the enormous cultural and economic significance of the Pacific Rim region, few observers have note4d that this region would increasingly become a Christian Arc.”  “The Christian presence is powerfully evident in any Asian community in North America.”  (102)


“The U.S. is still substantially a Christian country.  The number of adherents of non-Christian religions in the U.S. is strikingly small, maybe 4-5%.  (103-4)


The number of Muslims in the U.S., is probably about 4 million or so, much less than the up to 8 million claimed.  Many Arab-Americans are in fact Christian.  “Any likely Muslim growth through immigration will be far exceeded by the continuing Christian influx from Africa, Asia, and above all, Latin America.”  “Christian predominance is likely to be still more marked in decades to come.”  (105)


Ch. 6. Coming to Terms

“The rising churches usually preach a strong and even pristine Christian message.”  “Another new ‘missionary century’ may dawn, although next time, the missionaries would be traveling northward.”  (108)


“The practice of healing is one of the strongest themes unifying the newer Southern churches…”  (124)


The Third World churches take the Bible very seriously indeed.  “…the apostolic world as described in the New Testament is not just a historical account of the ancient Levant, but an ever-present reality open to any modern believer, and that includes the whole culture of signs and wonders.”  (128)


It would be easy to write of these developments in a “supernatural, even credulous, way,” accepting that God is inaugurating a new era of sings and wonders to give Christianity a kind of rebirth.  “I am in no position to affirm or deny that miraculous quality, but solid secular reasons also go far in explaining the character of the rising churches.”  (135) [Gives a flavor of the author’s stance]


Ch. 7.  God and The World

Americans keep church and state separate, but such a distinction is incomprehensible in much of the world.  ‘Not only is Christianity flourishing in the Third World, but so are distinctively Christian politics.”  (142)  “It is not a vast leap from churches exercising political power to demanding an exclusive right tot that power, perhaps within the confines of a theocratic Christian state.  That assertion can offer a real provocation to non-Christian groups….”  (152)


“Christian growth raises potential political difficulties, and can on occasion lead to violence.”  (154)


“In some circumstances, surging religious zeal can lead to instability and bloodshed….”  (156) [I wonder if some of this chapter is a set-up, so he can demonstrate later what has occurred in the Muslim world without drawing the charge of intolerance.]


“Northerners are going to find themselves ever more out of touch with the religious dimensions that shape the new world, and literally unable to communicate with the new people of faith.”  (160)


“In one possible scenario of the world to come, an incredibly wealthy although numerically shrinking Northern population espouses the values of humanism, ornamented with the vestiges of liberal Christianity and Judaism.”  “Meanwhile, this future North confronts the poorer and vastly more numerous global masses who waves the flags…of ascendant Christianity and Islam.  …the have-nots will be inspired by the scriptures and the language of apocalyptic, rather than by the texts of Marx and Mao.  In this world, we, the West, will be the final Babylon.”  (160-61)


Southern Christianity will be interpreted through our cultural and racial stereotypes as “fanatical, superstitious, demagogic, politically reactionary and sexually repressive.”  (161)


“Despite its immense popularity in North America, evangelical and fundamentalist religion often tends to be dismissed as merely a kind of reactionary ignorance.”  “It would be singularly dangerous if such uncomprehending attitudes were applied on a global scale and then aggravated by racial stereotyping.”    “The North would be secular, rational, and tolerant, the South primitive and fundamentalist.  The North would define itself against Christianity.”  (162) [!!]


Ch. 8. The Next Crusade

“Religious loyalties are at the root of many of the world’s ongoing civil wars and political violence, and in most cases, the critical division is the age-old battle between Christianity and Islam.”  (163)


“The parochialism of Western public opinion is striking.  When a single racial or religious-motivated murder takes place in Europe or North America, the event occasions widespread soul-searching, but when thousands are massacred on the grounds of their faith in Nigeria, Indonesia, or the Sudan, the story rarely registers.  Come lives are worth more than others.  In addition, a kind of religious prejudice helps to explain the silence about nations like the Sudan.  Liberal Westerners are reluctant to appear anti-Muslim or anti-Arab, and doubly dubious about taking up the course of Third World Christians.”  (163-64)


“When Muslims and Christians fight in a Third World nation, the United States and Europe might well find that helping the Muslim cause promotes good relations with Middle Eastern oil producers, and that helps keep the oil flowing to Western ports.  Intervening on behalf of Christians, though, offers no advantage beyond the sentimental, and even that element will shrink as the West distances itself ever more from Christianity.”  (166)


“No less than 10 of the world’s 25 largest states in 2050 could be profoundly divided between Islam and Christianity, and judging by present trends, any or all of them could be the scene of serious interfaith conflict.”  (167)


“A number of European nations face huge disparities between very fertile immigrant groups and relatively static old-stock populations, and religious instability could easily result.”  (167)


“The fundamental question here is whether Islam and Christianity can coexist.”  “Islam is after all the only one of the major religions that enshrines in its scriptures a demand to tolerate other religions, other ‘peoples of the book.’”  “Jesus is, apart from Muhammad, the greatest prophet of Islam.”  “When in the 1980s, the controversial film ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ was felt to portray Jesus in an unflattering light, Western Christians organized public protests, but it was only Muslim states that actually banned the work.”  (168)


“Undeniably, modern Christians have committed their share of atrocities.”  “In recent years, though, the pattern of religious conflict has shifted decisively.  In the world as a whole, there is no question that the threat of intolerance and persecution chiefly comes from the Islamic side of the equation.”  (170)


“Over the past twenty years, the Muslim world has been caught up in a massive religious revival, and this movement has expressed itself in calls for pure religious states upheld by the full apparatus of Islamic law.  Perhaps this idea appeals to people afraid of losing their cultural identity in the face of globalization, or else it might seem to offer a solution for the desperately poor in a world dominated by the wealthy and callous West.  If these explanations are correct, then social trends are likely to lead to much greater support for Islamic extremism.”  (170)


“But whatever the reasons, inter-religious violence in recent years tends to be initiated by Muslims against Christians, and that trend is unlikely to change.”  (171)


“What is most disturbing about the Sudanese experience is that it shows how, in the new religious climate, existing non-Muslim minorities can be reduced or even eliminated.  The same bitter lesson may be in progress in…Egypt, the home of the ancient community of Coptic Christians.”  (172)


The religious fate of Nigeria could be a political fact of immense importance in the new century.  (175)  “As in Nigeria, the question for Indonesia is whether this vast emerging regional power is to continue as a multiethnic, multi-religious nation, or if it is to become a purely Muslim state.  Like Indonesia, the Philippines will soon be one of the Pacific Rim’s most populous states, and here too, recent events raise doubts about the possibility of coexistence.”  (177)


“The most disturbing feature of contemporary Christian-Muslim conflicts is how very commonplace they have become, ho unremarkable.   …too widespread to report…”  “Islam is becoming the defining force in politics in Malaysia and in Indonesia…. The pluralistic days are over in Southeast Asia.” (quoting an analyst) (177)


“Similar breakdowns have occurred across Africa, often in places where five or ten years ago no observer would have foreseen religious conflicts.”  (178) 


“Just how inevitable Muslim-Christian conflict is becoming is now, for the first time, a serious question in much of Europe….  In France Muslim North Africans make up a large proportion of the underclass youth who have so often clashed with police in urban rioting since the 1980s.”  (179)


“Christian expansion also threatens to provoke violent reactions from the two other largest world religions, Hinduism and Buddhism….”  (182)  “The case of Hinduism is critical since India, still home to most members of that faith, will soon surpass China in population.”  (182)  “Hinduism in India suffers from massive internal tensions, which could conceivably threaten the future of the religion.”  “It is baffling why a Western world that committed itself so utterly to the plight of Black South Africans under apartheid is so ignorant of the comparable maltreatment of India’s far more numerous Dalits.  This is, simply, the largest single case of continuing institutional injustice in the world today.”  (183)


“…over the next forty or fifty years, Buddhism will be struggling to revert to its historic position as the religion of East and Southeast Asia.”  (185)


“As populations grow in the regions of most intense religious conflict, issues of faith will increasingly shape secular politics, domestic and international.”  (185)


“The net result of the Allied intervention (during the Yugoslav crisis) was a massive advance of Muslim power and militancy within southeastern Europe, at the expense of ancient Christian communities.  At the same time, the oppressed Christians of the Sudan were receiving no support from NATO, or any Western or Christian entity.  Even mainstream Western churches were unwilling to be too forthright in denouncing persecution.”  (186)


“Border tensions will be very high in regions in which young and expanding populations confront older stagnant nations inhabiting vast geographical spaces.”  (186)  “Australian governments have long been nervously aware of the booming Indonesian population just to their north.”  “Russians could find themselves in the position of Christian minorities within strict Muslim states.”  (187)


“If we look at the most populous and fastest-growing states across the South, we often find Christian and Muslim states standing next to one another, and close to other countries sharply split between the two faiths.  Curiously, too, religious minorities are disproportionately likely to reside in areas of rich natural resources, (187-88)


“We can imagine a future in which Muslim and Christian alliances blunder into conflict….”  (188)


“Some of the likely winners in the religious economy of the new century are precisely those groups who have a strongly apocalyptic mindset, in which the triumph of righteousness is associated with the vision of a world devastated by fire and plague.”  “The situation could become so sensitive that a global catastrophe could be provoked by the slightest misjudgment –just like 1914.”  (189-90)


Ch. 9. Coming Home

A fundamental issue:  How will the global North change in response to the rise of a new global Christianity?  Will its religious character remain Christian, perhaps with a powerful Southern cast?  Or will it entirely lose its Christian character?”  (191)


“While traditional Christianity is weakening in large sections of the North, it is indeed being reinforced and reinvigorated by Southern churches, by means of immigration and evangelization.  And the Christianity spread by such means has a predictably Southern cast, conservative and charismatic.  How this process develops over the coming century is enormously significant, not just for the future shape of religious alignments, abut also for political history.”  (192)


Ch. 10.  Seeing Christianity Again for the First Time [best chapter]

“In an ideal world, Christians and Muslims, Catholics and Pentecostals, would be engaged in a friendly rivalry as to who could best help the poor, without thought of who was gaining the greatest numbers and influence.”  (212) [Does this give us insight into the author?]


“For whatever reason, Western investment in missions has been cut back dramatically at just the point it is most desperately needed, at the peak of the current surge in Christian numbers.” (213)


“For the average Western audience, New Testament passages about standing firm in the face of pagan persecution have little immediate relevance….  “Millions of Christians around the world do in fact live in constant danger of persecution or forced conversion, from either governments or local vigilantes.”  (218)


“Looking at Christianity as a planetary phenomenon, not merely a Western one, makes it impossible to read the New Testament in quite the same way ever again.”  (220)


“Christianity is flourishing wonderfully among the poor and persecuted, while it atrophies among the rich and secure.”  (220)


“Christianity is never as weak as it appears, nor as strong as it appears.  And whether we look backward or forward in history, we can see tat time and again, Christianity demonstrates a breathtaking ability to transform weakness into strength.”  (220)