The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South
Over the last few years Philip Jenkins, Professor of Religion at Penn State, has made a name as one of the best observers of global Christianity. In 2002 his The Next Christendom revealed to many for the first time that Christianity is changing radically. Not because of liberalism but because its center of influence is leaving the North Atlantic to Africa, South America and Asia. This was an eye opening read. In his follow up work, The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South, Jenkins investigates just how these Christians read and understand the Bible.
New Faces is a great book. It is valuable for many reasons. First it will introduce many to a world they never knew existed. Second it challenges us North American Christians to ask some serious soul searching questions like "Can I even 'hear' the Bible in an affluent and modern culture?" Musimbi Kanyoro, an African leader, says "Those cultures which are far removed from biblical culture risk reading the Bible as fiction." The issue of culture comes up repeatedly in this small volume (200 pages of text). Jenkins writes,
"For many such readers, the Bible is congenial because the world it describes is marked by such currently pressing social problems as famine and plague, poverty and exile, clientelism and corruption. A largely poor readership can readily identify with the New Testament society of peasants and small craftsman dominated by powerful landlords and imperial forces ... (p. 68)
Can the North American Christian learn something about how to read the Bible from a believer in Africa that has not been scared by Modernism or the Enlightenment? It is fascinating to see that for African Christians the "Old Testament" has such an important place. It is also interesting to see how salvation is seen to encompass so many more things than what many Evangelicals think. It is enlightening to see how seriously they take things like demon possession and other parts of the biblical story that seem to be dismissed by American Christians. It is eye opening to see how folks in a society intensely concerned about ritual purity hear the Gospels. It is, in the end, humbling to see how the Bible is read in places where Christianity is exploding.
There is no doubt that this book will challenge many. But it might help us be able to look at the biblical text afresh ... with "new eyes" and hear things we never heard before. And it is always good to wrestle with the question of how social location impacts our reading (i.e. hermeneutical approach) of the Bible.
I want to recommend this fascinating work to all my blog readers. It is well written and heavily researched ... and as I said well written. It is full of anecdotes from Africa and Central America that are anything but dry. I think Jenkins has done us an immense favor in both Next Christendom and New Faces by forcing American Christians to see that the world, even the Christian world, does not revolve around them. Interestingly enough he just may have given us a tool to help us see the Scripture with greater clarity than before. I think you will be blessed through reading this work and I think you will ask lots of hard questions. All good things.