Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Bible in the Global South: Important Voices for Missional and Emerging Churches

I have touched on the work of Philip Jenkins in the past on this blog as it relates to his discussion of the shift in Christendom from the global North to the South. The cultural and theological implications of this were also part of my Cornerstone yoU seminars. Jenkins recently made me aware of an article he has online reprinted from The Christianity Century, titled "Liberating word: The power of the Bible in the global South." In the article Jenkins touches on areas that should be of interest to Christians in any part of the globe, but are particularly important to those in the global North who are involved in missional churches and emerging churches. I have included some interesting quotes below.

Fifty years ago, Americans might have dismissed the conservatism of Christians in the global South as arising from a lack of theological sophistication, and in any case regarded these views as strictly marginal to the concerns of the Christian heartlands of North America and Western Europe. Put crudely, why would the "Christian world" have cared what Africans thought? Yet today, as the center of gravity of the Christian world moves ever southward, the conservative traditions prevailing in the global South matter ever more. To adapt a phrase from missions scholar Lamin Sanneh: Whose reading-whose Christianity-is normal now? And whose will be in 50 years?

Of course, Christian doctrine has never been decided by majority vote, and neither has the prevailing interpretation of the Bible. Numbers are not everything. But overwhelming numerical majorities surely carry some weight. Let us imagine a (probable) near-future world in which Christian numbers are strongly concentrated in the global South, where the clergy and scholars of the world's most populous churches accept interpretations of the Bible more conservative than those normally prevailing in American mainline denominations. In such a world, surely, southern traditions of Bible reading must be seen as the Christian norm. The culture-specific interpretations of North Americans and Europeans will no longer be regarded as "real theology" while the rest of the world produces its curious provincial variants-"African theology," "Asian theology" and so on. We will know that the transition is under way when publishers start offering studies of "North American theologies."

Only when we see global South Christianity on its own terms - as opposed to asking how it can contribute to our own debates- can we see how the emerging churches are formulating their own responses to social and religious questions, and how these issues are often viewed through a biblical lens. And often these responses do not fit well into our conventional ideological packages.

For a North American Christian, it can be a surprising and humbling experience to try to understand how parts of the Bible might be read elsewhere in the world. To do so, we need to think communally rather than individually. We must also abandon familiar distinctions between secular and supernatural dimensions. And often we must adjust our attitudes to the relationship between Old and New Testaments.

Jenkins is Professor of History and religious Studies at Pennsylvania State University. His new book, The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South, will be published in September 2006 by Oxford University Press.

1 comment:

Nate R. said...

I think this is so right on... It reminds me of when my wife and I were attending our undergraduate program at Colorado Christian University in Denver. We had the priveledge of interacting with a handful of other students from Ghana and Kenya. In fact, one of our professors was an adjunct professor that was a native of Kenya. I remember a striking conversation that my wife and I had with a lady from Ghana in a class one day. She was saying that they don't have medical insurance or go to the doctor much, and my wife said: "What do you do when you get sick?" and she replied, "Oh, we don't get sick." She said it so matter of fact that she was acting as if we were the ones that were way off theologically. And we (my wife and I) have thought so much about that over the years. In so many areas, it would be so much easier to be a part of a Christian community in another nation such as Ghana or Kenya or in any of a number of other 2/3 world nations. We have talked about how much easier it would be to put faith into practice there... For instance if our child were sick, we feel as if we could never withstand the scorn that we be heaped on us if we didn't take him immediately to the hospital...if in fact we could really do that...I'm not sure I could stand by and pray if something really tragic were in progress, I would immediately opt for an ambulance and pray later. But what if...what if we were in a community in Ghana with that woman and her would almost be the opposite...scorn would come for the opposite reason. I guess this is just one example of a small theological sliver of interpretation and praxis juxtaposed between the U.S. and an African nation...I don't know if this is really what the post is about...but I thought I'd offer this thought...

Nate R.