JENKINS, Philip "The Next Christianity," Atlantic Monthly, October 2002.

by Robert Brow  (

In this very valuable article Jenkins refers to vast demographic changes which are impacting the world-wide church and Roman Catholics in particular. "By 2025 almost three quarters of all Catholics will be found in Africa, Asia, and Latin America." And there are more baptisms (infant) in the Philippines than "the totals for Italy, France, Spain, and Poland combined."

Things are also changing rapidly among Protestants. In England, "half of all churchgoers are now black." And black religion is very different. "Nigeria already has more practicing Anglicans than any other country, far more than Britain itself, and Uganda is not far behind."

I am not qualified to check these figures, but I am encouraged by the fact that by 2025 Christianity will be "by far the world's largest faith" Even if one tenth of these are "true believers," the figures are astonishing (the proportion of true believers in all religions is likely to be about the same).

The problems is that Jenkins confuses his evaluation of what is happening by using the category of reformation. He is correct in saying that what began when Martin Luther nailed his theses to the Wittenberg door "touched everything. It altered not just the practice of religion but also the nature of society, economics, politics, education, and the law."

Protestants may think that it was a reformation to brings things back to the faith of the early church. But Jenkins points out the huge changes also took place in the Counter Reformation. Better describe these changes as the result of a model shift, or rather several model shifts (new visions, ways of looking, paradigms). And model shifts occur continuously in the lives of individuals and religious organizations all over the world.

If an individual wants to give an explanation for his or her religion or ideology we can analyze its structure as an explanatory model, name it, and then see where it fits in a natural history of the various species of religion and ideology (set out in God of Many Names 3 & 4). We can also look at the authorized explanatory model of a religious body such as the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Evidently the explanations given by individuals and the religious bodies they belong to may remain similar for a time. But they can also vary immensely, as they did in the period of the Renaissance and Reformation. And that is happening now.

Anglicans are used to the fact that the explanatory models used by their members differ in many ways from the 39 Articles (now relegated to history). How many Presbyterians would give the Westminster confession as an explanation of their faith? Many evangelical ministers are very uneasy with the explanations required by their denomination. Most educated Hindus have long dumped the explanations given their Brahmin priests. Marxism in Russia collapsed when a vast majority of signed up Communist party members rejected materialism and preferred the Orthodox religious explanations.

And the current crisis in Islam is that millions of people want to call themselves Muslims, but they are completely out of tune with the explanatory models given by their Mullahs. There are Wahhabi fundamentalists who want to go back to jihad and shari'a, but that is not at all what educated Muslims in Egypt, Iraq, Algeria, Iran, and North America have in mind. Many in Saudi Arabia are "mosque Christians" but if they said so they would beheaded in the main square of Riadh.

What seems to concern Jenkins is that among Christians the theological balance has changed. "Christianity is not only surviving in the global South, it is enjoying a radical revival, a return to scriptural roots." There is now a "Third Church" (a term coined by Walbert Buhlman) of "480 million in Latin America, 360 million in Africa, and 313 million in Asia, compared with 260 million in North America." The explanatory model of most individuals among them is "expressed in the New Testament : a vision of Jesus as the embodiment of divine power, who overcomes the evil forces that inflict calamity and sickness upon the human race." Their mainline denominational leaders may have learned Bultman's demythologizing in seminaries in the west, but they had better keep quiet about that in their preaching.

Jenkins quotes the liberal Catholic writer James Carroll: "world Christianity is falling increasingly under the sway of anti-intellectual fundamentalism." He adds that "the Catholic faith that is rising rapidly in Africa and Asia looks very much like pre-Vatican II faith." If Francis Cardinal Arinze of Nigeria became the next pope, it would suit Pope John Paul II perfectly, and Roman Catholic liberals in the west would eat very sour grapes.

What does Jenkins very helpful description of these changes imply for our seminaries? I suggest that Bultmann and Crossan type historical reconstruction are irrelevant. The explanatory model (some say models) of the New Testament writers must be studied very clearly. The power of the Holy Spirit to bring a church into being and animate it as body with many spiritual gifts is basic to ecclesiology. Comparative religion must move from museum history to the explanatory models that motivate individuals. And what we need to learn from church history is how these models eventually impact our denominations

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