01: Historians do not only look at the past, but at the future as well — a fact illustrated by Philip Jenkins’ new book, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (Oxford University Press, $28).
According to Jenkins, a professor of history and religious studies at Penn State University, the face of Christianity is changing and, in the 21st century, it will no longer center around the West: the center of gravity of Christianity is shifting southwards, and this trend will continue and grow, in part due to new demographic realities. Jenkins rightly emphasizes that concepts such as “the Third World” or “the South” actually cover very diverse cultural situations and historical experiences.
However, in general, the “next Christendom” that is already vibrant in the South can be expected to be more conservative both on theological and moral issues. And this will have an impact in the West as well: in Great Britain, at the end of the 21st century, White people will be a minority.
The developments in the South might however also lead to serious conflicts, especially between Muslims and Christians. In the meantime, for readers living in the West, Jenkins’ book is a refreshing contribution which warns against projecting Western realities when attempting to imagine the future. What remains to be seen are still unknown changes: for instance, will Pentecostalism (the fastest growing expression of Christianity) remain the same with third or fourth generation members in 50 years?
And will technological developments such as the Internet — which Jenkins does not take into consideration — also contribute to unexpected turns? Historians can indeed look at the future, but prophecy is more difficult.
— By Jean-François Mayer
02: The Future of Religious Colleges (Eerdmans, $30), edited by Paul J. Dovre, provides a wide range of analyses on how these institutions of higher education walk the tightrope in maintaining their Christian identities while providing quality education and participating in mainstream intellectual discourse.
The book’s 20 chapters suggests that concerns about maintaining a distinct identity in these colleges trouble a wide range of churches–from the more familiar struggles in Roman Catholicism to the evangelical Church of the Nazarene. A theme running through the book is how the different traditions each provide different philosophies and resources for higher education.
Particularly interesting is Mark Noll’s overview of religious colleges that includes a section on the neglected topic of evangelical colleges burgeoning outside the U.S.) and a chapter on the little known but vast network of black United Methodist colleges. These colleges are somewhat unique in mainline Protestantism, as they are undergoing revitalization and recommitment in support by their denomination.