Lately I have been reading on “The New Christianity / Christendom” in preparation to write a conclusion for the fourth edition of Bruce Shelley’s popular book, Church History in Plain Language. Mark Noll has two wonderful books about the surge in Christianity’s numbers and vitality south of the equator. Most books on the subject observe how different the new Christianity is and how it will or should change first world Christians; in The New Shape of Christianity: How American Experience Reflects Global Faith Noll observes what believers from the global south share with American believers. His Clouds of Witnesses: Christian Voices from Africa and Asia with Carolyn Nystrom offers brief biographies that give personal character to this topic usually engaged with the necessary statistics, maps and charts.
Noll provides an imaginative notion of a Christian Rip Van Winkle who would awake to a Christianity he would hardly recognize. If I may personalize, a Rip who dozes off on the day of my birth in 1956 and awakes on my recent 56th birthday would see “the world turned upside down and sideways.” He would be shocked by the following items noted by Noll:
- Upon first dosing many feared that Christianity would be obliterated in China, but it is very possible that more people attended church this Sunday in China than in the all of “Christian Europe.”
- More Anglicans worshiped in Kenya, more in South Africa, more in Tanzania, more in Uganda, this Sunday than Anglicans in Britain and Canada combined with the Episcopalians in the United States.
- About half of the worshippers this Sunday in “London were African or African – Caribbean.”
- Great Britain is now a target of missionaries, 15 thousand missionaries mostly from Africa and Asia seek to minister currently (New Shape of Christianity, 19-21).
- Maybe more amazing still, we will see the day in the near future (months or years-not decades) when half of the all the Christians from all of history will be living, breathing, occupying the planet at the same time.
Many American believers share a typical impression that Christianity and religion generally are in decline and may give way as cultures grow more sophisticated – and indeed we have recently seen a rise in public impatience and intolerance toward Christianity; in reality, however, Christianity has never witnessed such a sweeping advance. The greatest changes in the composition of Christianity have occurred in my life. What a privilege to live during this remarkable and unprecedented expansion. We are humbled by the frequently dormant texture of much discipleship here; but we give thanks for signs of life here at home and winds of revival and transformation sweeping across the globe.Theologically, the one people of God comprised of believers from every nation seems more tangible that ever before.
R. L. Hatchett
Professor of Christianity and Philosophy