Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The New Faces of Christianity

The New Faces of Christianity by Philip Jenkins, 2006, Oxford University Press

I got this book for Christmas this past year. I wanted it because I really know nothing about the growth of Christianity in Africa and Asia, and I wanted to know more. While this book is not a history of Christianity's growth in the twentieth century, it is a survey of what African and Asian Christians generally believe, and how that differs with what is known as "Western Christianity," which is Christianity as defined by the mainline U.S. and European denominations.

The author does a very good job of laying out the ways in which the Bible, and especially the Old Testament, resonates with African and Asian Christians. Because they live in a less-advanced society, Old and New Testament stories that seem anachronistic to an American like me can have direct relevance to someone who spends their life in subsistence farming, lacking adequate government services and health care. For most Africans, their daily life doesn't differ much at all from New Testament times, so it seems more relevant to them. We in the West, with ~1500 years of Christian culturation, have also lost the newness and the shock that can come from the gospels, as what Jesus had to say is in many ways quite radical; we're just so used to it that we can't see it.

It isn't all good, though. The author also talks about some of the ways that Christian teachings have been mixed with native Confucian or pagan beliefs, and how the scriptures are sometimes highly mangled to try to make them fit pre-conceived notions. Nothing that we haven't seen before, of course, but a good counterpoint to the general feeling that African and Asian Christianity is truer to the actual written words of the Bible. Overall, this was a fine read, and both encouraging and thought-provoking in its protrayal of the growth of Christianity in other parts of the world.

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