By Ed Vitagliano
| AFA Journal News Editor
It was a strange headline that appeared two years ago in The London
Times: Christianity Almost Beaten in Britain, says Cardinal.
The stunning statement was made by the Archbishop of Westminster,
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-OConnor, when he addressed a gathering
of Roman Catholic clergy in England in 2001.
And who could blame him for his pessimism? Christianity in the West
appears to be in the process of retreating everywhere under the
advancing assault of secularism and New Age spirituality.
What should encourage believers everywhere, however, is a phenomenon
that is developing, for the most part, outside the notice of much
of the Western press. In what is called the Global South
Africa, Latin America and Asia Christianity is growing
in staggering fashion, promising in the next 50 years or so to eclipse
the West as the spiritual home of the faith.
This is not what Western elites in the media or on college and university
campuses thought was happening. For over a century, the coming
decline or disappearance of religion has been a commonplace assumption
of Western thought, and church leaders have sometimes shared this
pessimistic view, says Philip Jenkins, distinguished professor
of history and religious studies at Pennsylvania State University,
in his book, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity.
That secularists expected the demise of Christianity is not hard
to understand. After all, they viewed that faith as a Western religion,
and Jenkins admits that [u]ntil recently, the overwhelming
majority of Christians have lived in White nations
If Christianity were mainly a religion of the peoples of Europe
and North America, as secularists have always thought, then Jenkins
says it made sense that the growing secularization of the
West [could] only mean that Christianity is in its dying days.
However, a strange thing has been happening: rather than dying,
Christianity has spread in unexpected ways. Mark Hutchinson, chairman
of the church history department at Southern Cross College in Australia,
says that what many pundits thought was the death of the church
in the 1960s through secularization was really its relocation and
rebirth into the rest of the world.
Jenkins says, We are currently living through one of the transforming
moments in the history of religion worldwide.
The era of Western
Christianity has passed within our lifetimes, and the day of Southern
Christianity is dawning.
The numbers boggle the mind. In Africa in the year 1900, for example,
there were approximately 10 million Christians on the continent.
By 2000, the number had grown to 360 million.
The Anglican Communion is a perfect example of this worldwide trend.
Whereas in its U.S. branch the Episcopal Church membership
has declined over the last 40 years to 2.3 million, in Uganda alone
there are more than 8 million Anglicans.
Worldwide, evangelical Christians are a thriving part of the Christian
community. Yet, 70% of evangelicals live outside the West.
goes where Hes wanted
What has been driving this trend? As I travel, says
author and journalist Philip Yancey, I have observed a pattern,
a strange historical phenomenon of God moving geographically
from the Middle East, to Europe to North America to the developing
world. My theory is this: God goes where Hes wanted.
If Yanceys supposition is correct, it would explain a lot,
because Christianity does seem to be waning in the West especially
in Europe. In an article for The New York Times, writer Frank Bruni
says that Europe already seems more and more like a series
of tourist-trod monuments to Christianitys past. Hardly a
month goes by when [Pope John Paul II] does not publicly bemoan
that fact, beseeching Europeans to rediscover their faith.
Rev. David Cornick, the general secretary of the United Reformed
Church in Britain, says, In Western Europe, we are hanging
on by our fingernails. The fact is that Europe is no longer Christian.
Secularism deserves much of the blame, say some Christian leaders,
including the pope, who has complained that the proposed constitution
for the European Union completely omits any reference to God or
the continents Christian past.
One sign of the weakness of Christianity in Europe is church attendance.
According to a major survey in the 1990s, the percentage of people
attending church on an average Sunday in some European countries
is a mere fraction of the total population: England (27%), West
Germany (14%), Denmark (5%), Norway (5%), Sweden, (4%) and Finland
More than even secularism, however, Gene Edward Veith, culture critic
for World magazine, says the problem is found in many of the churches
themselves: This decline is directly attributable to the theological
liberalism of the once-powerful state churches.
Veith says that, where the more conservative Catholic Church holds
sway, church attendance is far higher: Ireland (84%), Poland (55%),
Portugal (47%), and Italy (45%).
These are Catholic countries where the church has remained
conservative, Veith says. Catholic churches that have
gone liberal in the United States, France, the Netherlands
have the same low attendance rates as liberal Protestants.
In the Global South, however, Christianity is finding converts by
the millions. According to researcher David Barrett, author of the
well-respected World Christian Encyclopedia, Africa is gaining
8.4 million new Christians a year, and that number is a net total
that is, new converts minus those who leave the faith.
South Korea is another example of a nation in which the growth of
Christianity has been stunning. In 1920, Jenkins says, there were
only about 300,000 believers in all of Korea. But today, in South
Korea alone, there are 10 to 12 million Christians about
25% of the population.
And it is not modernist, liberal Christianity that is sweeping
through the Southern Hemisphere, says Veith, but a Christianity
in which the gospel is proclaimed, that believes Gods Word,
that refuses to conform to the world.
While all this should be encouraging news for believers in the U.S.,
numerous difficulties will confront Christians in the Global South
over the next half century.
One of the most obvious challenges will be the sheer enormity of
the unfinished task of fulfilling the Great Commission. The
growth of Christianity in the last two decades has been nothing
short of miraculous, says Elisabeth Farrell, co-author of
China: The Hidden Miracle. Yet a whopping two-thirds
of the worlds population 3 billion people remains
As many missionary-minded believers know, a staggering 95% of these
unreached people live in an area called the 10/40 Window,
which Farrell describes as an imaginary rectangle between
the 10th and 40th parallels north, stretching from Africa to Japan.
Part of the problem, Farrell suggests, is that 95% of missions
budgets apportion resources for areas outside the 10/40 Window.
That represents a potentially disastrous or, at the very
least, shortsighted misallocation of finances.
However, part of the reason for this lack of emphasis on the 10/40
Window is that there is, quite simply, tremendous resistance to
the gospel there. Jenkins says that the historically Muslim
lands into which Christian missions have never penetrated
From a spiritual standpoint, one can see why the resistance is so
strong in these nations: Farrell says [a]ll the worlds
major non-Christian religions were founded there: Islam, Buddhism,
Hinduism, Sikhism, Shintoism and Taoism.
Islam, however, will be Christianitys major religious competitor
for the foreseeable future. By 2020, Jenkins says Christianity
will still have a massive lead [over Islam in terms of adherents],
and will maintain its position into the foreseeable future. By 2050,
there should still be about three Christians for every two Muslims
worldwide. Some 34% of the worlds people will then be Christian
Nevertheless, Christianity and Islam will both prove themselves
to be vigorous religions. Muslim and Christian nations will
expand adjacent to each other, says Jenkins, and often,
Muslim and Christian communities will both grow within the same
[W]e face the likelihood that population growth will
be accompanied by intensified rivalry, by struggles for converts,
by competing attempts to enforce moral codes by means of secular
law. Whether Muslim or Christian, religious zeal can easily turn
into fanaticism. Such struggles might well provoke civil wars, which
could in turn become international conflicts.
The threat to humanity posed by potential religious wars between
the two faiths could be, he added, horrifying, producing a
new age of Christian crusades and Muslim jihads. Imagine the world
of the thirteenth century armed with nuclear warheads and anthrax.
The danger of persecution is no less acute. Jenkins says, Even
if the dominant religion is generally tolerant, it only takes an
outbreak of fanaticism every half-century or so to devastate or
uproot a minority, and that has been the fate of religious minorities
across the Middle East in recent years. Although Christian communities
survive across the region, their numbers are a pathetic shadow of
what they were even in 1850, and whole peoples have been obliterated
since that time.
Within the 10/40 Window, such troubles will probably continue for
decades to come, perhaps squashing attempts to gain a solid Christian
foothold in Muslim countries. In Pakistan, for example, a 1986 law
subjects a citizen to the death penalty or life imprisonment if
he directly or indirectly by word, gesture, innuendo, or otherwise
defiles the name of the holy prophet Muhammad.
These laws, Jenkins says, offer a potential death
sentence for anyone evangelizing Muslims, or even considering conversion,
and several Christians have been condemned to death for related
In nations like Pakistan, it is not uncommon for periodic outbreaks
of riots and violence to occur against the minority Christian populace.
Here, murder and rape are dangers that believers live with daily.
In Sudan, the Muslim governments attempt to subjugate Christians
has led to almost indescribable persecution. According to the U.S.
State Department Annual Report on Religious Freedom 2000, Muslim
persecution has included indiscriminate bombings, the burning
and looting of villages, and the killings, abductions, rapes, and
arbitrary arrests and detentions of civilians.
Nevertheless, for the Great Commission to be fulfilled, the 10/40
Window is where the Gospel will have to go. Can the churches of
the West produce the necessary missionaries to accomplish this task?
After all, Christians in Europe, North America and Oceania already
have their hands full with spiritual problems at home: they are
stinging from cultural setbacks over the last 50 years on issues
ranging from abortion to homosexuality, and fighting to keep secularism
from capturing even larger swaths of the populace.
It might be an odd concept, but missionaries to the 10/40 Window
may very well come in fact, may have to come
from the Global South.
Such nonwhite missionaries may even show up on our shores. As Veith
muses, What we need now are missionaries from Africa to convert
the heathen in Europe and America.
Stranger things have happened.