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David Martin


The People's Church

The global evangelical upsurge and its political consequences.

For the last three or four decades there has been a steady global upsurge in conservative Protestant Christianity parallel to the upsurge in conservative Islam. Indeed, these have been the two main shifts in world religion during the second half of the twentieth century. The advance of conservative evangelicalism has been most evident in what used to be called the Third World, especially Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa, but it is also notable in the Philippines, the Pacific rim (above all Korea), and China. Sizable conversions have occurred in parts of Eastern Europe, notably Romania. And evangelical religion can clearly claim to be the liveliest sector in the developed "Western" world, whether we speak of Britain, Holland, the United States, or Australia.

Just what the overall numbers are is difficult to say, partly be cause numbers are propaganda, but also because there are varying criteria for what constitutes affiliation and because there is a penumbra of fringe movements. Most estimates of evangelicals in Latin America hover between 40 and 50 million, which is about one person in ten. The total in Africa must also be in the tens of millions, and optimistic estimates are similar for China. Maybe in the world as a whole we are talking about 200 million people.

The main upsurge is not in the older, more staid evangelicalism but in Pentecostalism. That means we are dealing with movements offering what are called the "gifts of the Spirit" (such as healing, prophecy, speaking in tongues), rather than with what some people label "fundamentalism." At the same time, there are plenty of versions of the older mainstream churches "in renewal," representing a spillover of the Pentecostal spirit. Alongside them are myriad small churches, many of them quite local, as well as charismatic fellowships. And there are also thriving megachurches, often with a neo-Pentecostal emphasis on health and wealth. Indeed, health-and-wealth churches seem to resonate very easily with the em ...

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