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Philip Jenkins

Companions of Life

A supple faith.

In 2007 Books & Culture joins our sister magazines Christianity Today and Leadership Journal in the second year of the Christian Vision Project, focused on the church and global mission. Few scholars have made as decisive a contribution to the conversation about the changing nature of mission as Philip Jenkins, whose writing has awakened both the faithful and the secular to the dramatic shift southward in world Christianity. His books The Next Christendom and The New Faces of Christianity are exercises in both learning and unlearning: unlearning the widespread assumption that Christianity is a "Western" religion, perhaps in irreversible decline, and learning just how varied and vigorous global Christianity can be. Here is his provocative answer to our question, What must we learn, and unlearn, to be agents of God's mission in the world?

Be careful what you wish (or pray) for: you may get it. For some centuries, European and American Christians prayed fervently for the conversion of the wider world, especially in Africa and Asia, and many devoted their lives to achieving this end. And to an astonishing degree, they succeeded. During the 20th century alone, around 40 percent of the population of Africa converted from animism or primal religion to some variety of Christianity. Within a few decades, the African continent could be, in numerical terms, the center of world Christianity. Growth in Asia has also been impressive, while enthusiastic new forms of Christianity have blossomed in Latin America. Many denominations are discovering, to their surprise, that large numbers of their adherents, even majorities, no longer live in those areas that could once be claimed to represent the "Christian world."

At least by the 1970s, churches were acknowledging, at least in theory, that concepts of mission had to reflect these changing realities, that mission could no longer be seen as a blessing bestowed by Europeans and Americans upon those less fortunate dwellers beyond the pale. ...

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