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The New Faces of Christianity: Reading the Bible in the Global South

From a pentecostal perspective, however, one way to read Jenkins on this matter is that the category of “fundamentalism”—as well as those of “liberal” or “conservative”—just doesn’t fit well when talking about Christianity in the global south. Rather, southern Christianity, replete with pentecostal and charismatic variations and trajectories, exhibits new Bible-reading and Bible-enacting tendencies which are perhaps best understood as “post-fundamentalist” (as well as “post-liberal” and “post-conservative”). Yet at the same time, if we follow Jenkins we also may not be able to claim that the mushrooming Christianity of the global south is either “pentecostal” or “charismatic,” at least not in simplistic terms defined according to the North American versions of these phenomena. Instead, North American Pentecostals will learn a great deal about the diversity of global Christianity in general and about the many tongues and practices of southern pentecostal and charismatic Christianity in particular. Those of us classical Pentecostals who have been enamored by the over 500 million number bantered around by demographers and statisticians of global pentecostalism will need to realize that embracing these numbers brings with them many whose beliefs and practices are rather different than our own. In some ways, such realization may lead to a reinvigoration of biblical Christianity in our own North American Pentecostal context; in other ways, New Faces of Christianity may result is our being more circumspect about claiming too much regarding “renewal Christianity” in global context.

Turning to God’s Continent might seem to take us away from specifically pentecostal or charismatic concerns. On the surface of it, yes: Jenkins is focused here on deconstructing two stereotypes about Europe—that it has become “godless” under the onslaught of modernization and secularization, and that the new threat to the European side of the First World is Islam and the forces of Islamization. In twelve chapters, Jenkins presents the “scare” rhetoric and then complicates the account both by presenting evidence for new forms of Christian vitality, including what is happening within Roman Catholic Europe, and by elaborating on the wide spectrum of European Islam. His discussion of the latter includes socialization and assimilation trends, generational transitions, and reconceptualizations of gender notions among European Muslims. While on the one side multiculturalism is insufficient as a response to Muslim life in “white” Europe since such a non-assimilationist strategy may actually perpetuate Christian-Muslim antagonisms, yet on the other side rejecting multiculturalism completely is also unacceptable since that stance will only further alienate minority ethnic groups, including Muslims, in pluralistic Europe. Against the backdrop of a number of tensions like this one, Jenkins does not avoid dealing with terrorism and extremism in Europe but deftly locates such movements within wider religious and socio-cultural realities. The result is that while the “Muslim threat” is not to be simplistically dismissed, it is also not to be overblown given the dynamics of Muslim-Christian relations. Hence the transformation of Christianity, Islam, and Europe are inherently unstable: trajectories can be discerned, but not predicted.

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Category: Biblical Studies, Fall 2008, Pneuma Review

About the Author: Amos Yong is Professor of Theology & Mission and director of the Center for Missiological Research at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena. His graduate education includes degrees in theology, history, and religious studies from Western Evangelical Seminary and Portland State University, Portland, Oregon, and Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts, and an undergraduate degree from Bethany University of the Assemblies of God. He is the author of numerous papers and over 30 books. Facebook

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