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Evangelicalism’s Radical Diversity 5

posted by Scot McKnight

Choir.jpgSecularists seem to be giddy about the demise of Christianity in the world, and some evangelicals are wringing their hands in despair about the decline of the Church and even the collapse of evangelicalism. 

But as Steve Wilkens and Don Thorsen say their new book, Everything You Know about Evangelicals Is Wrong (Well, Almost Everything): An Insider’s Look at Myths and Realities , there’s a major mistake here:
“Their world … overlooks a few continents, namely South America, Africa and Asia.” What does this mean? The decline of both the Christian faith and evangelicalism, both of which declines are grossly overrated according to the best studies, is something that is largely Western and American and European, but if one takes a global perspective, the Church and evangelicalism are thriving.
What do you think happens to the term “evangelical” when we define it by the global Christian church?
In short, Evangelical cannot be equated with “Rich American.” The Church is growing in unprecedented ways in other parts of the globe, and it is time for the alarmists to tell the truth. And the global growth of the Church is largely shaped by nothing other than evangelicals, many of them quite conservative on many issues.


In 1900, 80% of Christians were Euros and North Americans; now 60% are in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Two thirds of the world’s evangelicals live in the Two Thirds World.
Wilkens and Thorsen: if Christianity disappeared from the Euros and N Americans, the Church would be thriving still. The movement, they say, does not rest in our hands.
One of the most valuable aspects of reading Christianity Today is its global stories.
Too much paternalism; time to listen to the Two Thirds World. That Two Thirds World is increasingly vital in North America as well. It it not just over there; it is here, too.
Now a major point: global Christianity is evangelical and it is poor; it is charismatic and it is traditional in morality though it is socially active as well. It does not have access to money or power as does the Western/North American Church.
They point to a few lessons we can learn:
1. The Majority World is less concerned with the doctrinal specifics than we are.
2. The Majority World is less concerned with academic credentials and more shaped by spiritual transformation.
3. The Majority World is more influential through the fringes than through seats of power.
The Majority world has a Christianity that was not shaped by Christendom or the sword, but by the Word and the Spirit.


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Nitika

posted August 2, 2010 at 12:28 am


“The Majority world has a Christianity that was not shaped by Christendom or the sword, but by the Word and the Spirit.”
Hmmm… are we sure about that?



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JamesBrett

posted August 2, 2010 at 1:06 am


now, i’ll be the first to admit that i’m no expert on the majority world as a whole. i have served as a missionary both in china and (currently) in tanzania, east africa.
i’d be interested to know what evidence these authors offer to show that the majority world’s “brand” of christianity is doing so much better than ours in america. after all we were the ones who took the gospel to many of those areas, usually (and possibly unknowingly) forcing on these new christians and churches our own culture and doctrinal beliefs.
i know that here in tanzania, these doctrinal issues have only been magnified since those times. christians are forced out of the local “body of Christ” for not giving the right percentage of their income, while the “apostle” takes a 20% cut of all giving because “his blessings are worth that much.” authority is constantly abused, people are taught to listen to man and not to read God’s word for themselves to understand it, and morality within many of these churches is extremely low.
i know east africa isn’t representative of the entire world, but i’d be very surprised if the gospel we americans have passed on to others has proven much better in other places.



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Randy G.

posted August 2, 2010 at 7:23 am


Based on my limited experience, the three characteristics that Scot notes for the majority world are also true of at least some of the minority churches here in the US. I see this as something we can learn from.
1. The Majority World is less concerned with the doctrinal specifics than we are.
2. The Majority World is less concerned with academic credentials and more shaped by spiritual transformation.
3. The Majority World is more influential through the fringes than through seats of power.
Peace,
Randy G.



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chaplain mike

posted August 2, 2010 at 8:26 am


This is a good reminder. Soong-Chan Rah’s book, The Next Evangelicalism, is a good place to start. When critiquing evangelicalism, I try always to specify which evangelicalism I’m talking about, usually the American church. But this is a good reminder, Scot. God’s always doing infinitely more than we realize.



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Nathan

posted August 2, 2010 at 9:16 am


Is it accurate to call Anglicans from the Global South “evangelicals”? I’m just wondering…since so much Christian growth, especially in Africa, is driven by Anglican churches…



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Matt Stone

posted August 2, 2010 at 9:47 am


Nice to read someone recognizing that the West isn’t the centre of the evangelical universe



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Robin

posted August 2, 2010 at 10:11 am


I want to quibble with point 1: The Majority World is less concerned with the doctrinal specifics than we are.
Again, I am assuming that Anglicans in Africa are evangelicals, but that can be disputed. At least within Anglicanism, the African church, and some of the church in America, is the only group left that really cares very much about doctrine at all. Canterbury, along with the Episcopal leadership, is determined to keep the liberals, atheists, and conervatives together under one Anglican banner. It is only some American churches, and the African church generally, that are threatening schism over doctrinal matters. As an outsider it appears that they care about doctrine very much.



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Wyatt Roberts

posted August 2, 2010 at 10:37 am


I accept your main point, which is that evangelicalism in other parts of the world look nothing like it does in the U.S. But if that’s the case, doesn’t that mean that the term has become useless? I think when people criticize evangelicalism, they’re almost always referring to American Evangelicalism. For example, when Mark Noll writes of the “Scandal of the Evangelical Mind,” he does not have Africa, Asia, or South America in mind.
As to the Christians who are wringing their hands over “the demise of evangelicalism,” I dare say your point would be of little comfort to them, since what they are really upset about is the demise of American evangelicalism, which is often egocentric, consumeristic, anti-science, and arrogant.



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Kyle Small

posted August 2, 2010 at 11:13 am


I echo Nitika.
I addition, I think what is quite incredible about the church around the world is that despite colonization, the backside of the Western Missionary movement, among other variables – the church continues to grow. This is true for the global church – labels of evangelical aside. The Spirit has been deeply at work around the world, and the rise of the church is despite “our” failures.
Kyle small



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Tom Davis

posted August 2, 2010 at 12:14 pm


If these three points are accurate, then it’s refreshing to see. The west needs to focus more on spiritual transformation. We’ve lost our way regarding this important issue of discipleship.



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Brad Boydston

posted August 2, 2010 at 12:42 pm


“Now a major point: global Christianity is evangelical and it is poor…” In my experience, global Christianity is poor — but it is also wealthy. That is, it is economically diverse. There are lots of wealthy people in Asia following Christ. There are lots of people who have through lifestyle change and refocus generated significant wealth. We need to avoid narrowly niching the global church one way or the other.



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Scot McKnight

posted August 2, 2010 at 1:52 pm


Brad,
Thanks for that one. I think Wilkens and Thorsen are saying something like “by and large” or the “majority” and I suspect if one starts running numbers, esp when compared with the West and N America, “poor” would be a fair way of describing the majority of evangelicals in the world. They don’t offer hard-core numbers …



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muse

posted August 3, 2010 at 12:36 am


OK Scot, you and Anne Rice have convinced me. I’m leaving the church.



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muse

posted August 5, 2010 at 3:33 pm


OK, sometimes I’m the very last post in a subject, in fact, more often than not, so I never get any feedback. Am I the only person out there on the verge of losing their faith because of (but not solely) these posts? Help me!



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RJS

posted August 5, 2010 at 11:27 pm


muse,
Why? What about these posts do you find particularly challenging?



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