Christianity's non-European future
by Anthony Bradley
Posted on Wednesday, December 21, 2011, at 6:31 pm
If European cultural trends are a precursor to the future of Western culture, American Christians might find themselves discouraged. According to the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion and Public Life, Europe is home to only about one-quarter of the world's Christians, compared to two-thirds just a century ago. Christianity began as a Middle Eastern religion and had its theological scaffolding establish primarily by Africans. Moving into Europe, Christianity had a culturally dominant role for centuries until the Enlightenment slowly loosened the grip of faith in that culture. Today, it seems that the Enlightenment is the dominant "religion" of Europeans.
The Pew report observes:
"About one-quarter of the global Christian population can now be found in sub-Saharan Africa, while 37 percent live in the Americas and 13 percent reside in the Asia-Pacific region. Brazil has twice as many Roman Catholics as Italy, while Nigeria has more than twice as many Protestants as Germany, where the Protestant Reformation began."
While Christianity has a minor presence in Europe, according to the report, Christians are still the world's largest religion, with nearly 2.2 billion claiming faith. Muslims remain the second-largest group, with 1.6 billion people.
What does this mean for Christians in America? Two thoughts come to mind:
- We must recognize that ultimately these trends remind us of the sovereignty of God and of divine providence. Despite our efforts, we recognize that the Spirit moves wherever the Father wills. God has proven to work this way throughout the entire biblical narrative and Christian history. Where and why the Spirit works in the world continues to be a mystery.
- European Christianity should be studied more closely as a model of what not to do in terms of how the church interacts with cultural change. How did Europe lose its Christian faith? What happened? What responsibility did church leaders and theologians have in becoming increasingly irrelevant to the culture? Is it possible that reading European theologians to strengthen Christianity in America might be unwise given the fact they didn't tarry in Europe? These are important questions.
Admittedly, I'm not an historian and don't know the answers to all these questions but if You Lost Me author David Kinnaman is right about nearly 60 percent of American young people involved in church life as teens drop out after high school, American Christians will need to look to Africa, Latin America, and Asia for leaders in the future.
Anthony is associate professor of religious studies at The King's College in New York and a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.