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

By Horrell, J. Scott | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, September 2007 | Go to article overview

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


Horrell, J. Scott, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South. By Philip Jenkins. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006, x + 252 pp., paper $26.00.

As Distinguished Professor of History and Religious Studies at Pennsylvania State University, Philip Jenkins is renowned especially for his The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (Oxford University Press, 2002). His other recent books (all published by Oxford University Press) include The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice (2004); Hidden Gospels: How the Search for Jesus Lost Its Way (2001); and Mystics and Messiahs: Cults and New Religions in American History (2001).

The New Faces of Christianity is a sequel to Jenkins's The Next Christendom through the lens of biblical interpretation. The current work grows out of a 2004 lecture series at Harvard University's Memorial Church. Jenkins compares the literalist readings of Scripture in the global South (Africa, Asia and Latin America) to the progressive readings of mainline denominations in North Atlantic Christendom. He relies heavily on the global population statistics of David Barrett's World Christian Encyclopedia (2 vols., Oxford University Press, 2001) and the yearly updates published by the Overseas Missionary Study Center (International Bulletin of Missionary Research)-broadly considered the most accurate data available today. Evangelicals may question whether Europe has 530 million Christians or Latin America another 510 million, but the author is faithful to the numbers of national censuses. Exemplary of his content and engaging style, Jenkins writes, "The figures are startling. Between 1900 and 2000, the number of Christians in Africa grew from 10 million to over 360 million, from 10 percent of the population to 46 percent. If that is not, quantitatively, the largest religious change in history in such a short period, I am at a loss to think of a rival" (p. 9).

Jenkins's thesis is that the emerging Christian faith of the global South is centered in the Bible as it brings together fresh and "fundamentalist" interpretations of Scripture with belief in direct revelation through visions and prophecy. He continually contrasts this biblical literalism with Euro-American Christendom's significant focus on post-Enlightenment issues related to theological doubt, biblical skepticism, and pragmatic adaptations to societal norms (such as homosexuality). From a Northern vantage point, the great danger of the South, as Harvard's Peter Gomes puts it, is the unholy trinity of "bibliolatry, culturalism, and literalism" (p. …

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