December 5th, 2006
An excellent article (called “The Limits of Tolerance: Will Liberal Theologians Listen to the Global South?) in last Friday’s Wall Street Journal called attention to an issue of growing importance across the worldwide Christian community: the tension between Western (and mostly north-of-the-equator) liberal theologians and more scripturally conservative Christians in the Two-Thirds world, or the Global South.
This particular article points out the blatant snobbery practiced by supposedly super-tolerant folks like the Episcopalian Bishop Spong, who said recently of his African coreligionists, “They’ve yet to face the revolution of Copernicus and Einstein that we’ve had to face in the developing world.” Um, so they’re ignorant savages? That’s certainly the tone of the comment. (Though, as religious historian Philip Jenkins explains, many Global South Christians do face different struggles from their Northern counterparts: north of the equator, Jenkins argues, our primary religious struggle is against doubt, while in the Global South, Christians are more often concerned with defending the faith against other, competing religions. So there is a way in which Spong’s comment could be interpreted more positively—but, given some of Spong’s other statements, I’m not inclined to be that generous.)
Even worse is a comment made by liberal Catholic theologian Andrew Greeley: in answer to a question about the role Global South Christians would play in the future of the Church, he said, “We will depend on them for vitality. But they will continue to depend on us for the ideas.”
Oh my. That’s so offensive that it makes my blood boil.
Anyway, for a much more respectful analysis of the potential role of the Two-Thirds World in transforming Christianity (by returning it to its more orthodox roots), check out Jenkins’s new book The New Faces of Christendom: Believing in the Bible in the Global South (sort of a sequel to his earlier book The Next Christendom: The Rise of Global Christianity). You can read the first chapter online at Christianity Today.
I also happen to be attending a talk by Jenkins on this subject next week, so let me know if you have any burning questions you’d like me to ask in the Q&A session.