Friday, April 24, 2009

Book Review: The New Faces of Christianity

Philip Jenkins wrote this book as a follow-up to The Next Christendom. It has the same topic -- the explosive growth of the church in Latin America, Africa, and Southeast Asia to the extent that there are more Christians there now than in "The West" -- but this is a lot more detailed and a bit drier. Now he actually has time to get into the specifics of how these churches interpret the Bible differently (and usually, more directly), although even here the writing sometimes skitters past very interesting points. The fascinating thing to me is that practically every Bible passage that gives Westerners pause, or that we don't understand, is actually understood well and even loved by the Southern churches. The Parable of the Bad Steward? Check, they understand because it's about a time when loans have HUGE interest rates on them and can be renegotiated face-to-face. Revelation? Check, they live in a world of pestilence and plague and BAD, repressive, corrupt governments. Hebrews/Leviticus? Check, they live in a world that still practices animal sacrifice. With the single exception of the Invasion of Canaan, everything that gives us trouble they understand and get. So for that reason alone it's worth getting this book, to see how the Bible works for them, and to listen to the "Southern family" tell us what they think.

This book does include some of the theologically strange interpretations as well, but I think they're more fringe than mainstream (Jenkins made them seem somewhat mainstream in his last book, when he didn't really describe them or their contexts). Lots of Prosperity Gospel bear traps in those woods but, ahem, we have Joel Osteen, so let's not cast stones.

It seems like the engaging writing got into the last book while the details (some of them at least) got into this one. I think you pretty much have to read them in order, and there's still more of the story to tell after this, but for the sake of listening to voices you didn't know existed, this book is well worth it. The book's about Them, not Us or the author. And it's well worth asking, if they're reading the Bible and they get this understanding out of it, maybe God's saying something to me through that, right?

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