There has been a collapse in American Christianity. For some of you that comes as no surprise. What has collapsed? Christendom. Christendom is a term that refers to a special arrangement between church and state, sometimes official sometimes unofficial. In the U.S., Christendom has been unofficial but the influence of Christianity has stretched over public and private life for two centuries. The Evangelical vote helped put Bush in office in 2004, in 2008 their vote was less influential. Fewer people than ever are laying claim to the Christian faith. In fact, Americans are more likely to obtain their understanding of Christianity from The DaVinci Code than they are from the Bible. As a country, we are experiencing and increasing biblical illiteracy. Our theological memory is failing.
Shifting Center of Global Christianity
Christendom has collapsed. There is room for grief and for applause, but if Christendom has collapsed where will it resurface? The center of global Christianity is no longer in the West, North America or Europe, it has now shifted to the South and the East, to Africa and Asia. In fact, America is the one continent where there is no overall growth in the Christian population. We aren’t even replacing ourselves as Christians. Africa, on the other hand, is soaring in conversions to the Christian faith. Currently there are around 4,000 conversions a day. The statistical, geographic center of global Christianity is Timbuktu, Mali. That’s West Africa. As Philip Jenkins book title suggests, The Next Christendom is Africa. The center of global Christianity has shifted and the Majority Church is outside the West.
Will this be good for global Christianity or will it be bad? We do well to watch. To follow the growth and character of African Christianity. To learn from our African brothers and sisters. Consider Uganda, the country our church mission team just returned. We spent two weeks training pastors and working with orphans. Uganda is 80% Christian according to some stats, so naturally you would expect a good level of Christianity.
Lessons from the African Church
Theology Proper (Doctrine of God): Consider the following Ugandan Christian greeting.
This is a remarkable statement about the sovereignty and character of God. Consider who is speaking–rural and urban Africans who live with daily poverty, famine, war, and disease. And they say: “The Lord is good. The Lord is good all the time!” What do we say when some suffering comes along? “How can a good God let bad things happen to good people?” Our suffering, in many respects, is incomparable to our African brothers and sisters. Yet, they begin with a theology proper that confesses the goodness of God. We begin with a theology proper that questions the goodness of God! Who do we think we are?! How high is our view of God? Is he good, all the time?
Ecclesiology (Doctrine of the Church) – Consider this story on creeds and prayers. When we were in the village of Kadama, we were frequently greeted “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” A robust trinitarian greeting that forms the starting point of community, relational interaction grounded in the Divine Community. Working with the Bishop Waco of the Lutheran Church of Uganda and his brother, Moses, we learned a lot about our theology of the church. In a casual conversation, Pastor Moses remarked: “I go to too many churches where they do not even say ‘The Creed’ or the ‘Lord’s Prayer.’” I was cut to the heart. Austin City Life is too disconnected from these historic confessions of faith, made by our brothers and sisters across the history of our Faith. Sure, we talk about them occasionally, but we don’t recite them and haven’t yet dedicated a sustained teaching on these important confessions of historic Christian faith. We might meet in a bar, connect with unchurched, and engage culture…but what about engaging our rich Christian heritage? Many newer expressions of church are untethered to the historic Church. We will be making some changes
Exegesis and Community: Ugandans sing the chorus This is the Day that the Lord Has Made. But they sing it differently that Americans. They change one word. Guess. A Pronoun—“This is the Day that the Lord has Made; We will rejoice and be glad in it.” The render a better interpretation of Psalm 118:24, which actually reads plural in Hebrew “let us rejoice.” Americans have read our culture into the text. We interpret this verse individualistically, singing “This is the Day that the Lord has Made; I will rejoice and be glad in it.” Even in our songs, we sever ourselves from dependence upon one another. Why? Because we are sinfully self-reliant and proud. We prefer to sin, struggle, and rejoice alone. We do well to learn from African exegesis and community.