We like to think of ourselves as the Christian West. But there is growing evidence that the center of Christendom has moved. Africans are running to accept Jesus Christ. It is a scene playing out all across the developing world.
It may sound like an exaggeration, but it's not: Christianity is sweeping across the southern hemisphere and Asia like a tidal wave. "The scale of Christian growth is almost unimaginable," said Dr. Philip Jenkins, distinguished professor of History and Religious Studies at Penn State University.
Jenkins shocked and probably panicked some of America's political and media elite with his acclaimed book, 'The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity'. Jenkins argues the greatest movement of the past century was not communism or capitalism. Do the math and the winner is Spirit-filled Christianity, or what he terms in his study as "Pentecostalism." "
The modern Pentecostal movement begins at the start of the 20th century," Jenkins said. "So say this begins with a few hundred, a few thousand people… today you're dealing with several hundred million people, and the best projections are by 2040's or 2050's, you could be dealing with a billion Pentecostals worldwide. By that stage there will be more Pentecostals than Hindus. There are already more Pentecostals than Buddhists." Jenkins says in just 20 years, two-thirds of all Christians will live in Africa, Latin America or Asia."
Back in 1900, there were about 10 million Christians in Africa, representing about 10 percent of the population. Today there are 360 million, representing just under half the population.
That is one of the most important changes in religious history, and I think most of us didn't notice it," he said. A lot of people still haven't noticed it. When scandal or controversy hits an American church, the U.S. news media tends to treat it like a worldwide crisis for that denomination.
But it is not a crisis for those churches in the developing world. Most of them are not gripped by debates over homosexuality or abortion that is a problem for European and American liberals — they believe the Bible. "The Bible is alive in Africa and Asia and Latin America," Jenkins said. "Overwhelmingly, this kind of Christianity is one which is very Bible-centered, which takes the Bible very seriously, takes authority very seriously, both the Old and the New Testament, in a way which I don't think western Christianity has done probably since the Enlightenment." But the growth of Christianity threatens Islam, and Christians are being slaughtered in places like Nigeria and Indonesia.
Jenkins thinks the conflict will intensify in nations where the two faiths compete. And he debunks the notion that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. "Christianity is growing faster. If you look at the 25 most populous countries in the world in the mid-21st century, 20 of those are going to be divided to a greater or lesser extent between Christianity and Islam," Jenkins said.
Then there is China. There are about 80 million Christians in China, according to former Time Magazine Correspondent David Aikman, who predicts China will be a Christianized nation in 20 to 30 years. He does not predict a Christian majority, but a China that is 25 to 30 percent Christian. Enough, he says, to change society and government. "If you have a Christianized China, the leadership of China would reflect a Christian worldview to some degree," Aikman said. "A China that's Christianized would not be a threat to the United States."
And Aikman says the Chinese church leaders have a burden to take the gospel the rest of the way across the globe, to the Muslims. "It's part of a sense that they call 'back to Jerusalem,'" Aikman said.