It is widely recognized that the majority of Christians in the world today live in the Southern hemisphere. Along with Christianity gaining a new geographical center, theology, too, is moving south. If you are wondering where your pastor will get his ideas in a decade or two, you might look to Latin America, where the non-Catholic church is growing—often without any connection to historical Protestantism. (Eastern Orthodoxy is not included here in the term non-Catholic.) Church historian Andrew Walls calls Latin America a place of "theological ferment." With hardly any Christendom left to speak of, the future of Christianity is wide open for new and unexpected developments.
National and international Christian tv channels, radio stations, and books testify to the numbers. Sociologist Paul Freston found that Protestants in countries such as Guatemala, Brazil, and Chile make up about one-third of the population. The large number of people these churches convert to Christianity leads some analysts to regard Latin American Pentecostalism as having "revolutionary potential" and an immense capacity to bring hope, a new form of democracy, and solutions to many Latin American problems.
But while Latin American evangelicalism is important for the future of democracy, it's not enough to look at the sociology of this burgeoning church. We also need to examine the theology that is moving south. Will a gospel-centered Christianity prevail? The answer gives us cause for both celebration and concern.
Neither Catholic nor Protestant
The most prominent item in many Latin American churches is a drum set. Many congregations spend over an hour standing and singing (often songs written by church members) before the sermon. Lively worship and other Pentecostal characteristics (speaking in tongues, prophesying, and healing) have become part of most non-Catholic Christian churches in Latin America. Many of these, often called "neo-Pentecostal," are self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating without any historical connection to classical Pentecostalism.
Despite their similarities, these churches are not unified. Some experts say non-Catholic Christianity in Latin America is best described as "neo-Pentecostalisms"—plural.
Two general interpretations have emerged for the exponential growth of these non-Catholic churches: Some uncritically see this as a movement of the Spirit, bringing people by the hundreds of thousands to the foot of the Cross, making them true sons and daughters of God and of the Reformation. Others see the massive movement in clear continuity with popular Catholic religiosity and indigenous traditions, having nothing to do with Protestantism.
Indeed, the neo-Pentecostalisms may be based on neither Protestant nor Catholic core doctrine, but on a convergence of popular Catholic religiosity with popular Protestant religiosity. In that case, we are likely witnessing a new form of post-, neo-Christianity.
The future of Latin American theology concerns some theologians for three reasons: faulty theology, divisionism, and the proliferation of sub-international-standard theological institutions along with a cheap "degree fever."
Some descriptions of neo-Pentecostalism are puzzling. For example, Latin American church historian Arturo Piedra argues that non-Catholic Christianity in Latin America is evangelical and neo-Protestant. But when he details a new movement called "apostles and prophets" in these churches, he says this is a kind of injerto ("grafting") done by people who have no knowledge of or respect for "the principles of the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century."