"Big Numbers, Big Problems"

Christianity is in the midst of a massive global shift. But how much of a difference is it making in its new homelands?
Consider this: "every year, some 2,765,100 church attenders in Europe and North America cease to be practicing Christians within the 12-month period, an average loss of 7,600 every day." On the other hand, in Africa there are "8.4 million new Christians (23,000 a day), of which 1.5 million are net new converts (converts minus defections or apostasies). Sizable net conversions are also taking place in Asia."

These numbers, faintly surreal in their precision and their air of inevitability, come from the long-awaited second edition of The World Christian Encyclopedia, by David Barrett, George Kurian, and Todd Johnson, just published by Oxford University Press. We'll be coming back to this indispensable work both in this space and in the pages of Books & Culture: there's far too much in these two volumes to take the measure of in a single pass. But clearly the findings of Barrett & Co. underline what many people have been saying for some time now: Christianity is in the midst of a massive global shift.

Similar shifts, says missiologist Andrew Walls, have taken place repeatedly in the history of the church, though perhaps never before on this scale. (Look for an interview with Walls in the May/June issue of B&C.) What to make of it?

A good report from the front lines can be found in veteran Newsweek religion writer Ken Woodward's story, "The Changing Face of the Church." On the one hand, Woodward's wide-ranging survey suggests the enormous appeal of the gospel to "the poor, the marginalized, the powerless, and—in parts of Asia and the Middle East—the oppressed." On the other hand, the impression given is that syncretism is the rule rather than the exception among Christians in Africa, Asia, India, and Brazil.

The ironies and complexities ...

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June
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