Speaking at the third and final conference of the Currents in World Christianity project, Sierra Leonean theologian Jehu Hanciles said that, of all religions, the Christian faith was the most adaptable to conditions in Africa.

Far from dying out, he said, it is set to be reinvented and exported to the countries which originally sent their missionaries to Africa during the colonial era.

The five-day meeting (July 3-7) brought together 120 theologians, historians, and sociologists from all over the world to look at the effect of globalization on Christians and the extent to which their religion is now rooted in the southern hemisphere.

In a paper delivered at the conference, Hanciles, who is based at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, said: "The processes of globalization have contributed to an explosion in the number of non-governmental organizations. NGOs—most of which originate in the industrialized countries—grew from 6,000 to 26,000 in the 1990s and provide more aid than the whole United Nations system. In Africa they … often wield more power and influence than emasculated and impoverished governments.''

Hanciles said that more than 100 years ago Christianity became a "non-western religion." To support this claim, he said there are now seven times as many Anglicans in Nigeria as Episcopalians [members of the Episcopalian (Anglican) Church] in the entire United States.

While definitions of globalization vary, he said, it is already clear that the developing world's contribution to the process would be to export Christianity back to the Northern Hemisphere. "The less well noticed fact,"' he said, "'is that the much celebrated shifts in global Christianity have had little impact on the privileged position of the Western tradition within the theological curriculum."

He disagreed with claims that African Christianity—especially its neo-Pentecostal version—was "made in America" and exported as part of a new fundamentalism.

"Christianity has thrived in Africa because it lends itself to translation and takes on the garb of different cultures much more easily than, for instance, Islam, which comes with its own language, Arabic," he said.

He added that Christianity is spreading with far greater success in the third world today than it had in the days of European missionaries. "Pentecostalism thrives because it taps into an innate African spirituality. Its phenomenal success on the African continent raises the question of whether Africa needs American ministries as much as American ministries need Africa," he said.

Hanciles said one of the ways in which the third world would re-export Christianity to Europe would be through immigrant communities. "Christianity is a migratory religion and, throughout the centuries, migration movements have been a functional element in Christian expansion," he said.

Brian Stanley of St Edmund's College, Cambridge, serves as The Currents in World Christianity director. He said a book would mark the end of the project which started in 1999 with funding from the Pew Charitable Trust.

Related Elsewhere

The Currents in World Christianity site explains its aims, details the project, and will post publications as they are made available.

Veteran Newsweek religion writer Ken Woodward examined the worldwide presence of the Christian faith in "The Changing Face of the Church"

Following Woodward's article, Christianity Today's Books and Culture Corner looked at the movement in "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?"

Christianity Today's Weblog also commented on the Newsweek article.

Christianity Today's coverage of global Christianity includes:

Getting Beyond the Numbers Game | A veteran missiologist and marketing analyst implores the missions community to tabulate less and pray more. (August 11, 2000)

Faith Without Borders | How the developing world is changing the face of Christianity. (May 19, 1997)

Now That We're Global | Flesh-and-blood believers with attitude tell their churches' stories from specific points of view. (November 16, 1998)

Christianity Today's recent articles on Africa include:

Christians and Muslims at Odds Over Nigerian Constitution | Calls made to limit Shari'ah law in Northern states. (July 12, 2001)

No Greater Tragedy | What you can do to help persecuted Christians in Sudan. (June 25, 2001)

Dying Alone | Baptist women seek out and care for ashamed, abandoned AIDS patients. (June 15, 2001)

Nigeria Officials Press Northern Governors to Scale Back Islamic Law | Churches harassed by Islamic youths purporting to enforce the law. (June 14, 2001)