Philip Jenkins, professor of history and religious studies at Pennsylvania State University, caused an international stir with his book The Next Christendom: The Rise of Global Christianity (Oxford, 2002), which detailed the rapid expansion of Christianity in the "global South." CT senior associate editor Stan Guthrie spoke with Jenkins about the sequel, The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South (Oxford, 2006).
Why, in this latest book, do you examine how Asian and African Christians use the Bible?
In different lectures and conversations [about Christian faith and practice as described in The Next Christendom], people would ask me, "Isn't this kind of practice syncretism?" An African would say, "Don't you own a copy of the Book of Acts? We do." Many of the things that seem to be syncretistic have a really good biblical foundation.
Global South Christians are closer to the economic and social world of the Bible than many Western Christians. How does this affect their religious life?
Things in the Bible make more intuitive sense. For a long time in Europe, for example, it's been a very plausible defense to say, "These rules in the Bible are laid down for a totally different, alien society. We have to change with the times." But for many modern Africans, the Bible describes a world they can see around them. And that gives more credibility to the moral or theological content of the Bible. Also, food is a very strong element in the Bible, and we tend not to see that in a society where the main food-related story is an alleged obesity epidemic.
You say that some theological issues touch global South Christians with more immediacy than they do Western Christians.
For many Africans, many of the literary genres ...1