The Reformation of the 16th century was a revolution of mythic proportions. Scholars and pastors with fresh scriptural insights took advantage of revolutionary changes in the arts, science, humanities, politics, travel, and commerce to turn the Western world upside down. It marked both a return to biblical roots and a leap into the future. In the 21st century, what major changes in the church should Christians be hoping and working for? In the final installment of the Global Conversation, four key leaders from four continents reveal their hopes.

One big surprise of the 20th century was the dramatic growth of churches in the non-Western world. A bigger surprise was that the fastest-growing churches were strongly supernaturally oriented. "In this thought world, prophecy is an everyday reality, while faith healing, exorcism, and dream visions are all basic components of religious sensibility," religion historian Philip Jenkins has noted. This is true of African Initiated Churches, Pentecostal churches in Latin America, house churches in China and India, and numerous others.

I grew up in a thought world where ancestral spirits, demonic powers, "gods," and miracles of all kinds abounded. Modern education, the most powerful force behind secularization, almost succeeded in getting me to toss out everything as superstition. Some of these supernatural elements clearly are, but not all. A careful reading of the Bible and the sheer weight of empirical evidence eventually brought me back to a supernatural Christianity. In this, I found myself out of sync with much of Western theology. Here liberals were at least consistent, but not evangelicals. Most liberals denied the supernatural both in the Bible and in the present; evangelicals fought tooth and nail to defend the miraculous in the Bible, but rarely could cope with it in real life.

It is now recognized that much of Western thought has been domesticated by modernity, with its roots in Enlightenment thought. The autonomous rationalism initiated by Descartes and the narrow empiricism pioneered by Hume have so emasculated the modern worldview that a mechanistic universe is all that remains. The resultant denial of the supernatural has crippled much of theology, leading to at least two serious consequences.

First, most present-day Western systematic and pastoral theologies fail to address the demonic at both the personal and cosmic levels. Many scholars deny or ignore the whole subject, explaining away numerous related biblical passages: Paul's references to "principalities and powers" are reduced to sociological structures; sin and evil are discussed without reference to the demonic. Such theologies sit well with modernity, but they provide no help for evangelists and pastors ministering to people who are under spiritual bondage. If these issues are not properly addressed, many non-Westerners will find the gospel impotent and irrelevant.

The other consequence is that Western Christians often fail to fit the "signs and wonders" of the Holy Spirit into their theological framework. Up until recently, they have treated classic Pentecostalism as some form of aberrant religion, along with various versions of non-Western indigenous Christianity that also take the New ...

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The Reformation of the 16th century was a revolution of mythic proportions. Scholars and pastors with fresh scriptural insights took advantage of revolutionary changes in the arts, science, humanities, politics, travel, and commerce to turn the Western world upside down. It marked both a return to biblical roots and a leap into the future. In the 21st century, what major changes in the church should Christians be hoping and working for? In the final installment of the Global Conversation, four key leaders from four continents reveal their hopes.

One big surprise of the 20th century was the dramatic growth of churches in the non-Western world. A bigger surprise was that the fastest-growing churches were strongly supernaturally oriented. "In this thought world, prophecy is an everyday reality, ...

Read MoreRead More

The Reformation of the 16th century was a revolution of mythic proportions. Scholars and pastors with fresh scriptural insights took advantage of revolutionary changes in the arts, science, humanities, politics, travel, and commerce to turn the Western world upside down. It marked both a return to biblical roots and a leap into the future. In the 21st century, what major changes in the church should Christians be hoping and working for? In the final installment of the Global Conversation, four key leaders from four continents reveal their hopes.

A key problem of evangelical churches worldwide is the unilateral emphasis on numerical growth. For the sake of it, the gospel is watered down, church services are turned into entertainment, and Jesus' commandment to make disciples is replaced by a ...

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The Reformation of the 16th century was a revolution of mythic proportions. Scholars and pastors with fresh scriptural insights took advantage of revolutionary changes in the arts, science, humanities, politics, travel, and commerce to turn the Western world upside down. It marked both a return to biblical roots and a leap into the future. In the 21st century, what major changes in the church should Christians be hoping and working for? In the final installment of the Global Conversation, four key leaders from four continents reveal their hopes.

During my most recent visit to Ethiopia, I joined students at Addis Ababa University for a meeting of the Evangelical Students' and Graduates' Union of Ethiopia. The students are part of a remarkably courageous Ethiopian church that survived the repressive ...

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The Reformation of the 16th century was a revolution of mythic proportions. Scholars and pastors with fresh scriptural insights took advantage of revolutionary changes in the arts, science, humanities, politics, travel, and commerce to turn the Western world upside down. It marked both a return to biblical roots and a leap into the future. In the 21st century, what major changes in the church should Christians be hoping and working for? In the final installment of the Global Conversation, four key leaders from four continents reveal their hopes.

Reformation is a work of God so broad, deep, and historic that it is beyond my scope and probably that of the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization. I opt for something more modest: a "reformation of manners" (to borrow a phrase from William ...

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Gaylan Mathiesen

September 20, 2010  2:16pm

I think the author intended "epic proportions" instead of "mythic." Aside from that error, however, his indictment is correct that the western church has not done a good job of assessing and living out the supernatural in our Christian walk. However, I don't think we are left with only Pentecostal or other forms of present day charismatic or Third Wave theology as the only biblical interpretations. We will never see complete church consensus on this topic this side of eternity, but we could profit from respectful dialogue that pulls in the various theological traditions. This will necessitate conversation that is truly cruciform, abandoning all forms of spiritual arrogance and pride, humbly seeking the glory of Christ alone and the advancing of God's mission in all the world. We in the west need to abandon all forms of imperialism, in many cases seeking reconciliation, in order to graciously receive from each other.

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The Global Conversation: Twelve key issues facing the church that will be discussed at Cape Town 2010, with major articles from Christian leaders, documentary video and photo essays—and your responses from around the world.
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