Dr. Philip Jenkins, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of History and Religious Studies, Pennsylvania State University
Dr. Philip Jenkins remembers the day he sent the final page proofs of his book, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, to his publisher. Among the premises he challenged readers to imagine was a future world where Christianity and Islam are fighting each other with anthrax and nuclear weapons. The date was September 10, 2001. Within 24 hours, the world would not have to merely imagine the possibility.
Dr. Philip Jenkins, who is the Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of History and Religious Studies at Pennsylvania State University, spent Monday and Tuesday on the campus of Palm Beach Atlantic University sharing his insights on global Christianity as the invited speaker for the annual President's Distinguished Scholar Lecture. He spoke in two campus chapel services and spent time with students in the classroom. He also delivered an evening lecture open to the public.
On the subject of global Christianity, he said, "After 2001, a lot of people thought of Islam as being a religion that expanded around the globe. I said Christianity is spanning the world faster; that came as a surprise to people."
In The Next Christendom, Dr. Jenkins predicted that by 2050 Christianity will spread to Asia, Africa and South America. This will cause rifts between Muslims and this "new breed" of Christians, he believes. "It's not an example of the United States vs. Pakistan in different parts of the world. You imagine extended families where some people will go to Christianity and some will go to Islam. Family feuds tend to be very bitter."
In a subsequent book published in 2006 titled New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South, Dr. Jenkins delved further into the phenomenon of the expansion of Christianity beyond traditional borders of the West and Europe.Some of this may be attributed to simple demographics, he said. "There are some countries in the world today with very high fertility rates and some with low. It's a very important factor for religion." He cites Africa as an example. "In the 1900s there were 100 million Africans. By 2050 there will be 2 billion Africans. The number of Europeans will rise a bit."
This shift will require a different way of looking at the Bible, Dr. Jenkins believes. "Just imagine reading the Bible as an entirely new book, as if you came across it for the very first time. Some of the biblical texts that have special resonance in Africa and Asia don't have that in America."
He explained, "For many Americans, the Old Testament is very difficult to relate to. It describes such a radically different world. If you're in Africa, the problem is the opposite; it's trying to get people to realize the importance of the New Testament."
For this reason, Dr. Jenkins cautions Christians against using phrases like ‘What Christians today believe.' "That's just one narrow segment of it," he said. "It's a much larger world with much bigger, more complex stories and a lot more lessons to learn from it.
"If you look at the world in 30 to 40 years, Christianity will still be the largest religion, but it will be in a different shape, and you'll be seeing a rapidly evolving kind of faith."
Dr. Philip Jenkins is the Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of History and Religious Studies at Pennsylvania State University and Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University. He is the author of 24 books, some 100 book chapters and refereed articles, and more than 100 book reviews. His most recent book is Jesus Wars: How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, and Two Emperors Decided What Christians Would Believe for the Next 1,500 Years (2010).