Since I have had a lengthy interest in Christian missions and the history of Christian missions, I recently picked up the third edition of Philip Jenkins’ The Next Christendom (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011). Essentially, this book makes the point that as Christianity declines in the West, it is advancing in the South and East. For a few examples, there are more Christians in Africa than in North America; the same goes for Asia and Latin America. Jenkins notes that Christians in China (roughly 65 to 70 million people) outnumber the total population of nations like France, Britain, and Italy (p. 88). Anglicans make up around 35% of the total population of Uganda. Also worth mentioning is the fact that there are twice as many Presbyterians in South Korea than there are in the United States (p. 90). And the list goes on.
Jenkins’ book is not a biblical or theological study of missions (though he does talk about theological nuances of different Christian movements/missions). Rather, it deals more with the demographics, sociology, and history of Christian missions and the “movement” of Christianity. I appreciated the section where Jenkins explained that Christianity didn’t begin in the “West” as we know it. Similarly, it is incorrect to say in the 21st century that Christianity is a Western, “white man’s” religion. This, of course, has much to do with past colonization and imperialism; Jenkins does discuss those issues and their relations to missions. I enjoyed these discussions as well, especially the parts where Jenkins talked about Christianity and culture in the Southern and Eastern continents.
One thing I’m wondering about is Jenkins’ use of numbers and statistics. When he gives the number of Christians in a certain country (or region), I believe he is overly general with his term “Christian” – he includes even sects and cults in his numbers. Therefore, I’m taking his numbers with a grain of salt – though I confess I’m not an expert in this area. He does give many pages of footnotes for those who want to trace his statistics back to the sources.
I’ll no doubt blog on this book (The Next Christendom) more in the future since it is far too detailed to summarize in one blog post. I just wanted to point it out to our readers who are interested in missions and church history. I strongly recommend this book to church planters, missionaries, and other Christians who are thinking about the mission field (and Christians who support missionaries). This book is helping me better understand what Revelation 7.9 means. I trust it will do the same for other readers.