Joel A. Carpenter[Used by permission of Baker Academic, a division of Baker Publishing Group, copyright 20__. All rights to this material are reserved. Materials are not to be distributed to other web locations for retrieval, published in other media, or mirrored at other sites without written permission from Baker Publishing Group.]
In recent years, national meetings like this one have become an annual moveable feast, traveling from Notre Dame to Calvin to Pepperdine, to Baylor, and next year to Messiah College. A common desire for integrity in academic and intellectual life is drawing Christians together from a variety of traditions. I appreciate this diversity and the broad and bold mandate for this meeting. It asserts that Christianity offers a “comprehensive, unsurpassable, and central account of human life and the world” that aims at an “all-encompassing” vision. Yet the topics and perspectives on our docket seem rather limited, given the universal rhetoric. We need to become even more evangelical and catholic in vision. What do I mean? By way of illustration, consider two recent visitors to my office.
One was the Rev. Dr. Musiande Kasali, a Congolese theologian who is a seminary president in Nairobi, Kenya. President Kasali had some news for me: “The Lord is calling me to found a Christian university,” he told me, saying that it would most likely be in Beni, in the eastern Congo. I was astonished. Beni was the epicenter of the brutal civil war in the Congo that has claimed some 3.3 million lives since 1998. Dr. Kasali explained: “We must rebuild our nation. We need Christian leaders who will serve God's reign. Surely we have seen enough of Satan’s hand in our land.” One can hardly imagine a more impossible place to build a Christian university, but Kasali and his countrymen have heard God’s call.
The other visitor was Dr. Young-sup Kim, the academic dean of Handong Global University in South Korea. Handong was founded in 1995 by a Korean nuclear engineer who dreams of its becoming an evangelical MIT. Handong is assembling a strong Korean faculty on a gleaming new campus with about 3,000 high-achieving students. Handong is not content to stop there; it is busy replicating itself in two other Asian sites: Uzbekistan and Manchuria. At Calvin College, we worry about spreading ourselves too thin, so we have shelved some of our more ambitious dreams. Yet we look at our Korean counterparts and marvel at their vision and energy.
I do not see much on our conference program that relates to Drs. Kasali and Kim. Christianity and the life of the mind are profoundly contextual, and we are living in a time of some seismic shifts in the context for Christianity and its role in the world. For the past millennium, Christianity and Christian consciousness have been tied to Europe, and our conversation here about Christianity and the life of the mind bears the deep stamp of European culture. But today, Christianity is in deep decline in Europe and is rising elsewhere. Christian scholars must reorient their course accordingly. If we journey much deeper into this new century with our eyes on the North Atlantic shores, we may hinder Christian scholarship’s ability to help the church navigate the new global reality.
I. World Christianity Moves South and East
A. Shifting Christian Population
There is a great demographic shift underway in world Christianity. In 1900, 80 percent of the world’s Christians lived in Europe and North America. A century later, 60 percent of the world’s Christians are living in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.1 Christian adherence is waning in the North, and it is rising in the South and East. In Great Britain, for example, only about 1 million of the 26 million members of the Church of England attend on Sundays. In Nigeria there are 17.5 million Anglicans, and their churches are packed on Sunday. Half of the world’s Anglicans now live in Africa.2
The rise of non-Western Christianity has come as a huge surprise to the secular West. Historian Dana Robert points out that 30 years ago, Christianity outside of the West was thought to be a product of European imperialism, and it was expected to wither and die in the post-colonial era. As Robert wryly observes, one of the great ironies of our times is that “the process of decolonization ... freed Christianity to be more at home in local situations.”3 Christianity grew much more rapidly after the end of the colonial empires than during them. In 1900 there were only about 9 million Christians in all of Africa. A half-century later, this number had tripled, to about 30 million. By 1970, however, this number nearly quadrupled, to over 117 million. Today, the number has more than tripled again, to an estimated 382 million Christians in Africa.4
Even so, the notion that Christianity in Africa, Asia, and Latin America is a Western import remains strong. One recent theory is that it is part of some vast, right-wing conspiracy—an exported American fundamentalism of either the Pat Robertson or the Opus Dei variety.5 These views ignore the copious research that shows the new Christianity to be homegrown.6 Western religious agents, ideas, and products surely are flowing freely around the globe, but so is the new Christianity. The United States still leads the world in mission sending, but it also receives the largest number of foreign missionaries.7
As Christianity takes root in the South and East, it is being transformed. African Christian scholars ardently claim Christianity as an African religion, not as an import. That is the main point of Kwame Bediako's stirring and provocative Christianity in Africa: The Renewal of a Non-Western Religion (University of Edinburgh/Orbis, 1995); and Lamin Sanneh’s eloquent new self-interview, Whose Religion Is Christianity? The Gospel beyond the West (Eerdmans, 2003).
If Christianity is becoming predominantly non-Western, then what happens in Africa, Asia, and Latin America will have a growing influence on what Christianity will be like worldwide. Conversely, what happens in Europe and in North America will matter less. Says Tite Tiénou, the West African theologian who now heads Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, “The future of Christianity no longer depends on developments in the North.”8 Only a few years ago, such assertions would have seemed vastly overblown, but the tragic events of September 11 and the subsequent wars have begun to awaken us to the “globality” of contemporary life. One of the surprises is its religiosity. Says Peter Berger, formerly a high priest of secularization theory, “The assumption that we live in a secularized world is false." The assumption that “modernization necessarily leads to a decline of religion” has proven to be mistaken. Globally interactive modernity has proven to be a powerful vehicle for religious interaction and competitive expansion, as traditional religious and communal boundaries have broken down.9 The rising Christianity of the South and East is no longer distant or exotic. It is changing the whole church.
B. New Leaders
One important indication of the change underway is that Southern and Eastern Christianity is providing the global church with new leaders. The twentieth century was an ecumenical age, but European and American leaders dominated. The balance of power and authority is changing. In the Catholic Church, nearly 40 percent of the cardinals eligible to vote for the next pope are from the Third World.
At the 1998 Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops, Africans and Asians were in the majority, and they reshaped the theological and pastoral agenda. They set aside overtures for ordaining practicing homosexuals and emphasized instead the church’s calling to evangelize, combat poverty, and overcome political oppression. In 1999 the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) named Setri Nyomi, an Evangelical Presbyterian theologian from Ghana, as its executive head. A keynote speaker at the WARC gathering, a theologian from Singapore, warned that the ecumenical leaders from Europe were out of touch with the deep spiritual yearnings of the world’s people. In August of 2003 the World Council of Churches named Samuel Kobia, a Methodist from Kenya, as its new executive secretary. Kobia leads an organization whose income has been cut in half in recent years. He remarked that one thing he would bring to the World Council in a time of fiscal crisis was an African Christian “capacity to be hopeful” even in critical situations.10
C. New Lines of Thought
Hope amid suffering is indeed one of the salient lines of thought emerging from Southern Christianity, whether in Latin American Liberation Theology or in the amazing theological cauldron of South Africa.11 Likewise, forgiveness and reconciliation have emerged as main themes. Desmond Tutu’s No Future without Forgiveness, a meditation on the work of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, comes immediately to mind.12 Questions about Christian identity in plural settings and queries about the presence of God in the pre-Christian past also pervade Southern and eastern Christian thought; witness the work of Kwame Bediako.13 Some of the most creative theology in North America arises from its communities of color, whose experience of oppression and marginality have brought reflection on the meaning of the Gospel. Black Theology’s contributions are well known, and those of American Latino theologians should be also—notably, Virgilio Elizondo’s meditations on the “Galilean” experience of Mexican-American mestizos and Justo Gonzalez’s perspectives on U.S. Latino evangelicos.14
Christian theology eventually reflects the most compelling issues from the front lines of mission, so we can expect that Christian theology will be dominated by these issues rising from the global South. I find it striking, however, to see academic theology still focusing on European thinkers and post-Enlightenment intellectual issues. Western theologians, liberal and conservative, have been addressing the faith to an age of doubt and secularity, and to the competing salvific claims of secular ideologies. The new Christianity will push theologians to address the faith to poverty and social injustice; to political violence, corruption, and the meltdown of law and order; and to Christianity’s witness amidst religious plurality. They will be dealing with the need of Christian communities to make sense of God’s self-revelation to their pre-Christian ancestors. Theologians everywhere will be pondering Christianity’s answer to the spiritual hunger and searching in global mass culture.
D. New Lines of Action
New patterns of popular religious action add evidence that non-Western Christianity is rising. The new Christianity partakes of a global flow of religious ideas, expressions, and products. These global flows now go in all directions. The great missionary movement is not over, but it has become omnidirectional. There are 400,000 missionaries in the world, but most are not from Europe and North America. I visited Nigeria in 1990 and met with some American and Canadian missionaries. They lamented that instead of the 500 comrades they had in 1960, now there were only 100. Many of the enterprises they had started were fading. The next day, the missions director of the Nigerian sister church of this mission, now two million strong, told me about its 900 missionaries, serving sacrificially in rural Northern Nigeria, and in Niger, Cameroon, Chad, Burkina Faso, and darkest London. Welcome to the new world of foreign missions. Brazilians head to Portugal, Angola, and Boston. Indian Pentecostals are founding rapidly growing churches in Nepal. South Koreans are everywhere. New churches are springing up in diaspora communities. The largest church in London is Pentecostal, and is led by a Nigerian. The same is true in Kiev. Some researchers doubt that the new Southern Christianity will break out from these communities into resolutely secular Europe, but it is too soon to tell.15
In the United States, a much more assimilative culture, “mainstream” American Christianity is absorbing aspects of the new world Christianity, which has been arriving in force with the new immigrants. More than 60 percent of them come from the global South and East. Demographers predict that in another quarter-century, the United States population will look like that of California, with no single ethnic or racial group comprising a majority. Kenneth Prewitt, former director of the U.S. Census, states, “We’re on our way to becoming the first country in history that is literally made up of every part of the world.”16 The vast majority of the new Americans are Christians. This fact may seem self-evident when considering the Latinos, but the majority of the African immigrants also are Christian, and a disproportionately large minority of the Asians are Christian.17 New congregations, with varieties of Christianity rarely seen here before, are growing across American urban landscapes. West African Pentecostal churches are thriving in Houston, where 80,000 Nigerians reside. The Catholic Church is being transformed by Latino immigration, as some 3,000 Catholic parishes now offer Spanish services. About a fifth of American Latinos are now evangelico. In sum, the United States is not becoming like secular Europe. It is not being overrun by non-Christian faiths, either. But the nature of its Christianity is changing. As sociologist Stephen Warner put it recently, “Immigration is creating not so much new diversity in American religion as new diversity within American Christianity.”18
E. New Centers of Learning
Circling back now to Drs. Kasali and Kim, we see that they represent yet another trend, non-Western Christianity’s growing investment in higher education. Three years ago, in a hastily conducted study, I found more than three dozen new evangelical universities in the global South and East.19 When I presented my findings at an international conference, other participants told me of many more universities I had missed. Regularly now I converse with Christian leaders, in places ranging from Haiti to Irian Papua to Ethiopia who, like Dr. Kasali, have heard God's call to found a Christian university. So what is going on?
This movement marks an important stage in the development of non-Western Christianity. Like the Methodist and Pentecostal movements of the past, the new Christian groups arising in many places are evolving from peace-disturbing, establishment-upsetting religious upstarts into settled denominations and fellowships. With revival fires no longer flaring and in some need of tending, institutions or “fireplaces” are being built. There is a rising generation to equip and a surrounding society in which to minister for the longer term.20
The new Christianity is growing most rapidly among the world’s poor, who, according to sociologist David Martin, often become an “aspiring poor.” A university education and a good job become worthy Christian aspirations, as does a rising desire to save and serve troubled societies. Early on, evangelicals tend to be preoccupied with evangelization and basic discipling. As these movements grow and prosper, however, expectations increase for them to take on social responsibilities.21 Hear this mandate in the mission statement of a new Pentecostal school, Central University College in Accra, Ghana. It aims to advance “the great commission of our Lord Jesus Christ in its multifaceted dimensions, … to exhibit His Kingdom ethics and to spread its justice and righteousness in the world.”22
These new Christian universities give off echoes of our own past. Nineteenth-century Baptist and Catholic missionaries in the American West founded new universities in such wild places as the South Bend of the St. Joseph River in Indiana, and on the banks of the Brazos in the Republic of Texas. These “uncommon schools,” according to historian Timothy Smith, sought to relate the people’s religious convictions to the emerging political and social structures.23 The new global Christianity is repeating this process. So what do all of these developments have to do with us as Christian scholars?
II. New Mandates for Christian Scholarship
A brief glimpse at the new Christian universities—and, indeed, at the origins of our own institutions—reminds us of their essential nature. It is missionary work, and it long has been so. The universities of the Middle Ages emerged out of monastic missionaries’ attempts to bring literacy and basic Christian knowledge to pagan Northern Europe, and then to give more advanced equipage to the leaders of society. The basic academic work was a Christian engagement with the ancient pagan culture. From the ante-Nicene theologians forward, Christian intellectuals have worked, in the light of the Gospel, to appropriate and improve upon pagan wisdom. Throughout the history of Christianity, argues Andrew Walls, a “lively concern for Christian living and Christian witness has repeatedly called scholarly activity into existence.”24
Walls shows that wherever Christian missionaries went, their encounter with new cultures “caused them to translate books and to write new ones.” Whole new fields of inquiry rose from their efforts: the study of languages and literatures outside of Europe, comparative linguistics, anthropology, comparative religion, and tropical medicine. The modern, secularized universities have forgotten the origins of these fields, but they arose, Walls insists, out of “the desire that Christ should be known in other cultures.”25
A. Reorienting Current Strategies
The scope and thrust of Christian scholarship, therefore, have always reflected the scope and thrust of Christian mission. What we now tend to view as the universal outlook of the secular academy is in fact, Walls argues, “a heavily indigenized, highly contextual” view of reality. The resulting intellectual edifice is a great fortress of post-Enlightenment, post-Christian rationalism and empiricism, shaped by a Euro-American context. It has been laid siege by the postmodernist philosophers, but they, too, operate with naturalistic assumptions that are much too confining for thoughtful Africans and Asians. Despite the burgeoning industry of studying non-Western cultures, Walls insists that the Western academy’s approach does not represent a “world standard,” but in fact betrays “pre-Columbian maps of the intellectual universe.”26 Western Christian scholars struggling to work faithfully within this realm have focused on the challenges of post-Enlightenment secularity, with strategies that are highly contextualized to the North Atlantic situation. That has been our situation, my friends, but the situation we now face has changed. Therefore, our strategies need to change. Before suggesting how they should be transformed, let me give you a short review of the main strategies that Western Christian scholars have used:
Fostering Christian Humanism: Recovering and reapplying the cultural wisdom of the Christian past, mostly with European Christendom in mind. Example: The Erasmus Institute at Notre Dame.
Highlighting the Religion Factor: Questioning the secular assumptions of the academy by uncovering the religious dimensions and dynamics of culture, past and present. Example: The Paul Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics at Calvin College.
Promoting Theism: Arguing for the rationality and coherence of theistic belief, outlook, and action. Example: The Center for Philosophy of Religion at Notre Dame.
Serving the Present Age: Putting Christian beliefs, perspectives, and values to work as critical tools for reforming work in society. Example: The Center for Law and Religion at Emory University.
Building Strong Movements: In order to advance all of these strategies, finding ways to stimulate and support Christian scholarly activity and productivity by creating sustainable networks, programs, and institutions to foster such work. Example: The Pew Evangelical Scholars Initiative.
These are all good strategies, and I do not counsel abandoning any of them, but in this new era of global Christianity, each of these strategies needs some “reorienting.”
B. Global Christian Humanism
Strategy number one, the Christian humanist strategy, is perhaps the most tied to Europe and the West. For a millennium, secular and religious scholars alike have assumed that European civilization and Christianity are fundamentally linked. Christian humanists have fought to preserve and uphold the insights of the Western Christian past, in the face of multiplied attacks. I applaud those efforts, but this strategy needs reforming. Christianity has become a predominantly non-Western faith, and the Western Christian heritage now looks much less central, standard, and normative. Western Christian humanists will be tempted to resist this de-centering because it resembles one of the most influential lines of secular assault. For three centuries, knowledge of the world’s great non-Western civilizations has been used to attack Christianity’s claims to “a comprehensive, unsurpassable, and central account of human life and the world.”27 Would not a de-Westernizing of the Christian humanist approach actually concede the game to the relativists?
No, just the opposite is true. Among the problems of Western Christian humanism is that the West is not very Christian anymore. Christianity thus can be treated as a fading tribal religion. Identifying religions with regional civilizations, à la Samuel Huntington, reduces religion to a function of its regional culture.28 But a more global view of Christianity allows it to break out of this cultural-religious essentialism. The world’s regions are religiously plural, more so than ever, since Christianity now thrives in each of them. Christian humanism is now free to do its discerning and converting cultural work all over the world.
Does this mean we should neglect the study of Christianity in the West? Not at all, but we will go at those studies with new questions, ones raised by Christianity’s new situation in the world. I was visiting in Tuscany last summer, and I was struck by how relevant the story of medieval and renaissance Italy is for non-Western Christians today. The Italians were trying to build a more just and merciful society in a chaotic post-imperial, post-pagan situation. Out of that experience arose the likes of St. Francis of Assisi, Dante Alighieri, and St. Catherine of Siena. The Italians also encountered the daunting virtuosity of Greco-Roman visual arts, and over successive generations, from Giotto to Michelangelo, they developed a powerful new Christian synthesis. Who knows what wonders of grace may await us as we move from pondering this legacy to transposing its method and example in places like post-Confucian Korea?
C. The Desecularization of the World
One of the more favored and fruitful contemporary strategies among Christian scholars is highlighting the “R Factor.” A cadre of evangelicals and Catholics in American political science used it to build an influential religion and politics study sector within the American Political Science Association. Because of this group’s influence, the election coverage this year simply assumes that religious commitment matters in political opinion and behavior. There still are vast reaches of the academy, however, in which scholars simply assume that religious dimensions of society and culture are determined by other, more elemental forces. Why does the reductionism persist? The social sciences still work in the shadow of the Peace of Westphalia, the bargain struck to keep religion out of European public affairs. Yet the more we focus on the global South and East, the less sustainable this paradigm seems. The grand expectation that modernization and globalization would lead to secularization is being proven false. Rising Christianity in the global South, argues my sociologist colleague Paul Freston, is globalization from below, part of the “desecularization of the world” that Peter Berger and others see happening today.29
There is a huge agenda here. All of the big ideas in modern social science—modernization, secularization, globalization, democracy, pluralism, human rights, and capitalism—are ripe for revision. The European pattern now appears to be an anomaly, and not the paradigm shaper we have made it to be. Christianity’s entry as a new social, political, and economic factor in many places needs careful attention. It is one of the greatest worldwide developments of our time. Christian scholars should take the lead in examining its impact and implications.
D. From Unbelief to Religious Pluralism
The third strategy for Christian scholarship—promoting theism—is a deeply contextualized Western approach. It assumes the need to respond to post-Enlightenment naturalism and skepticism. The need continues because such views still prevail among Western intellectuals and elites. Going forward, however, Christian philosophers and theologians will need to argue for Christianity among competing religious claims. There is plenty of theism and spirituality around, and the privilege once granted to naturalism is no longer automatic. The more insistent questions now arise from rival revelations. So Christian philosophers and theologians should give more attention to testing the coherence of Christianity over against other religious and ethical systems. To focus so intently on secularity, European style, is to put one’s main forces into a rearguard action.
E. Agents of Shalom
The main mandate and strategy for Christian scholarship is to do intellectual work for the divine project of straightening the world’s crookedness, making its rough places plain, and making all of life fruitful in fulfilling its created purpose. Through their research and teaching, Christian scholars are called to propagate perspectives, skills, and understanding that, as theologian Neal Plantinga puts it, “can be thrown into the struggle for shalom, the battle for universal wholeness and delight.”30 Contemporary universities proclaim their mission in similar, actually derivative terms, minus the transcendent norms and aims. They have made great contributions toward curing diseases, improving agriculture, cultivating the arts, advancing technology, and addressing a variety of human needs and issues. Christian scholars can and should participate in these efforts to serve the present age, but do we have anything singular to offer to this great enterprise? Rather than pausing to ponder this question, Christian scholars need to be agents for renewal and reform within the university at a time when these noble aims are endangered. An excellent strategy for reform would be to give priority to the human needs most pressing for non-Western Christians.
For guidance, I turn again to Andrew Walls, the best Northern interpreter of this strategic moment. He sees growing corruption within the house of learning. The earlier excitement over major discoveries and new fields of inquiry seems to be giving way, Walls says, “to recycling age-old materials, to trivial novelty-seeking and hair-splitting.”31 Professors are choosing research topics based on their market value. Doctoral students chat cynically about how to pad their vitas with more publications. Government funders channel their reduced appropriations toward immediate payoffs for the national economy, and researchers increasingly depend on corporate funding. Medical researchers, Walls observes, get their funding “from drug companies, whose priorities are best served from the afflictions of the affluent world and foundations whose consciousness of suffering is also concentrated there. Yet the big killer diseases wreak their havoc … across Africa and Asia.”
Walls tells of university colleagues seeking funding from biscuit manufacturers for “research in dunking cookies,” and from tobacco companies for “an academic school of business ethics.” He calls Christian scholars to cleanse scholarship of these polluting forces and reorient it according to a Christian vision to serve the present age.32
What would such a reorientation look like? Professors working in immunology might refocus their research from joint replacements to AIDS or malaria. Rather than investigating teenage alcoholism in the Upper Midwest, social scientists might look instead at child nutrition in the Upper Volta region. Rather than addressing vibration noise in SUVs, engineers could develop more durable small-plot tractors. A Fulbright Fellowship in Ireland might be fun, but why not try for one in Eritrea instead? Faculty exchanges coming North can be equally fruitful. Fund some out of your own campus resources. I know of one small group of professors that has created a self-funded resource pool that enables one of them to serve in Africa every couple of years, rather than waiting for their sabbaticals.
F. Relocating Christian Scholarship
We Christian scholars are quite naturally absorbed in our own work, our own immediate situation. To this point I have been trying to persuade you to reorient your scholarship, focusing on what new interests we might develop, what new strategies we might pursue. But if worldwide Christianity is going to mature and grow strong in all of these new places, then Christian scholarship needs to grow in them, too. Some non-Western Christian scholars are confident that their academic movements will catch up with the church growth and provide some strategic leadership.33 Yet others look at the current state of the knowledge industry and acknowledge that, as Walls puts it, “the rule of the palefaces over the academic world is untroubled."34 Says Tite Tiénou, there is a “Western hegemonic postulate” at work in the intellectual world today. The ideas and research of Asians and Africans are still treated mainly as the exotic raw materials with which the Northern intellectual aristocrats can furnish their ivory towers. Northerners continue to assume the right to intellectual rule, and Southern intellectual development remains stunted. Unless Northern Christian scholars can develop just and reconciling relationships with their Southern colleagues, the reorientation for which I have been pleading will become yet another occasion for intellectual imperialism.35
The heart of the matter is to serve the faith and its intellectual mission, not to serve ourselves. What North American Christian scholars need most, Tiénou insists, is to become good listeners. True Christian scholarship requires humility and mutual dependence, letting agendas arise from the insights of the whole group. Christian scholarship is profoundly communal, and the make-up of our community has changed dramatically. So must the content, accent, and direction of its thinking.
With those aims in mind, here are some thoughts for a North-South dialogue about strengthening Christian scholarship. These ideas will, of course, need to be tested, tempered, translated, and probably transformed, so they are open to reproof and correction.
First, while there is great promise in the movement to found Christian universities, I see potential for disappointment. The new Christian universities, like other new private universities worldwide, focus on technical, commercial, or professional programs, with few courses that offer a broader knowledge of the world. They tend to reflect the secular and instrumental values that drive Western intellectual hegemony, and they do not acquaint students with the depth and breadth of the Bible’s shalomic vision. These new universities urgently need to develop an education that partakes of Christ’s lordship over all of creation. Christian scholars from North America have experience with this task that their counterparts might adapt for their own approaches.
Second, there is a promising non-Western movement to study the faith’s cultural mission, and it should grow and broaden. Among evangelicals, whose work I know better than Catholics’, I think of the Kairos Center in Buenos Aires, the Akrofi-Christaller Centre in Akropong, Ghana, and the Institute for Studies in Asian Church and Culture in Manila. These agencies tend to operate mainly in theology and range out from there into some “cognate” cultural studies. I long to see this movement grow more institutional nodes and networks, multiply by mentoring a new generation, and regenerate the arts and sciences. North Americans have been working on this broader project, and we have something to share if we can do that humbly, expecting to receive more wisdom than we give.
In broader programmatic and institutional terms, the accomplishments of the movement’s pioneers need to be leveraged. This growth can happen by mounting concerted projects, strengthening intergroup networks, building the capacity of their institutions, and raising up new leaders with a broadening range of scholarly interests. The heart of such work would come out of local genius, initiative, and materials. We will not see well-endowed institutions like the Kroc Institute at Notre Dame, but there are other models for Christian communal thought and action. One with roots in India, Andrew Walls reminds us, is the ashram, a community of scholars living a simple life of devotion and study, not unlike the medieval monasteries.36 From such modest but focused initiatives can come much that is fruitful.
I think in particular of the Akrofi-Christaller Memorial Centre for Mission Research and Applied Theology in Akropong, Ghana. This institute was founded in the late 1980s by Kwame Bediako and a circle of evangelical leaders in Ghana to foster African Christian thought and apply it to creative ministry. The centre occupies the buildings of a mid-nineteenth-century theological seminary. I remember visiting the Bediakos there in 1990. Kwame spoke, with a prophetic gleam in his eye, of the day when this centre would attract Christian scholars from across Africa and the North to learn more about Christianity’s taking root in African culture. I marveled at his faith and vision. Today, the center, lovingly restored and expanded, bustles with activity. The Bediakos convene research conferences and hold seminars with African graduate students in a degree program with the University of Natal at Pietermaritzburg, and the center’s journal publishes these programs’ results. Here is a powerful model for strengthening Christian scholarship. What role is there for Northern Christian intellectuals and resources in such development? One of mutuality. The Akrofi-Christaller Centre has benefited from the Northern Christian scholarly enterprise in several ways, and has given back many benefits as well. First, Bediako acknowledges an intellectual debt to Andrew Walls, who sponsored his dissertation 20 years ago and is a frequent visiting lecturer and programmatic advisor. Walls insists that his own thought has been converted by his African partners. Second, Bediako had his first opportunities to network internationally because of some programs organized and funded by the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, and the World Evangelical Fellowship. Through these agencies, Third World theologians raised their sights more broadly, and North Atlantic theologians gained critical perspectives in return. Third, the center has received project grants from Northern funders, who in turn had their outlook and priorities transformed. Fourth, Bediako built partnerships with academic centers, such as Walls’s Centre for the Study of Christianity in the Non-Western World at the University of Edinburgh, with the faculty of theology at the University of Natal-Petermaritzburg, and with Calvin College. Yet all of this work grew from a locally owned institution. Northern partners are invited guests, funding and institutional ties are diverse, and there is minimal danger of dependence.
In sum, there are several ways that Northern scholars can serve the new Christianity. First, by reorienting our own work. Second, by opening new programmatic approaches. Third, by allowing non-Western Christian intellectuals to share in our projects here and shape our agendas. Fourth, by accepting their invitations to share in mutual projects and learning elsewhere. Fifth, by prodding Christian philanthropists and funding agencies to invest in new ways, new directions, and new places.
This reorientation business is not easy. I recall pushing the scholars at the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals to do some reorienting. They resisted, because they were happily conducting studies that were deeply situated amidst white American evangelicals, but Mark Noll and Edith Blumhofer now testify that their work has been transformed. The sacrifice, they insist, is worth it.
Conclusion: The Fullness of Christ
Why should we be doing this reorientation? First, the health and integrity of our calling depend on its having vital ties to God's mission in the world, and that mission has taken some dramatic turns. Second, as long as the history of redemption continues to unfold, we have much more to learn about the fullness of Christ, about the Gospel’s full range and power.37 Every time the Gospel is translated into a different culture, Andrew Walls and Lamin Sanneh remind tell us, we learn new things about it. From the Jews came the truth of Jesus the Messiah; from the Greeks, Christ the cosmic Lord. To the Romans and Northern Europeans, Jesus came as the justifier of the guilty; to the African Americans, Jesus is the liberator of the captives. Who knows what new rich depths of the wisdom of God await us in the Gospel’s encounter with the cultures of the South and East? There may be sacrifices ahead if you reorient your work, but the joy of discovery and the delight of new fellowship will more than repay you. There are whole new horizons opening up, my friends. The range and scope of the Christian intellectual calling have never been greater.
1) David B. Barrett and Todd M. Johnson, “Annual Statistical Table on Global Mission: 2004,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 28:1 (January 2004): 25.
2) Bill Bowder, “Worship Numbers Fall Again,” Church Times, found at http://churchtiimes.co.uk/templates/NewsTemplate_1 ; Ruth Gledhill, “Archbishop Thanks Africa for Lessons on Faith,” The Times (London), 26 July 2003, 20; Charlotte Allen, “Episcopal Church Plays Russian Roulette on the Gay Issue,” Los Angeles Times, 10 August 2003, M-1; Dianne Knippers, “The Anglican Mainstream: It’s Not Where Americans Might Think,” Weekly Standard, 25 August 2003.
3) Dana Robert, “Shifting Southward: Global Christianity since 1945,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 24 (April 2000): 53.
4) Barrett and Johnson, “Annual Statistical Table on Global Mission: 2004.”
5) See, for example, Steve Brouwer, Paul Gifford, and Susan D. Rose, Exporting the American Gospel: Global Christian Fundamentalism (New York and London: Routledge, 1996).
6) For a sense of the scope and thrust of this work, see (and follow the citations of) three recent overviews: David Martin, Pentecostalism: The World Their Parish (London: Basil Blackwell, 2002); Paul Freston, Evangelicals and Politics in Asia, Africa and Latin America (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001); and Philip Jenkins, The New Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002). Jenkins gives important coverage to Roman Catholicism and the Anglican Communion, while Martin and Freston look at the more “Protestant,” mostly Pentecostal side.
7) Michael Jaffarian, “What the WCE2 Numbers Show,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 26 (July 2002): 130. He refers to the second edition of the David B. Barrett et al., eds., World Christian Encyclopedia (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).
8) Tite Tiénou, “Christian Scholarship and the Changing Center of World Christianity,” in Christian Scholarship … For What? ed. Susan M. Felch (Grand Rapids: Calvin College, 2003), 91. See also Andrew F. Walls, “Christian Scholarship in Africa in the Twenty-first Century,” Journal of African Christian Thought 4 (December 2001): 47.
9) Peter L. Berger, “The Desecularization of the World: A Global Overview,” in The Desecularization of the World: Resurgent Religion and World Politics, ed. Peter L. Berger (Washington: Ethics and Public Policy Center, and Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 2.
10) “Kenyan Takes Lead of World Church Council,” Grand Rapids Press, 6 September 2003, B-4.
11) See, e.g., Desmond Mpilo Tutu, Hope and Suffering: Sermons and Speeches (Johannesburg: Skotaville Publishers, 1983). The bibliography in John W. de Gruchy, The Church Struggle in South Africa, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 280-289, suggests the breadth and volume of theological creativity and inquiry arising from the crisis over apartheid.
12) Desmond Mpilo Tutu, No Future without Forgiveness (New York: Doubleday, 1999).
13) John S. Mbiti, African Religions and Philosophy (London: Heinemann, 1969); Harry Sawyerr, God: Ancestor or Creator? Aspects of Traditional Religious Belief in Ghana, Nigeria and Sierra Leone (London: Longman, 1970); C.G. Baeta, ed., Christianity in Tropical Africa (London: Oxford University Press, 1968); Kwame Bediako, Theology and Identity: The Impact of Culture upon Christian Thought in the Second Century and Modern Africa (Oxford: Regnum Books, 1992); and Bediako, Christianity in Africa: The Renewal of a Non-Western Religion (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1995).
14) Virgil Elizondo, Galilean Journey: The Mexican-American Promise (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1983); and Justo L. González, Mañana: Christian Theology from a Hispanic Perspective (Nashville: Abingdon, 1990).
15) See, e.g., Gerrie ter Haar, Halfway to Paradise: African Christians in Europe (Cardiff: Cardiff Academic Press, 1998).
16) Joel L. Swerdlow, “Changing America,” National Geographic 200:3 (September 2001): 42-61, 46 (quote).
17) R. Stephen Warner, “Coming to America: Immigrants and the Faith They Bring,” Christian Century, 10 February 2004, 20-23. Koreans are a prime case in point. See Pyong Gap Min, “The Structure and Social Functions of Korean Immigrant Churches in the United States,” International Migration Review 26:4 (1992): 1370-1394.
18) Warner, “Coming to America,” 20. Jenkins, The Next Christendom, 105-113, is insightful on these points as well.
19) This paper, “New Evangelical Universities: Cogs in a World System of Players in a New Game?” has been published in two installments in the International Journal of Frontier Missions 20:2 (Summer 2003): 55-65, and 20:3 (Fall 2003): 95-102.
20) See, e.g., R. Stephen Warner, New Wine in Old Wineskins: Evangelicals and Liberals in a Small-Town Church (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1987), 284-295, on the important difference between “nascent” and “institutional” religious orientations.
21) David Martin, Tongues of Fire: The Explosion of Protestantism in Latin America (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990), especially ch. 11, “Protestantism and Economic Culture: Evidence Reviewed," 205-232; see also Martin, Pentecostalism: The World Their Parish (Oxford, U.K.: Blackwell, 2002); “aspiring poor”: Martin, “Evangelical Expansion in Global Society,” Position Paper Number 115, Currents in World Christianity Project, 1999, 27-29.
22) Central University College, Undergraduate Catalogue, 2000-2002 (Accra: Central University College, 2000), 6.
23) Timothy L. Smith, Uncommon Schools: Christian Colleges and Social Idealism in MidWestern America, 1820-1950 (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana Historical Society, 1978), 5-6.
24) Andrew F. Walls, “Christian Scholarship in Africa in the Twenty-first Century,” Journal of African Christian Thought 4:2 (December 2001): 44.
25) Ibid., 45-46.
26) Andrew F. Walls, “Of Ivory Towers and Ashrams: Some Reflections on Theological Scholarship in Africa,” Journal of African Christian Thought 3:1 (June 2000): 1-2.
27) Edwin J. Van Kley, “Europe’s ‘Discovery’ of China and the Writing of World History,” American Historical Review 76 (April 1971): 358-385, illustrates how knowledge of Chinese civilization began to challenge the centrality of the biblical narrative and European church history in the writing of world history during the eighteenth century. Grant Wacker, “A Plural World: The Protestant Awakening to World Religions,” in Between the Times: The Travail of the Protestant Establishment in America, 1900-1960, ed. William R. Hutchison (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 253-277, shows a similar crisis in nineteenth-century Protestant theology.
28) Huntington first laid out his theory of civilizational competition and conflict in “The Clash of Civilizations?” Foreign Affairs 72 (Summer 1993): 22-49; then in fuller fashion, in The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996).
29) Paul Freston, “Globalization, Religion and Evangelical Christianity: A Sociological Meditation from the Third World,” in Interpreting Contemporary Christianity: Global Process and Local Identities, ed. Ogbu Kalu (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, forthcoming); see also Berger, The Desecularization of the World: Resurgent Religion and World Politics, cited above. Other suggestive reviews of the prospects for globalization and religious resurgence to revise social scientific paradigms are in an issue dedicated to “Religion and Globalization” of The Hedgehog Review: Critical Reflections on Contemporary Culture 4:2 (Summer 2002).
30) Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., “Educating for Shalom: Our Calling as a Christian College,” found at http://www.calvin.edu/about/shalom.htm
31) Walls, “Christian Scholarship in Africa in the Twenty-first Century,” cited above, 45.
32) Ibid., 47-48.
33) Bediako, e.g., is quite sanguine; see Christianity in Africa, cited above, 253.
34) Andrew F. Walls, “Structural Problems in Mission Studies,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 15:4 (October 1991): 152.
35) Tiénou, “Christian Scholarship and the Changing Center of World Christianity,” 92-96. Tiénou quotes Bediako and Walls, as cited above.
36) Walls, “Of Ivory Towers and Ashrams,” cited above, 4.
37) Andrew F. Walls explains this idea in his recent book, The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 2002), 74-81.