The Changing Contours of World Mission and Christianity: Translatability and future of Christianity: Editor’s note: The following post arises from small group reflections from The Rise of Global Christianity, 1910–2010, taught by Dr. Todd Johnson at Boston University in the Fall of 2010. Led by doctoral students, the small groups discussed lectures given by Christian scholars in various disciplines, including significant changes that have occurred in global Christianity over the past 100 years.
It was fitting that our last guest lecturer for Global Christianity, Dr. Jay Gary of Regent University, tried to encourage the class to think about the ‘future scenarios’ for Christianity in the next century. Dr. Gary looked at 15 scenarios that are projected into the next century, such as the rich-poor gap, ecological crisis, technology, many of them dilemmas of difference, and encouraged us to think about which might be more relevant to the future of Christianity.
Dr. Gary encouraged us to use our intuition to envision the factor we thought would be determinants of Christianity growth and transformation. A few of us thought that technology was important for Christianity. Hee Jin discussed how churches in Korea were already trying to close the technological generation gap by engaging in smart networking and creating applications about church activities and spirituality for smart-phones. We discussed, however, the fine line churches must walk between becoming too commercialized and thus loosing the mystery and tradition that goes beyond refashioning spirituality to the mundane and popular vernaculars of the day.
Many of the future scenarios that emerged predict a much darker future of conflict and competition for Christianity. Many settings envisioned were resonant with worldwide clashes of differences and how Christian communities might deal with conflict and rise above it. One of many concerns was for an East Asia in conflict with the West. But such generalizations are hard to pin down. Some of the situations projected intra-religiously cultural conflict – through Christianity of the North clashing with the rising Christianity of the South (Phillip Jenkins, The Next Christendom). Perhaps this would play out less in terms of North-South, but more along the lines of a more Charismatic, personal faith in contrast to a more traditional-historical and corporate faith. To some, the common prediction of an inter-religious clash between Islam and Christianity resounds as more likely. As The Atlas of Global Christianity aptly states, the history of Christianity indicates that growth is fragmentary and punctuated. Christianity has risen to prominence and fallen from many regions, only to rise in others (decline in North Africa, and the fast growth in sub-Saharan Africa are just one set of examples). By contrast, Islamic growth tends to be steady and territorial. As Brad pointed out, scholars like Lamin Sanneh and Andrew Walls argue that the translatability of Christianity is part of the reason for this fragmentation and punctuated growth.
Perhaps it is migration patterns that will be most likely to decide the future of Christianity. Christianity has defied predictions of decline due to secularization and the privatization of religion. The translatability of Christianity could very well create more fragmentation, yet with it seeds of renewal to forge future adaptations.