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  • Writer's pictureScott Carr, Jr.

World Christianity

The strength of world Christianity leads the West to reevaluate its role in the faith. The prevalence of the church in ancient, non-Western nations dispels the Western myth which claims Christianity as a Western religion. The spread of global Christianity occurred without the aid of Western missions and, while Western missions has the ability to promote good throughout the world, a lack of self-awareness amongst the West can unknowingly spread its own cultural trappings to other parts of the world. The spread of world Christianity throughout the world will be presented through the lens of Philip Jenkins’s tripartite model, explained in The Next Christendom. While Jenkins will provide brief examples of the benefit of Western missionaries, Young-Gi Hong will provide an example of the damage Western Christianity can do to indigenous faith.

The story of Christian faith told in the West is unable to make sense of the spread of Christianity in its earliest years and gives itself undue attention. According to the Western narrative, the Christian faith began in Jerusalem, spread throughout Asia Minor and into Greece, from which it made its way to Rome and spread to the rest of Europe, eventually making its way to England and, eventually, America. [1] Within this narrative, Christian faith begins in the Middle East, but soon takes root in the West, where it finds its home. While such a movement did occur, it conveniently neglects to include the faith’s movement into Asia and Africa. Rather than see Christianity as making a singular movement to the West, historian Philip Jenkins recommends viewing the spread of Christian faith in its early years as a tripartite movement to Asia, Africa, and, yes, Europe. [2]

A tripartite model makes sense of a variety of evidence during the church’s history in nonwestern cultures. First of all, of the five seats of power in the early Church, Rome was the only one situated in the West. The other four, Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria were in Africa and Asia Minor. [3] Second, great Latin thinkers such as Tertullian, Cyprian, and Augustine, who set the trajectory for Western Christianity, did not themselves come from Europe, but from Africa. [4] The historical evidence prevents allowing the West to claim exclusive claims to the faith. The Western Church has received its goods from Africa and Asia Minor.

From an early age, Christian faith had a world presence without the aid of Western missionaries, but that does not mean Western missions has played no role or even a minimal role in Christianity. In the face of Islam’s spread and the disasters of war, particularly both World Wars, the presence of Christians was considerably diminished, though not lost, throughout Africa and Asia. [5] Missionaries, both Catholic and Protestant, brought the Gospel to those who hd forgotten it and to strengthen the faithful few. While it cannot be denied that imperialism played a negative role in these missions, it would be unfair to suggest these missionary attempts were merely an oppressive spread of the white man’s religion. [6]

Though the Western Church, both Catholic and Protestant, has every reason to be grateful for the role it played in the spread of Christ’s good news, the long-term effects of those mission attempts ought to lead the West to a place of humility. The Gospel taking root anew in the Third World did not occur as a direct result of Western missions, but was the result of the expulsion of these missionaries. Now that the Gospel had taken root in these lands, without the permanent presence of missionaries, it could loose the cultural trappings of the West and fully take shape in its new home. [7]

It cannot be denied that Western culture has its own negative aspects and in exporting the Gospel, these cultural entanglements can also be exported and damage the World Church. Young-Gi Hong provides one such example from the Korean Church in his article, “Encounter with Modernity: The ‘McDonaldization’ and ‘Charismatization’ of Korean Mega-Churches.” [8] “McDonaldization” is a term Hong borrows from sociologist, George Ritzer, to explain “the modern rationalizing social process in our contemporary world.” [9] The process of McDonaldization includes a focus on size and quantity, bureaucracy and efficiency, and multi-media. [10]

While it would be reductionistic to view McDonaldization as a purely negative phenomenon, Hong’s words of caution to the Korean Church highlight the dangers of adopting these Western norms wholesale. "Unlimited quantitative growth is not possible, and it is time for Korean mega-churches to reflect on the orientation of their growth. Qualitative growth in the Korean mega- churches related to community-building and discipleship-building. In a huge institution, modern men and women are likely to lose their (spiritual) identity it they lose the sense of belonging to a community…Once modern rationalization and institutionalization subvert the original dynamic charismatic experience, mega-churches will have difficulty in keeping their vitality….Korean mega-churches must pay regard to the effect of modernity by which a cleavage is introduced between the private and public sectors of life. The churches should develop a transformative spirituality." [11]

While the Western church has much to offer the world, the history of World Christianity reveals that Christianity is more than a product of the West and that the West has no exclusive claims to the faith. Such a realization should lead the Western Church to repent of its ethnocentrism and humbly accept the vital, but not unique, role it plays in the missio dei.

[1] Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, pp. 22-23.

[2] Ibid. p. 23.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid. pp. 32-33

[6] Ibid. p. 39

[7] Ibid. pp. 58-59

[8] Young-Gi Hong, “Encounter with Modernity: The ‘McDonaldization’ and ‘Charismatization’ of Korean Mega-Churches.” International Review of Missions.

[9] Ibid. p. 242

[10] Ibid. pp. 242-247

[11] Ibid. pp. 251-252

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