Resisting Exile or Embracing Relocation
Updated: Apr 13, 2021
Dr. Phillip Jenkins, in his book The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (Oxford University Press, 2002) and its sequel, The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South (Oxford University Press, 2006) both advance the notion that the center of gravity for the Christian movement will move to the Global South (Africa, Asia, and Latin America).
Jenkins asserts this movement will happen by 2050. However, it appears this movement is already underway and may have already happened in many places of the world. The largest Christian churches on the planet are now in the Global South. The growth of Christianity is exploding in the Global South. As one futurist said, “Show me where the fingerprints, footprints, and fragrance of Jesus has not gone, and I will show you where history is headed.”
However, the growth of the Christian movement toward the Global South raises the question of Christianity’s past and present, in the West, from Europe and North America. The movement of Christianity appears to be weakening, facing antagonistic pressure, and in some cases relevance.
I visited Europe during the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in 2017 and observed many churches converted to condos, markets, pubs, restaurants, and bars. While the local municipalities have sought to preserve the historical nature of these church structures, many structures no longer function as houses of worship. In North America, over 4,000 churches close their doors each year while only 1,000 new churches are started. It is apparent that the Christian movement is in decline in the U.S.A. So how are we to respond in the Global North?
Some face this reality with resistance or denial. It is as though some believe their best efforts at this time are to claw the ground at the gates of Jerusalem just prior to exile to Babylon. Others would affirm we are already in Babylon. How are we to live as followers of Jesus at this time where we live and serve?
The Prophet Jeremiah speaks the most important words of his book in chapter 29, verses 1-4. He reminds us that God carried his people into exile in Babylon. We would say today that the God of Redemptive history is allowing these changes to happen. We are reminded that even now, God is with us. We are not alone. He reminds us that we should live normal lives, plant gardens, and have children and grandchildren. He reminds God’s people that they have a redemptive purpose at this time where they live: To seek the peace and prosperity of the city, even the city of their enemies.
If we are in Babylon already, might we focus more on and study the way of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego? How do we thrive where we are and when we are? Are we asking the right questions? Are we focused on the peace and prosperity of those who may be opposing us while also downloading wisdom from above to know the difference between critical convictions and strategic living? Dr. Len Sweet’s book Rings of Fire: Walking in Faith through a Volcanic Future (NavPress, 2019) might offer some answers.