Philip Jenkins, The New Faces of Christianity; Believing the Bible in the Global South (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 252pp.
In this sequel to his earlier volume, The Next Christendom; The Coming of Global Christianity (2002), Penn State professor Philip Jenkins shows how the majority of Christians in the world read the Bible with an authenticity, immediacy, and primitiveness that readers in the mainly white, rich, North American context would find strange and even naive. Most readers, Jenkins reminds us, "see things not as they are but as we are." That is, our reading and hearing of Scripture originates from our social context. Ordinary, poor Christians in Latin America, Asia and Africa know all too well about corrupt states, famine, unending wars, ethnic strife, brutal repression, crushing debt, and grinding poverty, and so they hear these themes of Scripture as directly relevant to their daily lives. Healing, liberation, dreams, visions, miracles, and prophecies are lived realities rather than deconstructed myths for these Christians.
After two introductory chapters, Jenkins shows how the Old Testament in particular resonates with these believers because of its themes of nomadic existence, tribalisms, animal sacrifice, paganism, agrarian economies, and polygamy. He then devotes individual chapters to the themes of rich and poor, good and evil, persecution and vindication, and then women and men. A final chapter compares and contrasts how Christians in the global south and in the wealthy north read Scripture. What constitutes a truly "authentic" reading of the Bible, and what might one dismiss as "cultural baggage" in both text and interpreter? Jenkins is not uncritical of the way global southerners read the Bible, but in both tone and content his "reading" of the global south exudes admiration and even gratitude. Clearly, and I believe he is right on this point, he thinks that sophisticated northern elites, jaded by secular and scientific worldviews, can learn from our sisters and brothers in the global south.
One special strength of this book is that Jenkins quotes copiously from third world theologians, both women and men, and incorporates true life stories into his narrative. Thus, he lets these ordinary believers, and not just the scholars, speak for themselves. We ought to listen to them, too, for as he documented in The Next Christendom, Christianity's center of gravity has already shifted from Europe and North America to Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Already, to take just one example, two-thirds of Roman Catholics live in the global south. This book ought to be required reading for any believer from the so-called "first" world who cares about or lives in the two-thirds world, or who truly believes that the Spirit of the living God speaks today in the catholicity of the saints.