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The Basics: Global Christianity in 2007 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Sunday, 14 October 2007 11:31
2010 will be the 100th anniversary of the famous 1910 Edinburgh World Missionary Conference. This anniversary is another example of the hermetically-sealed-alternate- universes of Catholics and evangelicals when it comes to missions.

Catholics like Fr. Peter Phan regard the Edinburgh Conference as a symbol of western over-reach and missionary failure. Meanwhile, Evangelicals are getting ready to throw a giant global party in 2010 to celebrate the extraordinary success and fruitfulness of the missions movement for which Edinburgh was a significant turning point. The party - better known as Lausanne III: International Congress on World Evangelization - will take place in Cape Town, South Africa. They expect about 4,000 delegates from missionary groups, churches, and denominations all over the world. This is not just an evangelical enterprise. Both Anglicans and Orthodox will be represented. What is unclear to me is whether or not there will be any significant Catholic representation.

It is not an accident that while the first Lausanne Conference took place in Switzerland in 1974, the third one, a mere 36 years later, is taking place in Africa. It is the global south, especially Africa, which has become the center of Christianity in our lifetimes.

A couple of graphs from Todd Johnson's plenary briefing given at the Lausanne Bi-Annual International Leadership meeting in Budapest, Hungary in June dramatically illustrate the changes.

First of all there has been little change in the percentage of Christians in the global population over the past one hundred years. Catholics today make up 55% of all Christians although many Catholics are "doubly affiliated" - i.e., involved with other Christian bodies. For the entire 100-year period, Christians have made up approximately one-third of the world’s population. This masks dramatic changes in the geography of global Christianity. There have been massive gains in the global south offset by massive losses in the industrialized west.

And types of Christianity that did not exist at the dawn of the 20th century are now major players such as the 600 million Independent Christians (millions of whom are double-affiliated Catholics or Protestants)

Look at the graph below which shows the proportion of Christians in the north and south over the past 2000 years. Note for the first 900 years of the church, southern Christians comprised the majority and that the Reformation occurred during the 16th century, the only century during which 90% of Christians lived in the global north. Also note that southern Christians become the majority again in 1981 and that in 2010, the proportion between north and south will be roughly the same as it was in 200 AD.

Now look at this fascinating map of how the geographic center of Christian population has moved over the past 2000 years and especially over the past 100 years. The large red dot in Spain shows the geographic center in 1910 - the year of the Edinburgh conference. The large red dot in western Africa shows the geographic center as of 2010 and the Cape town conference.

Here is a list of the top 10 Christians nations by population in 1900, 2005, and projections for 2050. Note: in 1910, 9 out of 10 of the most populous Christian nations were western, in 2010, only 3 are, in 2050, only the US will remain. (Fascinatingly, the US is the top of the list in all three years)

What is called "renewalist" Christianity - that is Christianity that is influenced by Pentecostal or charismatic beliefs and practices - is very important in the global south. Here is a global map showing the percentage of "renewalist" Christians in each country.

Note the languages that dominate renewalist Christianity. Number one: Portuguese because Catholic Brazil is both the second largest Christian nation and one of most pentecostalized countries on earth. Note that Spanish is number 3 - and Spanish Christians are overwhelmingly Catholic - and that Tagalog, spoken widely in the Catholic Philippines, is number 10.


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