Wednesday, May 31, 2006

We're Not in Kansas Anymore: what will Christianity look like in the future?

Back in December, I bought a book by Philip Jenkins, Distinguished Professor of History and Religious Studies at Penn State, called The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity. I am now finally getting around to reading it. I could have read it before now, but I wanted to be able to give this book more attention. What Jenkins attempts to do is look into the future and see how the religious makeup of the world will be different than it is now. He produces some interesting figures (though I'm still in the early parts of the book, so I'm sure there's more to come).

I have great interest in this for a few reasons, but mostly because I hope to be involved in missions in the future. Jenkins looks at worldwide growth rates of Christianity and comes to some interesting conclusions:

In 2025, if current growth rates stay the same as now, “there would be around 2.6 billion Christians, of whom 633 million would live in Africa, 640 million in Latin America, and 460 million in Asia. Europe, with 555 million, would have slipped to third place.” (3)

“By 2050, only about one-fifth of the world’s 3 billion Christians will be non-Hispanic Whites.” (3)

Think about that: by 2050 only one-fifth of Christians will be non-Hispanic whites. Ask your non-Christian coworkers to describe the average Christian and I'll doubt that's what you will get. It's interesting, many people that I talk to assume that Africa is a Muslim continent, but statistics show that Christianity is growing quite well over there. And any claims that missionaries are importing a "foreign" religion to Africa are difficult to support in light of the fact that North Africa was largely Christian before the Muslim Arabs swept in (and obviously something other than Christian before that).

Anyway, I'm not sure I'm trying to make a definite point just yet, I'm simply noting certain trends. I'm still trying to figure out what all this means for us today. I've maintained for some time now that in the future Europe will become a frontier for preaching the gospel. I think this is true for two reasons: Christianity is fading rapidly in the lives of Europeans (especially in Western Europe) and Isalm is on the rise due to immigration and out-breeding the Europeans (note the problems with Arab Muslims that have arisen in the last year in some European nations).

This may change, however, because European countries might make efforts to stop the inflow of Arabs into their countries. That's one thing that studies such as this one by Jenkins can't always do accurately: predict outside variables that factor into making the future what it will be. Nonetheless, his thoughts are insightful and need to be taken seriously.

I want to mention two points Jenkins makes in his first chapter about the difference between the "Southern Church" (meaning from the Southern Hemisphere, specifically, Latin America and Africa) and the "Northern Church." First, he notes that Christians from Africa and Latin America tend to be among the poorest peoples of the world. Many from the more affluent countries have tended to think they would then be among the more liberal Christians, since liberalism often sees itself as the champion of the poor and oppressed (I'm speaking more of theological liberalism here, rather than political, the connection is, contrary to the belief of some conservative Christians, not necessarily always there).

This is partially true, but not to the extent that some might imagine. In fact, while these churches are concerned with the poor (since they are poor themselves), they tend to be among the most conservative morally and theologically. This was seen a few years back when the African Anglicans voted against the liberalizing tendencies of other Anglicans (especially those from America and Britain), particularly in regard to the issue of ordaining homosexual priests. I remember reading a letter from an African pastor who began to refuse money from American churches of his denomination because he feared they would try to use that to "buy" his influence. If this isn't evidence of the downfall in mainstream Western Christianity I don't know what is.

Second, like it or not, these newer churches live in a world where the supernatural is real. Our culture and worldview do not allow much room for demons, angels, healings, exorcisms, and so on. These Christians, however, consider these things basic. Again, I note that many feel that opening Christianity to these things simply makes liberalizing the faith that much easier. But the opposite has happened. This fear is at times true, because there are certainly churches who have syncretized pagan practices with Christianity. But there are just as many who believe in casting our demons and healing the sick who are faithfully and effectively preaching the gospel and demanding repentance from sin. Dare I say that these Christians are much closer to what we see in the New Testament than we are?

Finally, I also want to note another interesting point that Jenkins makes regarding the rise of Pentecostalism. In 1900 there were only a handful of Pentecostals, but now there are several hundred million. By 2050 there will be over 1 billion. If you were to ask just about any educated sociologist which social movements have been the most effective in the last century, it is doubtful any would mention Pentecostalism. You might hear them talk about feminism, the civil rights movement, and so on, but Pentecostalism probably won't make the cut. Yet, the numbers show that it is growing at a phenomenal rate. Why is that?

Like I said, I'm not really trying to put out answers right now, I'm still attempting to sort through everything. It is thought provoking, to say the least. I pray that we all seek wisdom for the future as the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our Lord (Rev 11:15).

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

thoughts on pride

I mentioned in my last post about the book Humility: True Greatness that pride has been an issue for me. I also said that I'd clarify later in the post if I was in the mood, but it was getting long enough so I didn't. So here I am, home sick from work (which won't keep me from going to the Sox-Yankees game tonight, don't worry), so I have the time to write.

The way I see it, there are two types of proud people: those who think they are better than everyone else, and those who don't want everyone to know how many problems they have. The first is heavily involved in comparison (I don't struggle with that, but he does, etc). The second is unwilling to admit to everyone else when they are struggling with something. Obviously there is a good chance the first person is also guilty of the second, but the reverse isn't necessarily true. Anyway, that's a quick rundown of that.

I'm someone who fits in the second category, the one who doesn't want to admit struggles. I don't think I'm guilty of thinking I'm better than others very often. I know myself way too well to think very highly of who I am. I may be many things, but self-delusional is not one of them.

But I certainly am guilty of not being open about my struggles. I enjoy being seen as someone who has it all together, I enjoy being asked for help rather than being asked if I need help. And by the way, I'm not just talking about struggles with sin, although that would be included. Pride is a sin and tries to hide sin, but it also tries to hide anything that might show weakness or a lack of self-sufficiency.

I think we can also word these two groups in another way: those who don't think they need prayer, and those who won't ask for prayer when needed. Again, I find myself in the second category. I can't count how many times I thought, "I really should ask for prayer for x" but didn't. I know I need to ask for prayer, but I hold myself back because I am proud (I started to write, "but my pride holds me back", but I want to be clear that I alone am responsible, not some abstract notion of pride, no matter how real it is). I have had moments of pain, conviction and desperation that went unnoticed by others because I couldn't bring myself to lay down my pride and take on humility.

I noted in the last post how pride is in reality attempting to steal glory from God. Here is a perfect example. I think in refusing to admit struggles and ask for prayer, I steal glory from God in two ways. One, I am keeping glory for myself in that I am not allowing others to see my desperation. Of course this "glory" is no real glory, it is illusional, but it is comfortable. And sometimes that's enough to keep up right where we are.

Two, I am not allowing God to work on my heart in a way that is desperately needed. I am robbing Him of the opportunity to glorify Himself by leading me through difficult times. His mercy is not seen as it should be, His power is not seen as it should be. These are the things the Lord delights in- seeing His children give themselves completely to Him and allowing Him to carry them. I have robbed God of His glory. I have robbed Him the glory of using my brothers and sisters in the Lord to minister to me and build me up- I'm not allowing them to use the gifts that God has given them in order to glorify Him.

The Lord delights in those who are broken before Him and before His people. Those who are broken in heart and contrite in spirit are not despised (Ps 51:17). The proud, on the other hand, are opposed by God (James 4:6). I've been very weary spiritually speaking for a while. That's to be expected, I suppose, when God opposes the proud. I'm pretty good at wrestling, but even on my best day I don't stand a chance against Him.

Suggested listening for this topic- Hands in the Air by The Waiting

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Humility: True Greatness

Okay, after a ridiculous number of sports related posts (at least compared to the number of eternally relevant posts), it's high time I return to bigger and better things. In this case, a book review of sorts.

Back in January, my friend Kurt and I decided to go through a book together. I was really wanting to read a book by C J Mahaney (pastor, author, sports fan) called Humility: True Greatness. I am one of many who struggle with pride (maybe more on that later, we'll see how long this turns out to be) and I thought this book might help me in this area. Kurt was all for it (because he's way more prideful than I am, hehe) and thus began our journey with C J.

First, let me break book review tradition and start with a negative or two. Normally these are saved for later in the review, and then the reviewer ends with something like "these caveats aside, this is a helpful book" or something. I prefer to start low and move high, especially since the lows aren't really all that low. In fact, they're fairly minor.

Actually, there are two Bible related issues I had. One, I disagree with those who read Isaiah 14 as referring to the sin of Satan and his rebellion against God (pg 29-30). I think this is a poor understanding of the poetic nature of the text- it isn't meant to be completely literal (actually, I was surprised to see Mahaney read it in this way). So when Isaiah writes against Babylon, "But you said in your heart, 'I will ascend to heaven, I will raise my throne above the stars of God... I will make myself like the Most High" (vv13-14), he isnt' referring to some fallen angel (Lucifer, as is commonly thought), but is showing the pride of the Babylonians (especially her rulers) in strong, poetic language. Again, this isn't a huge deal or anything, I'm just a little disappointed.

Two, in chapter 6 (entitled As Each Day Ends), he encourages the reader to thank God for the gift of sleep and to see this as another way we depend on God. I love this thought, it is something we overlook. But C J states, "Too many Christians fall asleep night after night without being informed and inspired by what Scripture teaches on it" (pg 83). The problem: Mahaney never tells the reader what the Bible says about sleep. He asks on page 82, "Do you realize how often sleep is referred to in Scripture?" If the reader answers "no", they'll still have to say "no" at the end of the chapter because Mahaney never tells you what Scripture says about it or how often it refers to it. The one Scripture he quotes in regards to sleep is Ps 121:3, which speaks of God as the One who "will neither slumber nor sleep." That's about it. This chapter is good otherwise, it is an excellent example of how practical Mahaney can be. I just wish he would have included more verses.

Now for more of the good stuff. There is very little to dislike about this book, but tons to enjoy. Mahaney is a master at practical outworkings of theology. Whenever I read something by him I keep thinking, "I wish I were that good." He gives practical ways to begin your day (reflecting on the cross, acknowledging your dependence on God, expressing gratitude, etc.). I know Kurt took Mahaney up on his challenge to "seize your commute time to memorize and meditate on Scripture" (pg73) and it has helped him tremedously. I've already noted Mahaney's chapter on how to end one's day, and I hope I don't give the impression I thought the chapter was bad. It is another example of just how practical Mahaney can be, and I find myself taking the opportunity before I go to bed to thank God for another day and to thank Him for the grace bestowed upon me. What a wonderful practice to finish the day with!

His chapters on "Identifying Evidences of Grace" and "Encouraging Others" are especially helpful, particularly for those who are in leadership (but not restricted to them). How many of us find ourselves quick to criticize? If this is the case, well, someone has a pride problem. We need to practice encouraging others and sharing with them the evidences of God's grace that we see in their lives. This is what Mahaney has helped me realize: doing this is an attack on pride. When we practice encouragement, we are attacking the pride within us that spurs us on to be critical. Get into the habit of encouraging others and you'll see how pride is weakened in your heart.

His chapter entitled "Inviting and Pursuing Correction" was especially convicting. Let me quote from page 129:

"If you're in a small group for fellowship and accountability, are you humbly and aggressively participating or merely observing? Are you actually hoping to avoid correction? Do you experience a certain perverse relief when your sin has gone undetected? Are you regularly informing others of your temptations and sins, or do you present to them a carefully edited and flattering version of yourself?"

Ouch. I found myself cringing throughout that paragraph. And notice the two verbs Mahaney uses in the title of this chapter: "invite" and "pursue." These are proactive. It places the onus on us to go after correction and rebuke. It reminds me of my associate pastor, Jeff, who encourages us not to wait until we are asked to confess sin, but to offer up our confession before prompted. I find myself offering "carefully edited" confessions. A true sign of pride.

Finally, let me end with this. One thing I love about Mahaney is that he has no problem calling sin what it is: rebellion against God. Too many people view sin as an unfortunate aspect of humanity, something that we need to work against, but something we need to accept. Mahaney thankfully is willing to see through this error, and this book shows how pride is rebelling against God. "Pride is when sinful human beings aspire to the status and position of God and refuse to acknowledge their dependence on Him" (pg31). He encourages the reader, when recognizing and instince or pride, to confess to the Lord "I was contending for supremacy with You" rather than simply saying "I was proud." This has helped me personally to see what my pride is, a refusal to acknowledge God's rightful place in my life. That is far more convicting than the often ambiguous "pride." I've opted for "Lord, I attempted to steal glory from You" when I am confessing pride. It makes it much harder to breeze past pride when worded that way.

The goal is humility, which Mahaney defines as "honestly assessing ourselves in light of God's holiness and our sinfulness." May we all learn to see ourselves as those undeserving of God's grace and worship Him humbly.

Bill Simmons at his best

If you've ever looked at my links to the right, you'd see that I have a link to Bill Simmons, also known as the Boston Sports Guy (writer for ESPN). I started reading his stuff back in college, when he was still new for ESPN (after building quite a following on his own website). Don't let the "Boston Sports Guy" monicker fool you, he is quite capable of writing about more than Boston sports. In fact, he now lives in LA (leaving Boston to write for Jimmy Kimmel's show, then staying there after he quit) and is often referred to by ESPN as simply "Sports Guy."

Here's why I like him: he's just like one of us regular guy sports fans. He grew up going to Celtics games at the Boston Garden with his dad, being killed by the Red Sox and learning to hate Bruins management. He includes his wife (the Sports Gal), his dad and his friends in humorous parts of his columns, often at their expense. He has season tickets to Clippers games now (but not guilty of sports bigamy), refusing to take seats designated for the press because he wants to watch the game with the regular fans, not overweight sports writers with an axe to grind.

Anyway, I'm only writing this post for one reason. Occasionally on his site ( he posts an older column (from the Sports Guy Vault) that is otherwise inaccessible unless you are part of the ESPN Insider deal, which may or may not cost money- I've never checked. The last couple days he reposted on of my favorite Sports Guy columns, on the Sleepy Floyd Game.

This is Bill at his best. He does a great job of setting the situation for you. In this case, the Lakers and the Warriors in a mismatched playoff game (the Lakers with Hall of Famers, the Warriors with, well, no one). He gives enough info about the players involved that someone who doesn't know them can follow along. For instance, he refers to Michael Cooper as the best defensive player of his day, and he's right. Larry Bird called Cooper the best defensive opponent he ever faced. This kind of knowledge is crucial to understanding how incredible Floyd's performance was. Scoring 29 points in the fourth quarter against the team that was to win the title is remarkable, it's unimaginable against defensive stoppers such as Cooper.

Unfortunately, this column will only be up for a couple more days at most. Eventually they will replace it with another classic column and you'll have to sign up for ESPN Insider to read it, which should be illegal. So, if you get a chance, check out the column. I'm sure you will laugh and learn, which is rare in today's sports writing.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

one of the good guys

Being a Red Sox fan means that I must hate the Yankees. There's really no choice, and that's fine with me. However, over the years there have been plenty of Yankees that you had to respect, as ballplayers and/or as the quality people that they are. For instance, Bernie Williams is a great guy, a good musician (I would buy his cd, but I can't bring myself to do it), a solid Christian and a very good baseball player (a batting title, couple Gold Gloves). If he wasn't wearing pinstripes I would root for this guy.

There are others. I always respected Paul O'Neill as a baseball player (although his attitude made it hard to like him personally). Jorge Posada. Derek Jeter (though overrated in many areas, is a true clutch player). Mariano Rivera. And so on. Some of these guys would be among my favorite players if they were on the Red Sox (come one, Rivera would be worshipped in this town). Alas, they wear the wrong uniform. Some of you may have heard the phrase: you root for laundry. It's completely true. No matter what, you always root for your team, it doesn't matter who is wearing the uniform. And you cheer against those wearing the wrong laundry.

The other day Hideki Matsui, the Yankees left fielder, broke his wrist against the Red Sox. He was trying to make a sliding catch coming in on the ball and his glove hand snapped backwards. You couldn't really see the break itself, but when he ran after the ball (that got behind him) you could see his glove hand just dangling loosely. It was one of the nastiest things I've seen in a while (but probably still not in the top 5 nastiest sports injuries I've ever seen- that's another post for another day).

Matsui is one of those guys that absolutely kill the Red Sox. I swear that if he could play all 162 games against Boston, he'd break every record in the book. In fact, when the Red Sox let lefty-specialist Mike Myers go this offseason, the first thought in my mind was, "how are we going to get Matsui out?" There's a reason the Yankees signed Myers, because he was one of the few Sox pitchers who could get Matsui out. Good strategy.

In the 2004 playoffs Matsui was crushing the Red Sox. What was the counter strategy? Throw at his head. That's what Pedro did, and after that Matsui calmed down. That was what we had to resort to in order to get him out.

The reason I'm posting this is because I just read his comments after his injury. Matsui, displaying tremendous character, apologized to the fans and his teammates. Apologized! He feels bad for getting hurt, like he's let everyone down. This is a man who has a completely different mindset from the rest of the sports world. He had a consecutive games streak that extended back to 1992 in Japan (with some 580+ games for New York) that will now be ended. It's obvious that he's the type of guy who takes pride in playing for his fans and his team everyday. That's his job, and he's work as hard as he can to do it well.

You hate to see a guy like this get hurt, no matter what uniform he's wearing. Here's hoping he recovers well and returns to left field. But I hope in this time away from the game he forgets how to hit the Sox pitchers.