Evangelical Christianity shifting outside West (Paul Nussbaum, 2/20/06, Philadelphia Inquirer)
Evangelical Christianity, born in England and nurtured in the United States, is leaving home.
Most evangelicals now live in China, South Korea, India, Africa and Latin America, where they are transforming their religion. In various ways, they are making evangelical Christianity at once more conservative and more liberal. They are infusing it with local traditions and practices. And they are even sending “reverse missionaries” to Europe and the United States.
In 1960, there were an estimated 50 million evangelical Christians in the West, and 25 million in the rest of the world; today, there are an estimated 75 million in the West, and 325 million in the rest of the world (representing about 20 percent of the two billion Christians worldwide), according to Robert Kilgore, chairman of the board of the missionary organization Christar.
Other experts differ on the number of evangelicals (estimates range from 250 million to nearly one billion) but agree that the number is growing rapidly.
“As the vibrancy of evangelicalism seems to have waned somewhat in the West, many in the non-West are ready to pick up the banner and move forward,” said Kilgore, a former missionary who is now associate provost at Philadelphia Biblical University. “Most Americans have no idea how big the shift has been.” […]
Evangelicals are among the fastest-growing segments of Christianity. Their global numbers are increasing at about 4.7 percent a year, according to Operation World, a Christian statistical compendium.
By comparison, the rate of growth for all Protestants is put at 2.2 percent a year, and for Roman Catholics at 0.5 percent a year. The world’s population is growing at about 1.4 percent a year.
Broadly defined, evangelicals are Christians who have had a personal or “born-again” religious conversion, believe that the Bible is the word of God, and believe in spreading their faith. (The term comes from Greek; to “evangelize” means to preach the gospel.) The term is typically applied to Protestants.
American evangelicals have gotten most of the public attention because they’re in the center of the media universe and because they played a pivotal political role in the 2004 U.S. election. But American evangelicals are a distinct minority, and their beliefs and practices are often significantly different from those of evangelicals elsewhere.
In Africa, some evangelicals practice polygamy. In China, some revere their ancestors. In South Korea, many believe in faith healing and the exorcism of evil spirits.
The melding of local traditions with Christianity has produced a religion that looks unfamiliar to many Westerners but is “vast, varied, dynamic and lively,” said Joel Carpenter, provost and professor of history at Calvin College, an evangelical college in Grand Rapids, Mich. Carpenter, an editor of The Changing Face of Christianity, is soon to be director of the new Nagel Institute for the Study of World Christianity at Calvin.
Evangelicals in the global South and East are, in many ways, at least as conservative as their U.S. counterparts. But they often diverge on such issues as poverty and war.
“On abortion or gay marriage, they sound like American conservatives. But on war and peace or economic justice, they sound like the Democratic Party,” Carpenter said. “And I have not met one foreign evangelical leader that approves of American foreign policy.”
If we can transform them from within there’s no need for a foreign policy geared at transforming them from without.