Monday, July 10, 2006

Does Globalization Do Anything Good for Reformed Christianity?

I will be writing for the next few days from the International Society for the Study of Reformed Communities, meeting at Princeton, NJ. My particular contribution is a paper on the Peace, Unity, and Purity Task Force report of the Presbyterian Church. Most of the contributors here, though, are from the Dutch Reformed stream, rather than the Presbyterian stream, of worldwide Calvinism. The general theme of the conference is a consideration of globalization and pluralism in relation to the Reformed churches.

Globalization is an encouraging theme for the church as a whole. Whenever I get mired in the decline of the mainline church in America, or the near disappearance of Christianity in Europe, I am lifted up by the sheer exuberance, and massive growth, of Christianity in the global South. Philip Jenkins makes a forceful case in The Next Christendom that the center of gravity in the church has already shifted south of the equator. Jenkins, an English Catholic working in America, is particularly good on documenting Anglican, Catholic, and Pentecostal growth in the (former) Third World. Reading his book as a Presbyterian, though, I was struck with his near silence on how the Reformed churches were doing. I was, thus, particularly looking forward to this conference.

So far, though, the papers are pretty gloomy. Everyone knows about the huge significance of the Calvinist tradition in shaping the modern world in the first place (thank you, Max Weber). Few of our papers, though, report great vitality in the Reformed churches worldwide today. Globalization, in our consideration thus far, comes as a dissolving, even secularizing force to the Presbyterian and Reformed churches. The most encouraging reports have merely documented ways to slow the Calvinist church's decline in the face of globalization.

Globalization today has been good for heart religions, like Pentecostalism, and those streams of Christianity with a strong place for a religion of feeling. Calvinists, though, are the headiest of Protestants. So far, this current wave of globalization has not played to Reformed strengths.


Anonymous said...

We'll catch up!

As Christians tire of the intellectual shallowness in so many of the Pentecostal churches, they will be led--by the Holy Spirit--to seek the deeper meanings of Scripture.

And that will lead these seekers to the Reformed Faith, which is the only fully consistent and unified reading of the whole of Scripture that is available!

The growth of churches in the other parts of our world will benefit our churches sooner or later.

In the meantime, we must be faithful and keep the flame alive until the realize what they are missing!

Anonymous said...

It seems to me overly optimistic to hope that the majority of any society would ever tire of intellectual shallowness in their lives. Call me cynical, but I would think those questioning their religous beliefs go on gut feeling more so than on intellectual fulfillment. While there are of course a select few who do base their religous beliefs upon intellectual rigour, they are far from the norm.


Quotidian Grace said...

My church has a significant number of Africans, who are products of Presbyterian or other Reformed missionary efforts in Nigeria and Cameroon. We also have several families from Jamaica and Ghana who were also raised as Presbyterians in their home country.

In Marge Carpenter's words: Mission, Mission, Mission!

The early part of the last century was the pinnacle of Presbyterian (and reformed) world-wide mission. We don't do this anymore, and aren't training native pastors on a large enough scale to introduce reformed Christianity in the global south.

If we did, we'd see more of it there. CP is right, but we must do more than just keep a flame alive if we want to attract more in these areas to the reformed faith.

Anonymous said...

As a childhood Pentecostal who joined a PC(USA) congregation to escape "intellectual shallowness", I still can't help but think that Pentecostals (and other feelings-oriented evangelicals) have a far better sales pitch than Presbyterians do. "Jesus loves you and all you have to do is accept him into your heart" is a comforting and clear metaphor. Understanding and accepting Calvinism, on the other hand, can be a life's work for those not raised to it.

Gruntled said...

I think the Reformed faith will always be a minority faith -- but a strategic minority. Our special duty is stewardship of the whole. I agree that Calvinism is the most coherent account of biblical faith (though Calvin himself was a little weak on the role of the Holy Spirit).

I am grateful for the Nigerian, Jamaican, Cameroonian, Ghanaian, etc. churches that we did plant, from which we are now reaping the harvest. I think the most likely leaders of world Calvinism in the 21st century are Koreans. Thank God for them all.

cynthia m. said...

when speaking of Christianity in the southern hemisphere-or elsewhere...i think it could be very well argued that Catholicism and Orthodoxy offer faith that is, to be it mildly, intellectutally informed....i know i post this to a protestant-heavy blog but i thought it needed saying....

Gruntled said...

I agree that the senior branches of Christianity bear a great intellectual tradition. The big growth that they see (Catholics, anyway -- I am not sure the Orthodox are showing growth south of the equator) comes first from the heart. The heady among them will learn the rich intellectual tradition later. It is a rare Christian who (like me) came to the church for the coherent theology, learned in college.