How Are You Going to Get them to Read John Mbiti once They've Read Ben Carson?

Ever since Philip Jenkins’ (at least) The Next Christendom, people have found it fashionable to assert that the churches in the Southern Hemisphere are leaving the Christian West in the dust (of death?). The odd thing about this logic is that it missed how much Southern or Global Christianity had learned (for good or ill) from the Christian West, first through colonial churches and then through pietistically inspired non-denominational missionaries. Indeed, the West has been dominating the world for almost 500 years. Not saying that’s a great thing or a wretched development. It simply is what it is.

And now comes some evidence of the West’s dominance even in Global Christianity:

Now, a new study, polling more than 8,000 Christians in four languages across three countries, has found that African Christians aren’t reading African Christians, either.

In the Africa Leadership Study, a quarter of Central Africans, a third of Angolans, and half of Kenyans named a preacher or pastor as their favorite author. Majorities in Angola and Kenya named authors whose writings were explicitly Christian. High percentages also named African writers.

However, “overlap between the two was low, with relatively few respondents identifying favorite authors [who] were both African and Christian,” said Robert Priest, a professor of international studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, who presented the findings to the American Society of Missiology.

The lack of prominent indigenous authors was also evidenced by the library holdings of five major Christian higher education institutions in Kenya, where only one African Christian (John Mbiti) ranked among the top 15 authors with the largest presence on the shelves. Kenyan Christian bookstores had a significantly different top 15, but only one African author (Dag Heward-Mills) cracked their lists. Other commercial booksellers and street vendors didn’t have any African Christian authors among their top 15.

Turns out that once you link the world politically and economically (not to mention linguistically and educationally), the Christian voices with the loudest mouths tend to dominate. (Odd though how the bishops with global jurisdiction aren’t on those lists.)

7 thoughts on “How Are You Going to Get them to Read John Mbiti once They've Read Ben Carson?

  1. Darryl, it’s painful and humbling as a Calvinist (you may chuckle, but I consider myself more of a doc than a Kuyp or a pie–even though I want all three strands present) to realize how much of a minority the historic Reformed view is. I have enjoyed all of Jenkins’ books, but I think you are right in saying that the global church’s faith and life come from the “western” church that planted them. But that “western” church is not Protestant/Calvinist orthodoxy. It’s modern evangelicalism/Pentecostalism whose concerns are far from doctrinal precision and ecclesiastical and liturgical order.


  2. Terry, this is not news to me. When have I ever said that Reformed Protestantism is “winning”? It’s the neo-Cals who have those bumper stickers.


  3. Darryl, always wanting to pick a fight even when I agree with you. It all depends on who you’re calling a neo-Cal. Absent the organized church and the Reformed confession there is no true neo-Calvinism.


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