Several persons noted over the weekend how excited I appeared after returning from Africa. To be sure, I am excited, and I am thankful for the short-time we had in Kigoma at Joy in the Harvest. We learned a great deal, and we were able to witness first-hand what God is doing through the work of the church there. It has been gratifying to reflect on the experience and to share the experience with others.
I am also excited because I think there is something new happening in Africa with respect to Christianity. I mention a section from Jehu Hanciles book Beyond Christendom to highlight this shift and to illustrate how "at the very least Africa has taken center stage in the study of Christianity in a way that would have been unimaginable a century ago" [p. 125]. Quoting Andrew Walls, the Scottish missionary, Hanciles notes that when "we take the recent accession to Christianity in Africa along with the recent recession from it in the West, African Christianity must be seen as a major component of contemporary representative Christianity, the standard Christianity of the present age, a demonstration model of its character. That is, we may need to look at Africa today in order to understand Christianity itself" [Andrew Walls, Cross-Cultural Process, p. 119]. Walls goes on to adds that "Africa may be the theater in which some of the determinative new directions in Christian thought and activity are being taken" [p. 123].
Hanciles and Wall's points are worth noting: once, in so-called Christian nations, the churches flourished. Now, new voices in the church universal are being heard. Once churches in the USA sent out the largest number of missionaries; now, the USA receives the largest number of missionaries, mostly from Africa! A shift has definitely taken place.
But others have noted this shift as well: missiologists like Philip Jenkins, Lammin Sanneh, Leslie Newbigin, and David Bosch, to name a few, have written about the changes in global Christianity. However, it has not been until recently that the trends have become more visible. Some of the fastest growing churches in Europe and North America, for example, are comprised of African immigrants. The lively faith and active mission-outreach characterize their outlook.
After visiting Tanzania, I can definitely understand this movement. It is not unsurprising (if I can use a double-negative). Rather, it is something we will need to watch and explore. In fact, it is something that we as Christians in North America and Europe will need to come to grips with as we seek to understand how culture impacts faith and how the Spirit moves to transform faith in culture. All these issues come into focus when dealing with the church's mission around the world.
It is why I am excited. It is also why I look forward to learning more about the rise of Christianity in Africa.