Prior to assuming the role as president here at Focus on the Family, one of my most exciting assignments within the ministry was leading and guiding our international division. As a vice president, I watched our broadcast spread into over 150 countries, garnering millions of new listeners over the course of several years. Additionally, our printed resources were beginning to be translated into dozens of different languages, reaching untold numbers of new believers. It was both humbling and incredible to see—not to mention exciting!
At times, my responsibilities in that department not only took me far from home, but also far beyond my comfort zone. As a proud citizen of the United States, it’s normal to grow comfortable with the ease of access we enjoy to the Christian faith. That’s not to suggest Christians in America are without their specific set of challenges, but I came to really appreciate the gift of an expanded perspective that comes with traveling abroad. As many of you well know, Christian persecution is real and vicious in several countries.
Partly because of my international background, I was interested to read of a new book out this past summer entitled, God is Back: How The Global Revival of Faith is Changing the World [Penguin Press]. In this excellent analysis, authors John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge explain how God is an increasingly big deal in most countries and “the growth of Christianity is nevertheless the most startling religious development” in growing powers like China. Finally, some good news to celebrate!
My colleague here at Focus on the Family, Glenn Stanton, an author and researcher specializing in the analysis of marriage and family trends, recently reacted to the book in a private email exchange with me. With his permission, I thought I’d share a portion of his insight in this space. I found it interesting and thought you might as well:
Something is happening with God across the globe. In the 1960s there were rumors of His death, as in the 1966 Time cover. Now there are rumors of His very vibrant resurrection, most notably in a new book by these two Oxford educated journalists—the editor-in-chief and the Washington bureau chief of The Economist. In God is Back, these authors explain how the economic openness in China is boosting a demand for religion there and how it’s Protestant and Catholic Christianity that is filling the void.
The Chinese government’s own figures show the number of Christians rising from 14 million in 1997 to 21 million in 2006. The authors correctly imagine the real numbers being higher, offering a “conservative guess” of at least 65 million Protestants and 12 million Catholics currently in China, more believers than members of the Communist Party. Some local Chinese Christians estimate believers to number well over 100 million. By 2050, some estimates put China as the biggest Muslim and Christian nation in the world.
Philip Jenkins says the central growth of Christianity in coming decades will be in the global South, below the Equator. For all the talk that modernity and the 20th Century was to have put the “silliness” of faith in God to its final rest, these culture watchers recognize,
“Today an unsettling worry nags Western liberals: what if secular Europe (and for that matter secular Harvard and secular Manhattan) is the odd one out? They are right to be worried. It now seems that it is the American model that is spreading around the world: religion and modernity go hand in hand, not just in China, but throughout much of Asia, Africa, Arabia and Latin America.”
“It is not just that religion is thriving in many modernizing countries; it is also that religion is succeeding in harnessing the tools of modernity to propagate its message. The very things that were supposed to destroy religion—democracy and markets, technology and reason—are combining to make it stronger.”
Curiously, there are parts of the book that I take as too rosy on the growth and influence of religion and Christianity throughout the world, which one rarely experiences in the mainstream press. But I think it is interesting why these two secular and highly gifted and serious journalists would be so enthusiastic.
Given all of the negative news that seems to suck up all the available air on a regular basis, I’m encouraged to read of these developments, hints of which were visible during the many trips I took to China and other countries over the course of the past two decades. Regardless of how dark the days may sometimes seem, there is the inevitable forward march of the Kingdom of God throughout history and the world.
I would even go so far as to suggest that Christianity’s biggest threat is not secularism, but rather pluralism. Ironically, at the same time it is Christianity’s best opportunity to flurish. More people now have an open market of beliefs from which to choose—from a belief in nothing, or the feel-good, positive thinking brand of spirituality, to a more traditional Christian orthodoxy. I commend the book to your summer reading list.