On July 1, 2010, the Economist magazine published an article entitled “Slain by the spirit: The rise of Christian fundamentalism in the Horn of Africa“. The article notes that “… about 17m Africans described themselves as born-again Christians in 1970. Today the figure has soared to more than 400m, which accounts for over a third of Africa’s population”. An increase of 383 million born-again Christians in 40 years is a “revival”. If one-third of Americans became born-again believers in 40 years it would not go unnoticed.
The article notes that most of the growth is happening outside the mainline denominations in what the authors call “the new churches”. The Economist takes an interest in this growth of the church because it is starting to have political and economic influence – as the Economist puts it, “they are now having a noticeable effect on public-policy debates in east Africa”. Among the influences of the church cited by the Economist are:
- Their insistent calls for self-discipline and education
- Their prominence in anti-corruption campaigns
- Their resistance to repressive political regimes
The Economist notes that the new churches believe in the spiritual world and in engaging in spiritual battles. (Although the authors mistakenly attribute this to elements of traditional religion creeping into Christian faith.) Like the Economist, others have noticed that “the new churches” believe the Bible, believe in God’s action in this world, and believe that evangelism is a primary call of the church. Indeed, these churches undertake their own successful evangelism and missions activities. A CNN blog – the Gospel according to Kenyan cabbies – notes the similar things happening in Kenya.
The Economist accurately notes that these churches display weaknesses. There are plenty of hucksters. One finds posturing for political or economic gain by church leaders. But then, the Apostle Paul noted some of these same problems way back in the first century.
So what? Why is this news important? What does it mean? Answering those questions would take many pages. So I will limit myself to two.
- First, one of the main reasons to support missions is that in the long run it is hugely successful so you will get big bang for your giving dollar.
- Second, it changes the way we do Bible translation.
The “new churches” are key partners for Bible translation. They have educated people, can raise lots of prayer support, and they already run successful outreach programs. Doing translation in Africa without involving them would be like trying to engage in real estate or house construction without business partners that give mortgages. The days when Bible translation can be done successfully as an isolated way by someone coming in from the outside are gone.
I am privileged to be doing some work in Ghana to enhance the involvement of the churches there . Their leaders are convinced that the time is now for them to take the lead role in getting the Bible into all the languages of Ghana. Helping them understand how to do that is great fun and a wonderful privilege. I just love it.
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