The Old Normal

May 15th, 2017

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By 2050, reckons the Pew Center, one of every three Christians in the world will be African. Many of these Africans are coming to faith in ways similar to what we read of in this first African convert in Acts. His experience is “the old normal.”

Few modern Christians—the Western ones, at least—are familiar with the old normal. Christianity from its earliest days was firmly established in Asia, Africa, and Europe.[1] Christians through the Middle Ages commonly depicted the three continents as lobes joined together in Jerusalem—Asia to the east, Africa to the south, Europe to the north. But Asian and African churches interacted with other faiths differently than most Western Christians do today.

The Asian church collaborated with other faiths. Asian Christianity included the Nestorian church, stretching from Syria to Pakistan and the borders of China. In the sixth and seventh centuries, as Nestorian Christians pressed eastward, they met Mahayana Buddhist missionaries. But instead of a confrontation of worldviews, Jenkins notes there was an “almost shocking degree of collaboration between the faiths.”

Eastern churches studied the great books of Buddhism, looking to where Buddhism got parts of the gospel story right. Asian Christians didn’t argue for the faith. They talked to other faiths and kept up neighborly relations with them, seeing others not as deadly rivals but as fellow travelers on the road to discovery. This approach is what Pope Francis calls accompaniment.

To the south, the Egyptian Church planted its roots in a particular community, becoming part of the air that ordinary people breathed. African Christians “put the Christian faith in the language of the ordinary people.”[2] They translated the faith into everyday language. This is what we observe in the first African convert, the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8). Philip translated the Book of Isaiah for him, so that the eunuch could make sense of it. The Ethiopian comprehended, then converted.

This is where Western Christianity differs from other Christian traditions. The Western tradition has been shaped by the Enlightenment over the last 500 years. Individualistic and didactic, It’s more about debate and a “battle of worldviews” than a collaboration with other faiths. There is little attempt to translate the gospel. There are also few miracles in the West. For most Western Christians, this is the new normal.

Time to return to the old normal. Love is at the root of the gospel, for love includes collaboration and translation. Loving people work and walk alongside people, talking to others in language they understand. When Christians love God and neighbors, God moves. Miracles happen. We see this in the Acts passage… the old normal.

We also see the old normal in southern hemisphere Christianity. Jenkins writes of the incredible growth of the Christian Church in Africa and Latin America. The south is rapidly replacing the north as the population home of Christianity. He says we are witnessing the birth of a pre-Enlightenment Christianity sweeping vast areas of the southern globe. The Holy Spirit is alive there, filling people with God, driving out demons, and healing diseases. It’s the old normal—what might one day be the old normal in the West as well.

 

[1] Philip Jenkins, “When Jesus met Buddha: Something remarkable happened when evangelists for two great religions crossed paths more than 1,000 years ago: they got along,” The Boston Globe, December 14, 2008.

[2] Philip Jenkins, The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia (New York: HarperOne, 2008), p. 35.

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7 Responses to “The Old Normal”

  1. Barnabas says:

    Sad to see no inclusion of the Celtic Church in your narrative. http://earlychurch.com/celtic.php
    An omission encouraged by the Synod at Whitby
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synod_of_Whitby
    Cedd’s missions https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cedd

  2. Mike Metzger says:

    Not meant as a slight. Just ran out of space. Good point: re: Celtic Church.

  3. Barnabas says:

    I think the balance of six streams is helpful
    http://www.renovarelife.org/starting-your-spiritual-journey/

  4. Barnabas says:

    https://renovare.org/about/ideas/the-six-streams

  5. Barnabas says:

    https://onbeing.org/

  6. Barnabas says:

    See The Inner Landscape of Beauty interview on this page
    http://www.johnodonohue.com/

  7. Adam Mueller says:

    I shared this article with one of my friends who is gay. This was his response…”Good read. Maybe one day it will turn around and become what it should be and what it was meant to be.”

    I know the intention of this article isn’t to reach out to the gay community. However, it has created a dialogue between me and my friend that didn’t exist before.

    Great Article Mike!

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