Douglas Jacobsen - "Global Gospel"
2:36PM Jun 25, 2020
Jonathan J. Armstrong
Today it is our delight to be speaking with Professor Douglas Jacobsen. Douglas Jacobsen is distinguished professor of church history and theology at Messiah College in Pennsylvania. His teaching and research focuses mainly on the recent globalization of the world Christian movement. Professor Jacobson holds a PhD degree from the University of Chicago. Professor Jacobsen co-directs the religion in the academy project with his wife and academic colleague Rhonda Husted Jacobson and has published three books with the Oxford University Press on the topics of faith and higher education from his research in this project. Perfect Professor Jacobsen's other books include thinking in the spirit theologies of the early Pentecostal movement, a book that was released in 2003, the world's Christians who they are, where they are and how they got They're published in 2011. And soon to be released is the book that we'll be discussing today, Global Gospel: An Introduction to Christianity on Five Continents, which will be released for Baker Academic Press later this year in 2015. Professor Jacobson is our delight to be speaking with you.
It's a pleasure to be speaking with you.
Professor Jacobsen, first of all, you've been researching and writing on world Christianity for some years. Now, when did you first become aware of the significance of world Christianity? And why do you dedicate so much? Or the majority of your excuse me, I'm just going to reread that very sorry. Professor Jacobson, you've been researching and writing on world Christianity for some years now. When did you first become aware of the significance of world Christianity and why do you dedicate the majority of your scholarly research to this area now?
Let me start out autobiographically a little bit. The church in which I was raised was very missionary minded. We had missionaries coming through all the time. And almost all of those missionaries stayed with our family. So from as early as I can remember, I've been hearing stories about Christianity around the world. That's not the study of world Christianity, but it's an awareness at least, I think I began to turn this direction. Sorry.
mystic started again.
I think I began to turn this direction shortly after I finished my undergraduate study, which was at Wheaton College. And I ran into two books almost accidentally. One was a book by Aziza Tia called about Eastern Christianity, and other one was David Barrett's book about the new independence movements in African Christianity. And after reading those two books, it sort of opened my eyes to the fact that there were all sorts of things happening around the world of Christianity that I wasn't aware of. So I began to look into that my wife will tell you stories about how I began to construct these timelines. of church history in different continents way, way back in the 1980s, trying to understand what's going on. But then I went to grad school, grad school takes a lot of work. It started teaching him aside, that takes a lot of work to get going. I really began to get back into this around 1990 when I started to introduce more non Western, but we would have been called non Western components into teaching the history of Christianity. It became so important to me that around 1995 I began teaching courses on introduction to Christianity in Africa, and into Christianity and Asia and Christianity, Latin America, and it's sort of taken off from there. But why I think it's so important is I think we are presently living through the most dramatic period of change in history, Christianity, period, the reformation, the evangelization of Europe, all pale in comparison to what's taking place in the last 50 years in Christianity and, and for me, it has you're absolutely right. It's become a passion for me to help Christians. Understand how broad the movement has become and how much we need to be conversing with each other. At this point, only about 10% of the world's Christians live in North America. 90% of them live elsewhere. So I spend a great deal of my time in Messiah trying to get students to understand that other 90% of the world Christian movement, that's where the future of Christianity is. Obviously North America is also important, but we need to be thinking globally. Hmm.
Thank you so much for that. Professor Jacobson. It's fascinating for me to be speaking to a historian with a passion for World Christianity. Usually I speak to Missy ologists with World passions for World Christianity that's typically the disciplinary focus of those who specialized in world Christianity. Can we speak of a time that that is the beginning point for this time of world Christianity if you were if you were establishing an age as it were, as we find in church history books for World Christianity, when would that period begin?
I think there's two issues involved here. One is when did world Christianity become a reality in terms of the sociological description of Christianity around the world, and when did it dawn as a form of consciousness for Christians? I think the reality of being a global movement really took off after World War Two. And I can go into more detail about what's involved there. I would also say this is what I would call the second globalization to Christianity as well. In the sixth, seventh and eighth centuries, there was a first globalization that obviously didn't include the Americas. But during that first globalization, Christianity was spread everywhere from Ireland to China, South and Africa, moving north into Europe. So it contracts after that to Europe, but but this is the second globalization. There are some key markers in the consciousness though of global Christianity and it begins with a messy, messy theological movement missions movement. Obviously the Edinburg conference in 1980 Word evangelism was an enormous beginning point for a global consciousness about Christianity. I think the founding of the World Council of Churches in 1948 was another enormous step forward in terms of awareness of and the desire to build connections between Christians worldwide. The Lozano conference in 1974 was another one of those steps where evangelicals, in a more grassroots fashion began to connect with Christians all around the world. I think really, in terms of consciousness, then it was the writings of people like Andrew wall, and Lom and Sonny who began to do this. And of course, Philip Jenkins was the person who popularized it most. But the the real turning point then was the worldwide web. It's the last 10 to 15 years where people all over the world now have access to Christians everywhere else. That's coupled with the increase in short term missionary activity all around the world. So more and more people in more congregations have had experiences face to face, on the ground experience with Christians elsewhere. So I really think the reality began to take off right after World War Two. The real full consciousness of being a world community of faith is probably only about 10 years old. Who,
Professor Jacobson sometimes my students asked me what's new about world Christianity after the account that we have an x to the Jewish faith in a Christian form this Messianic Jewish faith spread to every part of the Roman and parthian Empire? What's new about the age of world Christianity as we experience it today? That's a great question.
I think. Christianity has always been an incarnational faith. So it moves from culture to culture, it can be expressed in language after language. And each of those languages and cultures, shapes the way Christianity takes form in the world in different ways. That's always In the history of Christianity from the beginning until now, what really makes the present age difference is that all of those different cultures and languages are now interconnected in a way they they haven't been before. And there's also a much the center of gravity is not to say, there is no center of gravity to the Christian movement anymore. I mean, it's, it's, it's 25% of the world's Christians live in Europe. 25% live in Africa. 25% live in Latin America, 15% Asia, 10% in the US. So there's no one center, there's not a center and periphery. We have a kind of what I call a flat Christian world, where Christians everywhere now have access to each other. How Christians act anywhere in the world affects how Christians are seen elsewhere. I sometimes tell the story to my students. A couple of years ago, there was a Baptist minister in Florida who announced that he's going to burn a Koran. I think he ended up not doing that. But the mere fact that he announced it meant that Christians died in the Middle East. And and in our so the way we talk and the way we act have more ramifications now than ever before, because it implicates Christians elsewhere. Pope Francis was just here in Philadelphia, Washington DC in New York. Pope Francis has been a blessing for Christians worldwide, whether they're Catholic or Protestant or orthodox, orthodox or Pentecostal, simply because he is he has re articulated the gospel as genuinely good news in a way that I think people who are not Christians understand and appreciate even if they're not going to accept that message. They they really appreciate the Spirit that He brings. It's affected all of us. And so I think it's that interconnectedness that makes things different today. Hmm.
Professor Jacobson in chapter two of your book, you introduced your readers to the four principal traditions of world Christianity, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant and Pentecostal Why do you conclude that Pentecostalism should be listed as a fourth Christian tradition? Since Pentecostalism tends to be an overlapping category we can speak of Pentecostal Roman Catholics or Pentecostal Protestants. Help me understand your decision there.
Okay, that's a that's a good question and some people will disagree with me. Yes, I do describe for traditions Catholicism, half the half the Christians in the world are Catholic about 10% of Orthodox, about 20% are traditionally Protestant, and I would say about 20% are Pentecostal or what's interesting about these traditions as is that the traditions are not only different from each other than the character of the tradition itself difference. So for for orthodox and Catholic Christians, being part of that tradition is defined institutionally, you are part of a church or in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, one of numerous Orthodox churches that are in fellowship with each other. So there's so it's an institutional It's an institutionalized tradition. Protestantism, by contrast is what I call a movement. It's a movement held together by a handful of theological assertions, the importance of the Bible, the priesthood of all believers salvation by faith alone through grace alone. It's a handful of theological ideas or convictions that then define a broad movement with a lot of diversity within it. I think Pentecostalism is also a movement. But what makes it different it's a it's a movement that has distinctive emphases, but those emphases on things that many other Christians also believe to some degree. So for example, many Christians in many traditions who believe God can heal people. Many Christians in many traditions believe God can speak to people in a prophetic way. What's different about the Pentecostal movement is that Pentecostals believe that those kinds of activities ought to be part of the normal Christian experience. They should not be exceptional. things so that means that if it's a matter of emphases it does mean that the Pentecostal movement has very fuzzy boundaries because how much of an emphasis Do you need to have to be considered fully Pentecostal or partly Pentecostal or so you could talk about being more or less Pentecostal in a way that you don't talk about being more or less Catholic. You either are Catholic or you can in terms of the big question really is Pentecostalism does overlap with orthodoxy in Catholicism, more so even with Protestantism. And Pentecostalism has emerged from Protestantism, and it shares some of the same characteristics. It's a Bible based movement. It believes in salvation by grace alone through faith alone, but I think it has a difference. It's emerging a different center of gravity than Protestantism. So Protestantism tends to be word oriented. It's about proper and correct belief. And I think that Pentecostalism, the center of gravity is about experiencing God in one's own existential life, you physically experiencing God. Again, Pentecostals read the Bible so they could understand the Bible. Pentecostals read the Bible so they can reproduce the kinds of activity of the spirit in the world that's described in the Bible. So it's slightly different. I also say that the Catholic and Orthodox traditions have 1000 years of common history. Now, they slowly divided over the years of 500 to say 1000 or 1100. And then the typical split is in 1054, we say, which is a kind of an artificial date. So there was this the slow drifting apart. I think the same thing is happening within Protestant and Pentecostal that, that I think over the last century, it's become a clear differentiation between the centers of gravity's of these two movements, traditional Protestantism versus Pentecostalism. This is very obvious in Latin America, much more so than in the US. And, and so they're becoming more distinct. But on the same hand, you're absolutely right that the boundaries of Pentecostalism are so fuzzy. That it's hard, hard to define. Hmm. Let me just say one more thing about that. That'd be too This was over the past 10 to 20 years, people have been making all sorts of astronomical claims about the growth of Pentecostal charismatic Christianity around the world. And one of the reasons they could do that is because there was no accountability. Because Because you could claim lots of people who liked the Holy Spirit it all of these traditions, and you could bolster these numbers. So what I wanted to do when I really began, especially to write the world's Christians was to figure out realistically about what percentage of the global Christian population is fundamentally oriented in a Pentecostal or charismatic way, as opposed to a non charismatic Protestant form of Christianity, or Catholicism, orthodox orthodoxy. Yes, there's overlap. So that's why I use these huge I mean, my station stakes are 50% 10% 2020 I think when you see these statistics that go down to, you know, 1% or 21.25%, we just don't have that kind of clarity or specificity.
Thank you for that. Professor Jacobson, Professor Jacobson. That is one of the first discoveries that people make as they as they wander into this field of global Christianity. And my students are encountering this as they begin reading in this field. They realize how large of a phenomenon world Pentecostalism is. And thank you also for speaking to the difficulty of nailing down exactly what that is. In your view, what makes one Pentecostal is this are the lines defining that doctrinal commitments? Is it a form of worship? Is it something else? Thank you.
Again, I think it's for Pentecostal charismatic Christians. What defines them is an expectation that Gods For miraculous presence should be part of normal Christian life. It has a expression in worship. It has implications for doctrine and theology. It has implications for ethics in how we interact with people. So I think it has lots of implications, but I think the center of it is this understanding that God is alive and active, visibly observable in the Christian community and in the world as a whole. And it it's, it changes the way you see things, but I don't think it's, I don't think you can nail the Pentecostal movement down to a set of doctrines. Pentecostals do have theologies, and early on in the movement speaking in tongues is a marker of being a Pentecostal. It's not a mark of being a Pentecostal charismatic Christian today. You know, it's certainly one of the markers that people would look at. But I think, again, it may be be traditional, but its emphasis on the gifts of the Spirit as part of the normal the full range of gifts. The spirit is part of the normal Christian life.
Thank you. Professor Jacobson in book, excuse me, in chapters three through seven of your book, you describe Christianity in the context of Africa, Latin America, Europe, Asia, and then also North America. There's a theological problem brewing here. And it's at the core of world Christianity in the study of world Christianity, and that is this. What does it mean that Christianity of faith that has canonized the teachings of the apostles should have vastly different expressions on the various continents of the globe? What does it mean for there to be an African Christian theology or a North American Christian theology is our all Christians theological descendants of the Apostolic deposit?
Thank you. that's a that's a good question. Let me begin in an odd way, maybe. I think one of the most interesting things about the Bible is that we have four gospels, not one and in the at the end of the first century, beginning of the second century, first nation who lived in Syria, wrote a harmony of the four gospels, that's called the de tesoro. And and the broad Christian tradition overall rejected the idea that the four gospels should be reduced to one. And what that says to me is that it represents or reflects the fact that that Christians believe human language, no human language is capable of understanding the fullness of the gospel of the fullness of God. So the fact that we have multiple witnesses to Jesus is a good symbol of the fact that now we have multiple ways of expressing the gospel and faith in Christ around the world. I think it goes back to this notion that human language is inadequate for talking about God, we can we, God has revealed certain things to us that we can say, let me know. But there's an awful lot that we don't know. In the Orthodox tradition. This is called apophatic theology and they say, you know, we should say speak about God, what we what has been revealed and what we do know and we should remain silent about the things we don't know. I think lots of theologians, especially in the West have assumed we can know more about God and spiritual realities than is possible. And they can nail those down in tight knit theological categories. I think one of the things that global Christianity is reminding us is that the core of the gospel is really basically fairly simple. You know, God has forgiven us. God has shown us grace, and we are expected to show grace to others. God has spoken good news to us and we are expected to speak good news to others. I mean, this is the when Jesus was asked is the most important thing to do. He said, love God with all your heart, your mind, your soul, your body, and love your neighbor as yourself. I mean, know that there's theological implications, but the core of being forgiven by God, I've experienced that kind of grace being made whole, and then sharing that with others is fundamental. And I think what we're seeing is a kind of Global Christianity forces us back to some of those really simple core things of Christianity that are relatively easy to understand relatively hard to do. You know, sometimes we'd much rather spend time thinking more. And that's not what we need to do necessarily. We need to be doing doing better. But but also having said that, I think there's a, there's a real richness that comes from understanding the diversity of Christian in the world. One of the analogies I use in the book is it's a little bit like music. You can have a song or tune. You can have a tune that's recognizable and you can play it in an enormous amount of different musical styles operatically, in reggae, rock and roll, jazz, whatever, whatever you want. And you can still recognize the tune. But but it's it there's a richness that's added. And again, I think singing in harmony is is more enjoyable than singing in just in unison, and we're getting the sense of harmony and I think Part of what the global Christian movement does is it reminds us that all the biblical images of the unity of the church in the New Testament are about unity within diversity. And the diversity is just as important to maintain as the unity is to maintain. So I think it's changing the way we we see things. And when we talk about African Christianity or Asian Christianity, Latin American Christianity, there are actually multiple embodiments of Christianity in all of those continents. Hmm. But but they remind us of certain core things in global gospel, one of the things they say is that the issues that come up that are that are, are at the forefront of African Christianity or Latin American Christianity are not things that are foreign to North America, or to other parts of the world, but they're not at the forefront of what we talked about. So if in Latin America, Justice is at the forefront, that's also a theme in North American Christianity, but it's not the theme that's always highlighted. And we can learn a lot about balancing our own understanding of Christianity. Seeing how different parts of the world emphasize different aspects of the gospel. Hmm.
Thank you for that. Professor Jacobson from your research and writing. Would you say that global Christianity is ultimately converging together or spinning apart? How do you see things developing in the future?
That's a great question. And I have no way. This is where I am a historian and I say, Man, predicting the future is very hard. At best, I would say I think both things are happening at the same time right now, I think Christianity is still at this point in time in the process of becoming even more diverse. And I think that growth of diversity is going to continue for the foreseeable future in the next next four or five, 610 decades, at least, there's lots of people that are that are just beginning to grapple with how to understand the gospel in their own cultures. Make it make it realistic on the ground in their own cultures, that's going to go on so that's going to be increasing diversity. At the same time, I think the interconnectedness of the world Christian movement is growing all the time. And pulling people back into conversation with each other. I'm not sure that it's pulling people back into, to similarity all the time, but into conversation with each other. I think that's going to be happening more and more to. So you have this dual process going on. Which at my great hope is that we're, or I suppose, suppose I could say, My great fear, my fear is that Christianity will disintegrate into just a number of actually different kinds of religions, different Christianity's in the plural. Then why I think Christian diversity is hugely important for understanding of the gospel. I think it's a wonderful way of helping us to understand God's work and grow better, who we have to have Christians have to see the responsibility of staying in connection with each other. So I think we really need to work on that. And again, to do that, the first thing we need to do is know something about each other. which is again, one of the reasons Why I feel passionate about just trying to explain some of what's going on around the world so. So when you meet somebody from a different place, you understand them have kind of pre understanding. So people, Christians who express their faith differently don't seem strange, necessarily. They could seem welcome Lee different.
So that's my opening.
Thank you. And and Dr. Jacobson. What would you say as the world Christian movement comes into dialogue to an increasing degree? What are some of those talking points that you expect to emerge? What are the the pressing doctrinal issues or practical issues? Um,
one of the things that's going to help us a lot with the globalization of Christianity is that I think Christians are going to need to go back and think very clearly about some very, very basic questions. Questions like, like, Who is God? What's wrong with the world? What does God offer through Christ? You know, what do What does the mature Christian life look like? I think some of these very basic questions we have to go back and ask, let me just go talk about God, we, we have a theological definition of God, God is a trinity. And we know God's the creator of all that exists and everyone. I think the way many Christians in North America think about God is they tend to think about God as our God versus other people in the world. It's not part of our formal theology, but it's part of our informal theology about the way we live. We don't really think of God as being the God of all the people in China as well, all the people in the world, or the God of all creation. We think we tend to think of God as our God somehow in a way that I think diminishes our understanding of the majesty and grantor and overarching love of God for everything that exists. So I think going back and thinking about some of these things, what's wrong with the world you know, in the West again, we tend to Think of what's wrong with the world. We use the word sin to define that. And in sin as we understand it in the West, usually as an individual doing something wrong. But in Asia, it's much more likely to talk about, well, me cultures are bent or or point in certain directions that either help people or harm people mean there are much broader interpersonal, cultural, social dynamics that are part of what's wrong with the world, that the gospel also addresses. So I think we'll be able to hear the gospel in a deeper and richer way. But I think it means going back and asking some very simple questions. And this is one of the things that's have to happen. I really want the conversation about global Christianity to be a season that that changes the flavor of everything. So for example, one of the things this new book global gospel that Baker's doing, it's published under the under the category of Intercultural Studies. I just assumed like to see it under history and theology, because it's people who are doing theology and who are studying history that also need to think globally in a new way. So much of our theology is still, you know, study the history of Western philosophy and theology and all the fine points and arguments and distinctions we made. And then you can make your little tiny addition to that. And I appreciate all the I love theology, I was a philosophy undergraduate. So I'm not saying anything against theologians, philosophers. But But we've got to get beyond the narrowness of that conversation and talk to the other 90% of the world and go back and ask some really simple questions and then begin to talk to each other. And I think we'll be able to learn an awful lot. It's not starting over totally from scratch. But it does mean setting aside a lot of what we consider really important now and maybe seeing it as a little less important because it's so culturally really specific and limited. And we need to be thinking more broadly. So I hope I hope things like that happen soon. Hmm.
Professor Jacobson, if I can close with the question that we've been asking all of our guests on this program, and that is this, what would it mean today for the church to be united? And how would we recognize this unity? And how can we pursue this unity? Thank you.
Again, that's that's a wonderful question.
I think. I'll see
us moving in a good direction when we begin to
actively learn from each other and converse with each other around the world. When when we actually begin to think outside our culture so that we can come back to our culture and see it in new ways when we begin to listen to each other. The other thing I think is really important is that that I would love to see Christians worldwide genuinely be able to worship with each other for, you know, conservative Presbyterian congregations to welcome Pentecostals into worship in a Presbyterian way. That's fine. And for Presbyterians to go worship at Pentecostal churches, sometimes in a genuinely Pentecostal way. I wish you know, we're coming up on 2017, which is 500 years since the beginning of the Reformation. I wish that Protestants and Catholics could genuinely open their worship services fully to each other, so that we could, for example, take the Lord's Supper together. I grew up in a product. These are issues that are I have questions for my Catholic friends about this. I grew up in a very what I would call low church Protestantism where the the table of the Lord's Supper was always open to everyone who was a follower of Jesus. You have to examine your own life before you came to the table. But it's open to everybody because it's not my table. It's not your table. It's not any churches table. It's Jesus table. He's the host. So we all come together. I would love it if we could begin genuinely to celebrate communion with each other all around the world across all of our traditions. I think that would be a starting point. When you get to know people. You really know people when you've had them into your home and you've shared a meal, the Eucharist of the Lord's Supper, communion is only a sort of a symbol of a meal anymore. But even that symbol is really important. And of course, for many Christians, it's much more than a symbol. It's the body and blood of Christ. And I don't mean to minimize that. But, but for us to not be able to sit around that table together yet, is really I think, a tragedy and causes Christ great sorrow even to this day and I I wish we could move there more quickly. Hmm.
It's been our delight to be speaking with Professor Douglas Jacobson. Professor Jacobson is distinguished professor of church history and theology at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, and also author of the book that we've been discussing today, global gospel and introduction to Christianity on five continents available later this year in 2015. From Baker academic, Professor Jacobson, thank you so much for being with us. It's great talking