I recently finished reading Robert Wuthnow’s 2009 book, Boundless Faith. He does a superb job of analyzing the current paradigm of mission (a paradigm I myself have adopted and written about on this website). Chapter 2 of this book makes a challenging argument regarding the Global South. Popularized by Walls, Jenkins, and others, the new Christian population centers of non-White, non-Western Christianity have become the focus of mission strategy and thinking.
What if, as Wuthnow suggests, there is no Global South?
Wuthnow contends that the proponents of this view have oversimplified global developments to the point that the entire paradigm is open to question. He traces the development of the concept of world Christianity (which became known more recently as “global Christianity”) through Walls and Jenkins. However, the way Jenkins has used David Barrett’s data is Wuthnow’s first challenge: Barrett paints a complicated picture of the world’s Christians. By simplifying it for the average reader, Jenkins redefines what, in reality, is happening.
I will let you get the book and read Wuthnow’s depiction of the new paradigm as it has been popularly used. He notes, “Missiologists argued that it [the new paradigm] necessitated a fundamental shift from am emphasis on sending missionaries, or even talking about missions, to viewing the church everywhere as being God’s witness in the world” (p. 37). Re-thinking the premise of mission has led to an overhaul in missiology, from goals to how we record historically the spread of the gospel.
There is far more to Wuthnow’s argument than I care to write up in a blog post. I do find it interesting that we can't seem to define the Global South. China, which has had tremendous Christian growth, is not found in the southern Hemisphere. Like globalization, the growth of Christianity has been uneven and has roughly followed population trends. America continues to be a nation with incredible Evangelical clout.
Let me give you one more argument that he makes. Often, in emphasizing the role of the non-West, numeric growth is the key to understanding Christianity’s center. Numeric growth, however, never tracks with influence. A range of other issues also come into play, like money, politics, intellectual force, etc.
I hope I have wet your appetite for this book. It’s a very good read regardless of how you feel about the author’s position.