The Rise of Global Christianity (Part 3)

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The Rise of Global Christianity (Part 3)

This is part 3 of a 3-part series. Part 1 can be read here and Part 2 can be read here

The Future of Christian Socio-Politics and the Rise of GloboChristianity

One might wonder what the future holds for American Christianity in its polarized socio-political climate. In itself, no reconciliation appears possible through continued dialogue. Were the Right and Left to remain true to their present purposes, they would be incompatible philosophically, at least in the secular world. Neither is there evidence that one will easily eclipse the other any time soon.

Notwithstanding Pope Francis’ unifying charisma, the status quo in America points toward continued polarization, even among Catholics. Thus, if the Right and Left can’t unite themselves as Christians in this modern age within Christendom (nations strongly culturally influenced by Christianity), then something may unite them from the outside. Any union between the two sides is possible only by the initiation of outside events and ideologies that conflict with Christianity at large. We may need to look beyond America to see what is encountering Christianity from a global perspective. A number of provocative books have been written recently discussing the future of Christianity that are fully aware of its internal divisions between the Right and Left. In particular, Christian philosopher and theologian Carl Raschke offers an assessment that points to a global picture.

“From God’s point of view,” writes Raschke, “the ‘abomination of desolation’ in today’s culture is not the level of sophistication, or purity, of one’s supposed take on how we know what we know, or do not know what we know. That is theological arrogance and self-deception. It is the installation of a swinish and self-congratulatory intellectual faddism, found in both conservative and liberal religion, in the holy temple of the Christian faith. We need to turn over the tables and throw out not only the money changers—the growth gurus who both run and ruin the evangelical churches—but also the traders in conceptual currency who transform God’s [church] into a brothel of philosophical and cultural fashions rather than a genuine house of prayer; we need to open our hearts and minds into authentic relationship with the Lord.

“The traders lamentably are not only legion on the right but are also increasingly found on the left. A postmodern Christian who wants to stay pure to the gospel needs to navigate carefully, not running off the road into the ditch on either side. In American Christianity much of the debate about modern and postmodern, conventional and Emerging, has degenerated into just one more skirmish in the ongoing culture wars, with unmistakable political overtones mimicking familiar campaign bluster. The leadership of the emerging movement has increasingly pushed the discourse from what it might mean to follow Jesus to what it might mean to follow the policy agenda of the Democratic National Committee. If the criticism of the now-fading religious right was that one cannot make Jesus into a Republican, it is equally true that one cannot simply convert him into a Democrat. . . . In many respects the emerging religious left is just a fun-house mirror of the religious right; it is defined by its spirit of contrariness and a kind of passive-aggressive incredulity about what is lurking out there in the world at large. The culture wars are of no more consequence for the coming GloboChristianity than [a] . . . sectarian strife.”[1]

Raschke realizes clearly that mainstream Christianity is at a point of crisis, both in America, and even more importantly, globally. It is struggling to define its identity. Yet, through this ongoing struggle, it is also encountering a new challenge, one that is unique in the history of Christianity, as it finally approaches its goal of sharing the gospel message throughout the whole world (Matt. 24:14). And it is not secularism, or atheism, that is Christianity’s primary challenge on a global scale.

Raschke observes that throughout the history of Christianity, it has “flourished because it was able to absorb . . . rather than expel many elements from the rainbow continuum of world religions that predominated at the time. The staggering nature of this feat has often gone unappreciated by Christian scholarship of all stripes.”[2] Without critiquing how this may have negatively affected the purity of Christian theology, Raschke’s point is historical and sociological. Christianity frequently encountered religions that had developed independently of it, and Christianity was able to defeat or absorb them philosophically. Christianity proved more attractive and logical. In the 21st century, however, controversial a topic as it may be, Christianity has found a culture and religion that is specifically resistant to it, that of Islam, which is the only major world religion that was formed in part as a response to Christianity.

The consequences of this are straightforward. The quest of mainstream Christianity to evangelize to the world, to become a GloboChristianity as Rashke put it, has found its first major stumbling block in the so-called 10/40 Window, representing North Africa, the Middle East, and parts of southeast Asia, where a significant portion of the world’s population lives, and where projections indicate the most rapid population growth in the coming decades.

Put simply, Christianity’s evangelistic impulse through “missions—whether old-guard or postmodern. . . has been unable to come to grips with the challenge of Islam.”[3] Needless to say, violence serves no useful role as part of any solution to this challenge for Christianity or the West, however much secular powers may feel it to be necessary at times in the light of recent violence demonstrated by certain Islamic groups.

Raschke, and others, like historian Philip Jenkins, are all too aware that the 10/40 Window, the “‘window of resistance’ to Christian missions and evangelism,”[4] contains countries and cultures that are predominantly Muslim. In the aftermath of the events on 9/11 and a tide of interest in Islam in the mainstream news in America and the West, Raschke writes that “the looming clash” that will define the future of Christianity will be “between the two historico-religious tectonic plates that comprise Christian and Islamic visions of justice and the end times. The die has been cast, and we ignore these forebodings at our own peril.” Thus, to “explore . . . what a global incarnational Christianity might look like, we need to examine the depth of the challenge it might be facing. We must address the challenge of what has come to be called the postmodern Islamic revival.”[5]

Similarly, Jenkins observes that “at the turn of the third millennium, religious loyalties are at the root of many of the world’s ongoing civil wars and political violence, and in most cases, the critical division is the age-old battle between Christianity and Islam.”[6] Although such tensions are obviously not desirable, and while some may point toward a hopeful coexistence, it is impossible to avoid the long-term potential for the fundamental transformation of our cultures stemming from this tension.

Raschke perceptively notes that historic “Christian fundamentalism [on the Right and Left] and jihadist Islam alike draw their energy from passionate moral and spiritual convictions inflamed by [postmodernism].”[7] Raschke believes that “the Western [Secular Left leaning] intelligentsia’s familiar dismissal of these fundamentalisms as backward and ignorant reflects an equally ignorant and outdated bookish view regarding the sources of religious meaning and authority. In a not-so-nuanced sense these fundamentalisms are the cutting edge of globalized, and globalizing, religiosity.”[8]

Raschke is offering a subtle critique of the West’s historical responses to Islam, from that of engaging it militarily to ignoring it. Both are ultimately inadequate. Put more precisely, “Western secularists have not yet figured out that Islam has more allure among the perceived victims of globalization and Westernization than anything they might offer up because it provides a collectivist vision that is also deeply spiritual. Evangelicals, in contrast, have tended to hang on to the old colonial mentality, which regards Muslims as on the same level as tribal animists or folk religionists rather than acknowledging Islam as a redoubtable force that at one time almost completely overwhelmed—and in the right circumstances could still overwhelm—the Christian West.”[9]

Interestingly, Raschke observes that “the only way Christianity can hope to succeed against Islam in today’s global context is to put aside the secularist project altogether. That is not to say that Christianity . . . must adopt some form of quasi-Marxist liberation theology in answer to Islam. . . . Christianity today must become far more radical than it has ever imagined.”[10] But he is not speaking in favor of Christianity’s past unwise and un-Christian efforts, nor of the Secular Right’s solution today to entrench the West within an openly antagonistic stance. Rather, indeed, “the fulfillment of the Great Commission will not be without struggle.

“The struggle is ultimately a spiritual one, but it is real, it is contemporary, and it will become more intense as the years wear on. Through dialogue, Muslims and Christians may come to agree on common points of their mutual Abrahamic faiths, but the differences will always outweigh the similarities. The differences make the difference.”[11] And such differences will constitute the development and success of Christianity in the future, both globally, and, eventually, within America. Raschke concludes by noting that our global postmodern (what he calls “globopomo”) resurgence, which includes religion, “has set us on an inescapable collision of eschatologies”[12] with Islam.

As we advance upon the road toward this collision, our notions of a “liberal Christian, or even post-Christian, global civil society that allows a loose and mutually respectful—if not tolerant—recital of differences is looming as increasingly less possible in our globopomo environment.”[13] Thus, Christianity will itself face a crisis of a more severe type than what the Right and the Left offer us. “The challenge to the postmodern Christian sensibility will not be whether some evangelically flavored form of Western cultural pluralism and libertarianism can seriously compete with the moral and spiritual absolutes being propounded by the resurgence of religion throughout the developing world.”[14] Rather, “the challenge is to be able to frame the nonnegotiable truth of the Christian witness in terms that will have a genuine, planetary impact.”[15] Raschke realizes that the only solution for Christianity is “a new eschatological fervor on the part of Christians the world over, particularly in the senescent West, that will reactivate the summons of the Great Commission in these latter days.”[16]

Adventism Within the Future of GloboChristianity.

If the answer to the polarization in mainstream Christianity’s future, including particularly in America, is not found in the Religious Right or Emerging Left, as Raschke contends, then where may it be found? In James Smith’s introduction to Raschke’s book GloboChrist, Smith, while summarizing Raschke’s book, invites him to “consider becoming a fervent devotee of ‘remnant’ theology—committed to the sense that God is present with the ‘few’ who remain faithful.”[17] Such an invitation is one that Adventism has long welcomed with its emphasis on a remnant theme in our philosophical theology’s eschatological focus.

Adventism may look toward biblical prophecy with a renewed vigor for the answer to this question. Recently, Tim Roosenberg and Doug Batchelor have advanced an interpretation, which has additional forthcoming scholarly support, which sees a prominent place for Islam in the global picture of Adventist eschatology.[18] Central to his view is that in Daniel 11:24 to 39, the king of the north represents various progressions of apostate Christianity, which is centered upon Catholicism’s embrace of Sunday, while “the king of the south during that period was Islam.”[19] Of course, Roosenberg also believes, and much more controversially (particularly in Adventist history), that in Daniel 11:40 to 45, there is no change from the previous geo-political-religious focus, and thus the king of the north remains apostate and false Christianity, and the king of the south remains Islam, and not atheism or some other philosophical perspective, through to the end of time.[20]

The kings of the north and south are both representatives of false religious and political powers and influences. Thus, Adventists cannot support, as a movement begun by those mostly living in the Christian West, the methods of the king of the north in opposing the king of the south. We are, as Sabbatarians, “caught in the middle” between Sunday-worshiping Christians and Friday-worshiping Muslims, and are thus a remnant seeking to influence the world by informing people of the true nature of present events while simultaneously awaiting our rescue from it. We are trapped in the middle of this global clash of cultures, which is both philosophical (ideological) as well as manifesting itself in a geopolitical form that is recognizable to us with European Christianity located north of the predominantly southern Islamic countries.

Adventist evangelism takes place within the ideological fervor of the growing global geopolitical tensions between so-called Christian nations and Islam. Tragically, recent events illustrate the presence of Adventists within the violent tensions in parts of the world where Islam and Christianity coexist. This was evident in the deaths of 10 Adventists in the Kenyan university massacre.

Adventism’s greatest evangelistic challenge is navigating through this global context. As such, if viewed philosophically, traditional interpretations that place Adventism and spiritual issues at the center of Daniel 11:40 to 45 can still be regarded as true while simultaneously accepting the external global geopolitical context Roosenberg presents. To aid in explaining this, essentially, one common interpretation of the king of the south in Daniel 11:40 to 45, atheism, is not a viable philosophical counter to Catholicism. Atheism is, in a philosophically technical sense, a phantom in the Western world, a natural consequence of Platonic/Aristotelian Christianity taken to its logical secularized conclusion.

Islam, however, remains such a counter to Christianity, precisely because it mirrors Catholicism in utilizing a Platonic/Aristotelian philosophical framework. This provides Islam with a metaphysics comparable to Catholicism and places it within a religio-ethical context. As such, Islam provides the only genuine competitor to Catholicism at a philosophical level. The only serious alternative to the Platonic/Aristotelian framework would be Eastern religions, which are not necessarily atheistic, often leaning to pantheism.

These complex issues offer a compelling reason to study contemporary events with a renewed and sharper focus. Adventists have something to offer, both in sympathy, and critique, to the American Right and the American Left, as well as how they each currently relate to the global context. Adventists also have something to offer, both in sympathy and critique, to the people from both of the broader global cultures of Christianity and Islam. We have a message to the entire world concerning its impending end and the second coming of Christ. Realizing how our message fits within the American and global context may invigorate our evangelistic message, particularly in relationship to the philosophical issues undergirding the Great Controversy, as well as aid in clarifying our prophetic and eschatological message for people at the dawn of the 21st century.

For the original full-length version, click here.

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Notes:

[1] Carl Raschke, GloboChrist: The Great Commission Takes a Postmodern Turn (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2008), pp. 158, 159.

[2] Ibid., p. 78.

[3] Ibid., p. 95.

[4] Ibid., pp. 94, 95.

[5] Ibid., p. 93.

[6] Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), p. 163. See also George Van Pelt Campbell, “A Biblical Theology of the Common Good,” in Bibliotheca Sacra 172:686 (2015):153.

[7] Raschke, GloboChrist, op. cit., p. 120.

[8] Ibid., p. 120.

[9] Ibid., p. 114.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid., p. 115.

[12] Ibid., p. 143.

[13] Ibid., p. 143.

[14] Ibid., p. 148.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid., p. 150.

[17] Ibid., p. 10.

[18] Tim Roosenberg, Islam & Christianity in Prophecy (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Publ. Assn., 2011).

[19] Ibid., p. 95.

[20] Ibid., p. 51.

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Michael Younker is a consulting editor for The Compass Magazine. He is completing a doctoral degree in philosophical theology (2019) at Andrews University.