Emerging World Christianity and the Old Testament

I recently subscribed to Books and Culture, a publication owned by Christianity Today, and a treasure-house of ideas I might never be exposed to had I not subscribed. I was floored by an article I read at http://www.christianitytoday.com/bc/2007/003/7.22.html

It seems that the number of Christians in the southern hemisphere and the Orient is surpassing that in the North and the West. I knew about this trend. I did not know that Emerging World Christians are growing in their influence in worldwide Christian thinking. This has especially impacted the Anglican Church. Whereas Britain has 1 million Anglicans and far less attend church, Nigeria has 18 million Anglicans and nearly all attend. Put that in perspective. That means Anglicans in Nigeria dwarf the Southern Baptist Convention in the U.S.

Anyway, I got a lot of nakhas (joy) from reading the perspective of Emerging World Christians on the Old Testament. I hope you will get nakhas like I did (email me and let me know):

A Larger Bible
One of the remarkable features of African and Asian biblical reading, Jenkins says, is the affinity readers feel to the Old Testament. In contemporary northern churches, the traditional doctrine that the New Testament fulfills and builds upon the Old Testament has mutated into the idea that the New Testament supersedes, even replaces, the Old Testament. But Africans find the Old Testament exciting and relevant. It deals with nomadic life, polygamy, rituals of sacrifice—their traditional world. Asians revere the Old Testament’s wisdom literature, its “oriental“ mind. On both continents, the Old Testament’s denunciation of idolatry—a subject that usually gets modulated and symbolized in the North—is straight-up relevant and prophetic. Both Africans and Asians love the Book of Proverbs. Modern-minded northerners constantly look for fresh ways of saying things, which can make the biblical couplets sound trite and old. But in orally transmitted cultures, proverbs convey the wisdom of the ancients across generations. Biblical proverbs interweave almost seamlessly with traditional wise sayings.

There is much about the New Testament to love in the global South as well, and the favorite passages may surprise northerners. Northern commentators, especially since the Reformation, have wrestled with the place of the Epistle of James in the canon, with its apparent contradictions of the Pauline doctrines of salvation by faith alone. An “epistle of straw,“ Martin Luther called it. But James is wisdom literature, and as such, it may be the most powerful and revered New Testament book of them all for southern Christians. It is proverbial, practical, concrete, action-oriented, and directed to the poor and the distressed. Jenkins puts the entire epistle in an appendix and urges his readers to revisit it.

The Book of Revelation does not play well in northern, mainline contexts. It is redolent of weird last-days cults, it is filled with violent imagery and retribution, and it depicts the meltdown of human civilization, not its advance. But given the grim realities of many places in the global South, Jenkins observes, Revelation’s “portrayal of secular states as deceptive, evil persecutors, and cities as the seats of demonic forces,“ gives it widespread appeal: “For many, left and right, it reads like a political science textbook.“ Revelation promises beleaguered believers that no matter what, God’s justice will prevail. So in Uganda, Idi Amin stood in for the Beast; in China, believers gained hope during times of intense persecution; and in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, the Kairos Document of 1985 named the Nationalist regime the Antichrist.

–Joel Carpenter, Back to the Bible: A New Christian Heartland, Books and Culture


About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
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3 Responses to Emerging World Christianity and the Old Testament

  1. Joe (Cristian believer) says:

    Interesting is the reference to James as a book of works. I think that James clearly states the position that “faith without companion works is dead and so it is. Certainly Abram believing G_D’s promises was important, but he got up and left his native land and without that, even his faith would have died. Had he failed to bring Issac to sacrifice that would have also negated his apparent faith. One can go on forever in the Old Testament with example after example of faith WITH works. The point James stresses is faith first followed by works. By the way, Luther changed his mind later about this book and agreed to its importance in the canon. Luther was very much afraid that James represented the Papist position of works generating faith. Faith in Jeshua is primary, but G_D gives us works in proportion to our faith.

  2. Wow… call me a “Southerner,” I guess! This is incredible! The Messianic community needs to start reaching out to these areas, I think we’ll see even more traction than we’re getting in the entire rest of the world combined!

  3. Steve says:

    Contradictions with Paul, by James? this shouldn’t be an issue. James the Just is Desposyni, head of the home congregation in Jerusalem.

    “Larger Bible”
    I think also important aspects with regards to “Larger Bible”. These regions have a strong Jewish and Christian tradition already well established well prior to the western European influence or in the case of India corrupted. One only needs to look to the Apostles Phillip, Mark, Peter, and Thomas for their imprint on these regions of the east, or earlier King Solomon and the ancient established trade routes. We also have the Mandeans who had been Johns followers in Iraq. (Johnites)

    If one is looking for the best melding, and continued tradition would be the Ethiopian Orthodox Church of today, On the OT canon I for one have never accepted the Council of Jamnia nor this nonsense of the later masoretic being the most accurate translations, DSS proves that assumption incorrect. This region has avoided much of the conflict which plagued European history.

    The expanded canons of the Oriental Orthodox have shown continuity with ancient findings from Qumran to Cairo, review of the material included in the OT canons reflects a regional history such as Maccabees 1, 2 which are critical to the times of Yeshua, Judea, and Roman Empire. while Maccabees 3 as related to the Coptic churches own regional history. The Pharisees Jubilees, and Enoch liturgy also retained and relates to a earlier tradition within Jewish culture and to the days of the Apostles.

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