The coming global schism?

Pew Forums sponsored a conference on faith, politics and public life earlier this month. The featured speaker was Phillip Jenkins, a professor at Penn State University a distinguished professor of Religious Studies and History (who has been writing about the growing strength of the global south expression of Christianity).

The long article begins with an address by Jenkins and then continues with a number of questions for members of the media asking him and other panelists for clarification and insight about how the vital faith of the global south is changing the way Christianity interacts at numerous levels in the developed nations.

Here’s just a bit of the initial statement:

“…I was once talking to some West Africans about the bits of the Bible that made sense to them in ways that could not make sense to Westerners. They said, ‘We live in agricultural societies, so things like the Parable of the Sower made great sense.’ Just talking about it, they started getting teary eyed. Then they mentioned Psalm 126. Psalm 126 is a psalm that is widely quoted, and it goes like this: ‘The man who goes forth into the fields in tears weeping to sow the seed will bring the sheaves again in joy.’ You understand perfectly well why a farmer would bring the sheaves again in joy; he’s celebrating harvest time.

But why do you weep while you’re sowing? ‘It’s obvious,’ they said to me. ‘Whoever wrote this psalm was writing at a time of famine, like we had a couple of years ago. You’ve got the corn that’s left, and you can do one of two things with it. You can feed your family with it, but if you do that, you’re not a farmer anymore [because you have no seeds left] and you have to migrate to the city and become a beggar, and what’s going to happen to your children and so on. Or you can take the corn literally out of the hands of your hungry children and use it as seed corn and sow it. That’s why a farmer weeps while sowing the corn. It’s obvious.’

As I said, it wasn’t obvious to me, but there are any number of examples like that where the Bible describes a world that makes immediate, intuitive, documentary sense in a way it can’t for us. It’s almost as if every passage comes with – (unintelligible) – at the end. You have texts like the Book of Ruth, for example. The Book of Ruth is all about a society destroyed by famine where the men have left because they can, and the women are left behind with the children, and the world is held together by people being loyal to clan ties. Can’t think of why that would be relevant in large chunks of Africa.”

Read the rest here.

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