The Global Church Isn’t…

You cannot make simple, broad generalisations about the church in one African country or region.

When we try to generalise about the World church and say that it is “X”, we are actually saying far more about ourselves and our own ethnocentrism than we are about anything else. This is particularly the case when we are criticising the rest of the church, for example saying that there is a “theological famine” around the world. When our rhetoric suggests that Christianity in the West is normative (non-X) and everyone else is different (X), we are displaying a degree of arrogance and cultural blindness that should have no place in the church.

 

The anthropologist Nigel Barley wrote a couple of very informative and amusing books about his studies in Africa. In one of them, A Plague of Caterpillars: A Return to the African Bush, he refers to a French Jesuit priest who, having finally worked out that the Dogon people in Mali didn’t share the same culture as the French, then proceded to treat all Africans as if they were Dogon, despite the fact that the Dogon are culturally pretty unique.

People, Christians included, have a hard time appreciating the incredible variety of human culture and we tend to settle into easy stereotypes – very often going no further than dividing the world up into people who are like me and people who are not like me. You get this in church circles when people make statements such as “the global church is X” (whatever X is) as if it were possible to sum up hundreds of millions of believers all around the globe in one simple phrase.

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