The Future of World Christianity Is African

Aug 12, 2020 by

by Philip Jenkins, The Gospel Coalition:

Stories published in the sober British medical journal The Lancet don’t normally inspire sensational headlines. But one recent piece on current and future trends in global fertility has called forth some stunned and stunning reactions. The article describes what the BBC terms a Jaw-Dropping’ Global Crash in Children Being Born, as most areas of the world move toward what we thought of (until recently!) as very low Danish-style fertility rates. In the words of researcher Christopher Murray, “I think it’s incredibly hard to think this through and recognize how big a thing this is; it’s extraordinary, we’ll have to reorganize societies.”

Arguably, this is one of the most significant trends facing the world in the coming century.

Although The Lancet article didn’t touch on matters of religion, that is, in fact, one of the arenas most affected by this shift. Last year, in an article I wrote for TGC, I discussed the intimate relationship between fertility rates and levels of religiosity. That’s now the subject of my new book, Fertility and Faith: The Demographic Revolution and the Transformation of World Religions (Baylor University Press). Briefly, I argue that societies with high fertility rates have high levels of religious faith and practice, while declining fertility correlates closely to shrinking institutional faith, and to secularization. Let me stress, this doesn’t necessarily mean a decline in actual belief, but rather in expressions of faith: believing can continue after belonging has all but vanished.

I won’t repeat my argument about why those phenomena should be linked—see my earlier article—but the model works well around the world, and applies to all faith traditions. Tell me the fertility rate of a particular nation, and I can make a reasonable assessment of the strength or weakness of institutional faith in that society.

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