The Global South: Poverty, Prosperity Gospel, & Islam

dghfdhThree immediate concerns that exist alongside the rise of Christianity in the Global South are poverty, prosperity gospel, and the interaction with Islam. By far, the Global South is impoverished compared to the Western world. Discussing the poverty in the continent of Africa, Jenkins remarked:

The grim fact of Christian impoverishment becomes all the more true as Africa assumes its place as the religion’s principal center. We are dealing with a continent that has endured countless disasters since independence, measured by statistics that become wearying by their unrelieved horror, whether we are looking at life expectancy, child mortality, or deaths from AIDS. Africa contributed less than 2 percent of the world’s total GDP, although it is home to 13 percent of world population, and the GDP for the whole of sub-Saharan Africa is equivalent to that of the Netherlands. Since the 1960s, Africa’s share of world trade has all but disappeared. Overall, “the continent is slipping out of the Third World into its own bleak category of the nth world.” Matters are made infinitely worse by the unraveling of several African states, a process attended by unbelievable bloodshed.[1]

Any cross-cultural ministry must at some level address the poverty of the people it is trying to reach. The Gospel is not mainly about social reform but it does have applicability when Christian brothers and sisters are starving to death. The biblical admonishments to “take care of the widow and orphan among you” might stand as indictments against the Western church as their brothers and sisters struggle overseas. The redistribution of church resources should at least be taking place.

The prosperity gospel permeates many areas of the Global South. Michael S. Horton noted that:

Taking a step beyond generic “positive thinking,” a version of Pentecostalism known as the Word of Faith movement is spreading the prosperity gospel to the ends of the earth…Celebration of the much-advertised expansion of Christianity in the two-thirds world should at least be tempered by the fact that the prosperity gospel is the most explosive version of this phenomenon.[2]

tnhybgrThe prosperity gospel stands antithetical to the teachings of the Bible, lives of Jesus and the apostles, and the general experience of most Christians. If prosperity is a mark of true believers, the number of Christians tragically dwindles down to almost nothingness. The prosperity gospel does the following to those it comes in contact with: [1] puts unnecessary obstacles in the way of people getting into heaven (Mark 10:23-27), [2] kindles suicidal desires in people (1 Tim. 6:9-10), [3] encourages vulnerability to moth and rust (Matt. 6:19-20), [4] makes good works a means of getting rich (Eph. 4:28; Luke 12:33), [5] promotes less faith in God’s promises and diminishes the glory of God’s help (Heb. 13:5-6; Matt. 6:23), [6] contributes to people being choked to death (Luke 8:14), [7] takes the seasoning out of the salt and puts the light under a basket (Matt. 5:11-14), [8] conceals the necessity of suffering in the Christian life (John 15:20; Matt. 10:25; Acts 14:22), [9] obscures the God-ordained purposes of suffering in the Christian life, [10] minimizes the sin of making godliness a means of gain (1 Cor. 9:9-12), and [11] obscures the biblical truth that God himself is the greatest treasure (Phil. 1:20-21).[3] Any cross-cultural missions must address the pressing concerns and problems caused by the proliferation of the prosperity gospel.

rthgrtgLastly, Islam presents a unique challenge for Christians in the Global South. As Christianity grows, it is increasingly coming in contact with militant Islam. The political, religious, and sociological setting could create a heightened tension between Christianity and Islam that could result in painstaking losses of human lives. The current and past setting does not give much hope for mutual understanding. Jenkins warns:

It is conceivable that within a few decades, the two faiths will have agreed on amicable terms of coexistence, but looking at matters as they stand at the start of the twenty-first century, that happy consummation seems highly unlikely. Issues of theocracy and religious law, toleration and minority rights, conversion and apostasy, should be among the most divisive in domestic and international politics for decades to come. It is quite possible to imagine a future Christendom not too different from the old, defined less by any ideological harmony than by its unity against a common outside threat.[4]

However, many others do not share Jenkin’s warning. Nami Kim, assistant professor of religion in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Spelman College, said:

The [Global South] may not carry the same baggage of the old Christendom. The Global South’s religion is an indigenous movement dissimilar to the missionary religion of the West, which has been inextricably related to Western Imperialism. In other words, [the Global South] has nothing of the global structures of power and economics that global Christianity presumes.[5]

Regardless of how various missiologists predict the Global South will respond, radical Islam, if it continues to exist and practice like it does currently, will create special problems for believers. The rise of the Global South is a cause for rejoicing for Western believers and presents a call to come alongside our brothers and sisters to encourage, help, and edify them. Cross-cultural ministers and missionaries would greatly benefit from knowing about the Global South.

[1] Ibid., 216.

[2] Michael S. Horton, Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: BakerBooks, 2008) 67.

[3] Piper, 21-32.

[4] Jenkins, 190.

[5] Nami Kim, “A Mission to the “Graveyard of Empires”? Neocolonialism and the Contemporary Evangelical Missions of the Global South.” Mission Studies: Journal of the International Association for Mission Studies 27, no. 1: 3-23. Academic Search Premie (2010):9-10.


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