BreakPoint: The Continuing Triumph of Faith

The World Is Becoming More Religious

Ever hear the old saw that religious people are on the wrong side of history? It isn’t true. Turns out, we’re on the right side of the future as well. Stay tuned to BreakPoint.

A year ago, National Geographic told readers that “religion is rapidly becoming less important than it’s ever been, even to people who live in countries where faith has affected everything from rulers to borders to architecture.”

But as Rodney Stark documented in his recent book, “The Triumph of Faith,” that statement is wrong. In fact, it’s the opposite of the truth. According to Stark, “The world is not merely as religious as it used to be. In important ways, it is much more intensely religious than ever before . . .”

This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. For years, Chuck Colson, John Stonestreet, and I have been telling you about the explosive growth of Christianity around the world, especially in what is called the “global south.”

We’ve told you about what’s happening in places like sub-Saharan Africa, and even China, which, by some estimates may have more Christians than any other country by the middle of this century.

But the story that Stark tells goes beyond these two examples. The growth of Christianity in Latin America is, in many respects, just as amazing as its growth in Africa.

That might sound strange, since Latin America has been ostensibly Christian since the sixteenth century. But until the mid-20th century, it was largely a nominal kind of Christianity. As recently as the 1950s, only between 10 and 20 percent of Latin Americans were “active in their faith.”

The arrival of Protestant missionaries, especially Pentecostals, changed this. Not only did they succeed in turning nominal Christians into practicing ones, they also forced the Catholic Church to, as they say in sports, “up its game.” This, in large measure, took the form of the Charismatic renewal.

Today, Charismatic Catholic rallies fill the same stadiums as Pentecostal ones. And the result is that in large parts of Latin America, sixty percent or more of the people attend church on at least a weekly basis.

Another largely untold story is what’s happening in India. The son of a BreakPoint colleague recently traveled to India. One Tuesday, he went to Mass. When he arrived, he was stunned to see that the church was full—so full that the worshippers poured out onto the street. On a Tuesday.

Late last year, Christianity Today ran a story on “Incredible Indian Christianity.” Since 1980, the number of pastors sent out by the Delhi Bible Institute has grown from 100 per year to nearly 7,600 in 2015. As CT tells us, part of India’s so-called “tribal belt,” which runs across central and northeast India, is becoming India’s “Bible belt.”

But even in Europe and the United States, the rise of secularism has been overstated, if by “secularism,” you mean “denying the supernatural.” For example, sociologists consider Iceland to be one of the most secular nations on Earth. Yet, here’s a list of things that a significant percentage of Icelanders believe in: reincarnation, elves, gnomes, fairies, fortune tellers, and Spiritualism. You find similar results across so-called “secular” Europe.

Here in the U.S., the same period that witnessed the rise in the religiously unaffiliated did not witness a decline in church attendance or an increase in atheists. The increase in the so-called “nones” was a function of people who rarely, if ever, attended church finally admitting as much.

Those who claim that people of faith were “on the wrong side of history” have it exactly backwards. Religion, especially Christianity, is not in decline. It’s going from strength-to-strength. You just need to know where to look, or, in this case, what to read.

 

The Continuing Triumph of Faith: The World Is Becoming More Religious

Get a balanced perspective on religion in the world. Take a break from reading the National Geographic and pick up Rodney Stark’s book “The Triumph of Faith.” It’s available at the online bookstore.

 

 

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Resources

The Triumph of Faith: Why the World Is More Religious Than Ever
  • Rodney Stark | Intercollegiate Studies Institute | November 2015
Unbroken in China: The Growing Chinese Church
  • Eric Metaxas | BreakPoint.org | August 15, 2016
Aslan Is on the Move: Christianity Is Growing in the Muslim World
  • Eric Metaxas | BreakPoint.org | June 10, 2015

Comment Policy: Commenters are welcome to argue all points of view, but they are asked to do it civilly and respectfully. Comments that call names, insult other people or groups, use profanity or obscenity, repeat the same points over and over, or make personal remarks about other commenters will be deleted. After multiple infractions, commenters may be banned.

  • ElrondPA

    While the growth of Christianity in numerous places around the world is good news, the full picture includes noting that Christianity isn’t the only faith that’s growing. Islam is growing strongly in Africa and parts of Asia (both by conversion and by birth), as well as by immigration in Europe, and Hinduism is becoming more fervent in much of India. The thesis that development causes reduced religiosity has been disproven; Europe’s experience is not a harbinger of other areas. It is true, though, that development tends to reduce the number of adherents to tribal religions, making them more likely to belong to one of the major faiths (Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism).

  • Phoenix1977

    Ok, once again time for some nuances.

    “We’ve told you about what’s happening in places like sub-Saharan Africa, and even China, which, by some estimates may have more Christians than any other country by the middle of this century.”
    In the history of the world the African continent doesn’t really play a role anymore. Economically the entire continent is robbed blind of it’s future (mostly by Europeans, for which I apologize) and even the very rich oil fields that can be found in Africa are property of companies like Shell and BP. In large international institutions, like the UN, people listen to African countries patiently before shutting them down. The entire African continent could turn Christian and it would have approximately zero impact on the world, except an increase in population and therefor an increase in famines in Africa, demanding aid from the US and Europe.
    China is even better, since there is no Christianity without political control. The form of Catholicism and other forms of Christian faiths is under direct control of the Chinese Communist Party so most people consider religion in China a political movement, not a spiritual one.

    “The growth of Christianity in Latin America is, in many respects, just as amazing as its growth in Africa.”
    Latin America is also interesting. There may be more Christians in Latin America but at the same time they are letting go of strict interpretations of Christian rules. For example, Brasil, the largest Catholic country in Latin America, legalized same-seks marriage through parliament AFTER elections where same-seks marriage was debated in the campaigns. A large majority of the people in Brasil support equal rights for LGBTs and same-seks marriage despite the protests from the Catholic Church.

    “Another largely untold story is what’s happening in India. The son of a BreakPoint colleague recently traveled to India. One Tuesday, he went to Mass. When he arrived, he was stunned to see that the church was full—so full that the worshippers poured out onto the street. On a Tuesday.”
    Your collaegue’s son probably travelled to the South-West of India. I’m guessing the Mumbai region or the state Kerala. Christianity is indeed strong there. However, in regions around Delhi and Agra, or states like Madras (in the South-East) or West-Bengal (North-East) there are no Christian churches to be found and Hinduism reigns supreme there.

    “the rise of secularism has been overstated, if by “secularism,” you mean “denying the supernatural.””
    Except sociologist never defined secularism that way. Sociologists define secularism as the denial of organized religion and the believe in an omnipresent being. Most people who see themselves as secular, including myself, do believe in a higher power, but not in an organised way. And most definately not defined by rules, laws and writings, let alone that these higher powers communicate in any way with us.
    For example, Wicca is not considered a religion because it has no official holy book, no churches and hardly any rules (in fact, only one rule: “Do what ye will and harm none”) but is greatly spiritual. It even has it’s own holy trinity (Mother, Daughter and Goddess), depicted by the ancient Celtic symbol of the Triquetra. Everyone who respects nature, lives by the Wiccan mantra and believes there is more “out there” is free to call him- or herself Wiccan and can freely interpret the many writings that are available (but were never combined into 1 holy scripture).
    So it’s not as black and white as the author of this article wants us to believe. But than, the real world never is.