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Monday, October 28, 2002

Southern Gospel-Part II-The full Phillip Jenkins piece is up here on theological conservatism in African, Latin America and Asia; I had posted on an interview on the subject last month. I don't think Jenkins quite understands the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. The Reformation tried to take the church back to it's Biblical roots and away from the corruption and indulgences (both figurative and literal) of the Catholic church of a half-millennia ago. The Counter-Reformation recognized many of the Reformer's critiques of the situation and helped clean house within the Catholic Church. Here's one paragraph that shows where Jenkins doesn't get this issues.
This move toward individualism, toward the privatization of religious belief, makes the spirit of the Reformation very attractive to educated people in the West. It stirs many liberal Catholic activists, who regard the aloof and arrogant hierarchy of the Church as not only an affront but something inherently corrupt. New concepts of governance sound exciting, even intoxicating, to reformers, and seem to mesh with likely social and technological trends. The invention of movable type and the printing press, in the fifteenth century, was a technological development that spurred mass literacy in the vernacular languages—and accelerated the forces of religious change. In the near future, many believe, the electronic media will have a comparably powerful impact on our ways of being religious. An ever greater reliance on individual choice, the argument goes, will help Catholicism to become much more inclusive and tolerant, less judgmental, and more willing to accept secular attitudes toward sexuality and gender roles. In the view of liberal Catholics, much of the current crisis derives directly from archaic if not primitive doctrines, including mandatory celibacy among the clergy, intolerance of homosexuality, and the prohibition of women from the priesthood, not to mention a more generalized fear of sexuality. In their view, anyone should be able to see that the idea that God, the creator and lord of the universe, is concerned about human sexuality is on its way out.
The difference between the Reformation and this liberal move is that the Reformation allowed people to read the Bible for themselves and then follow it whereas the modern liberals want people to ignore the Bible where it is politically incorrect. Jenkins seems to ignore American evangelicals for the most part in this piece, where he contrasts the liberals in the Catholic and Anglican churches with the theologically conservative southerners. He also tends to dwell upon the abnormal theologies of the south, making the southern theology more dangerous than it is. The quick and dirty bottom line is that Latin America and Africa is become a evangelical, and surprisingly charismatic/Pentecostal, playground. Those churches are offering the Holy Spirit as a hands-on helper in people's lives, something that old-school Catholic churches often don't. There's a growing charismatic movement within the Catholic church as well, that will likely grow if allowed to by Rome. It might look weird to a East Coast guy, but such an evangelical movement isn't foreign to fly-over country. The ~20% charismatic figures for Brazil, Argentina and Nigeria (per Operation World) aren't flukes, and will be a factor in international politics and theology in the future.

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