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  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: February 2015

7 - Twentieth-century fortunes


Historians of the twentieth century in the third millennium will probably see the century's major impact on history as the one made by and in this astonishing period [its second half]. For the changes in human life it brought about all over the globe were as profound as they were irreversible. Moreover, they are still continuing.

Though a final verdict will be possible only when the passage of time allows us to take a longer perspective, the final part of the twentieth century may be judged one of the most momentous in the history of Christianity. For in just three decades, between 1970 and 2000, Christianity collapsed in parts of the northern hemisphere, and gained new vitality in much of the south.

It was not just Christianity that changed; the world changed too. Eric Hobsbawm is not alone in noting the historical significance of the changes that took place in the second part of the twentieth century. The widespread sense that something of such magnitude had occurred that it constituted a break with what had gone before was signalled by the use of terms such as ‘postmodern’, ‘post-industrial’, ‘post-Christian’ and ‘post-colonial’. Though these terms are much debated, few disagree that the last part of the twentieth century witnessed an erosion of long-established forms of social order and moral control. Negatively, such collapse involved a dissatisfaction with established, hierarchical orders, and may be characterised as a ‘flight from deference’.

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An Introduction to Christianity
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Further reading
The churches in the twentieth century
The majority of studies in this area are empirical and/or sociological, since on the whole Christian history has not yet caught up with the twentieth century. See, however, Hugh McLeod's Religion and the People of Western Europe 1789–1990 (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), and the many books by the historian of modern American religion, Martin Marty, including his three-volume Modern American Religion (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1986–96)
Useful sociological studies of the liberal/mainline churches include Wade Clark Roof and William McKinney's American Mainline Religion: Its Changing Shape and Future (New Brunswick and London: Rutgers University Press, 1987), and Nancy Ammerman's more recent empirical study of a variety of American congregations, Congregation and Community (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1997). On the fortunes of the churches in Britain and Europe see Grace Davie, Religion in Britain since 1945: Believing without Belonging (Oxford and Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1994); Steve Bruce, Religion in Modern Britain (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1995); and Grace Davie, Religion in Modern Europe: A Memory Mutates (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000)
On evangelical Christianity in the west, from a historical point of view, see George Marsden's Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991), which offers a sympathetic introductory account. There are a number of illuminating empirical studies of late twentieth-century American evangelicalism, including James Davison Hunter's Evangelicalism: The Coming Generation (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1987) and Nancy Ammerman's Bible Believers (New Brunswick, NJ, and London: Rutgers University Press, 1987). On the subjective turn in American evangelicalism, see Donald Miller's Reinventing American Protestantism (Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA, and London: University of California Press, 1997), and Joseph B. Tamney's The Resilience of Conservative Religion (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002)
The idea that conservative Christian churches are growing while liberal ones are declining was made famous by Dean Kelley in Why Conservative Churches Are Growing (San Francisco, CA: Harper and Row 1986). Though it is a demanding book, one of the most illuminating accounts of secularisation is still David Martin's General Theory of Secularisation (Oxford: Blackwell, 1977). On the churches' ‘privatisation’ (exclusion from politics) and recent ‘deprivatisation’ (renewed public and political activity), see José Casanova, Public Religions in the Modern World (Chicago, IL, and London: University of Chicago Press, 1994)
Modern theology
David Ford's edited collection, The Modern Theologians: An Introduction to Christian Theology in the Twentieth Century (Oxford and Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1997), has become a standard reference work. It contains essays on all the major theologians and theological movements of the twentieth century. Another useful reference work is Alister McGrath (ed.), The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Modern Christian Thought (Oxford and Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1995). Both books contain suggestions for further reading
Charismatic upsurge
The origins and growth of Pentecostalism in the west are documented in Walter J. Hollenweger's study, Pentecostalism: Origins and Development Worldwide (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1997), whilst Vinson Synan's The Twentieth-Century Pentecostal Explosion (second edition, Altamonte Springs, FL: Creation House, 1997) surveys the holiness movement, Pentecostalism and recent charismatic renewal
On the worldwide charismatic upsurge see David Martin, Pentecostalism: The World Their Parish (Oxford and Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2001), which covers Latin America, Africa and Asia; and Simon Coleman, The Globalisation of Charismatic Christianity (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000)
Global christianity
On mission history and cross-cultural encounter, see Andrew Walls, The Missionary Movement in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission of Faith (New York: Orbis; Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1996), and The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission and Appropriation of Faith (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis; Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 2002)
On Christianity in contemporary Latin America, there is a helpful and wide-ranging collection of essays edited by Christian Smith and Joshua Prokopy, Latin American Religion in Motion (New York and London: Routledge, 1999). See also John Burdick's engaging empirical study, Looking for God in Brazil (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1996). On Africa, see Paul Gifford, African Christianity: Its Public Role (London: Hurst, 1998)
The collection edited by Thomas M. Gannon, World Catholicism in Transition (New York: Macmillan; London: Collier Macmillan, 1988), offers a useful overview of the state of Catholicism in every part of the world in the 1980s and contains a helpful introductory survey by David Martin
The figures in this chapter are taken from David B. Barrett, George T. Kurian and Todd M. Johnson, World Christian Encyclopedia (second edition, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2001)