We observe two great and related phenomena in the global South: the fastest rate of cultural extinction in history, as well as the fastest rate of Christian evangelisation in history. I do not mean to minimize the tragedy of declining cultures, but it is only because of the terrible depth of that tragedy that hundreds of millions of souls turn in fear and trembling to a religion that represents itself as standing above all human cultures: the ekklesia of individuals called out from amongst the nations to the Kingdom of God.
Whence come the fear and trembling? Christians are the adoptive children of the Jewish patriarch Abraham, in the interpretation of St Paul proposed by Michael Wyschogrod. In an important sense, the new Christians of the global South relive the life of Abraham, who left behind clan and kindred at divine command in the world of 4,000 years ago, when clan and kindred were everything. Given a son in old age, Abraham was told to sacrifice that son, thereby destroying his links to the future.
Among peoples facing the erasure of their links to the past and uncertainty about their future, Abraham’s frame of mind on Mount Moriah must seem much less remote than it does to the comfortable Christians of the North. The Hebrew Bible has a personal meaning for the new Christians of the South (as Philip Jenkins reported in The New Faces of Christianity) because in a sense they relive the experience of the patriarch.