Demographic shifts, cultural and ethnic diversity, globalization and the rapid expansion of the church in the Southern hemisphere strongly suggest that the future of Adventism will emerge from the developing nations. There is compelling evidence to support this position. In his carefully researched study, Philip Jenkins speculates that in 2025 there will be about 2.6 billion Christians in the world; 633 million will live in Africa; 640 million in Latin America; 460 million in Asia. Europe comes in fourth with 260 million. He states further, “Africa and Latin America would be in competition for the most Christian continent. About this date, too, another significant milestone should occur, namely, that those two continents will together account for half of the Christians on the planet.”1 These are figures we cannot ignore. Their implications are vast for Adventist mission, theology and practice.
As the center of gravity shifts from the North to the South, one could expect the same shifts to occur in Adventism. To reinforce his position, Jenkins cites the well-known African theologian, John Mbiti, “the centers of the church’s (the Christian church), universalities are no longer in Geneva, Rome, Athens, Paris, London, New York, but Kinshasa, Buenos Aires, Addis Ababa and Manila.”2
I am making the case based on the evidence of the rapid expansion of Christianity in the Southern hemisphere, a similar pattern will emerge in Adventism. The growth of the church in Africa, Latin America and Asia suggests that the centers of Adventism will no longer be Washington, D.C., Berrien Springs, Michigan, Loma Linda, California or Sydney, Australia but San Paolo, Lusaka, Nairobi, Harare, Manila, and Kingston, Jamaica. And this pattern is irreversible. The implications of these global shifts are vast and challenging for Adventist mission, theology and practice.3 These demographic, cultural and ethnic changes will merge to create a new church that is almost unrecognizable from decades ago.
If we are predicting millennial, massive demographic and cultural shifts in the movement of Adventism on a global scale, it means that leadership and laity must be concerned with creating those structures that will allow the Church to continue to thrive in its new environments. A central and critical concern is authenticity and orthodoxy in theology and doctrine. This is not an academic issue. It is a matter that demands the attention of both theoreticians and practitioners. The potential danger of “inculturalization,” that is to say, a way of transporting and transplanting Adventism in forms that are appropriate to particular cultures in order to make a decisive case for its relevance and transformative power without losing its essential teachings, is vital to our mission strategy. So the question remains:
How will we respond to this new Adventism and maintain the vitality of our unity in diversity in Christ the head and founder of the Church? How will we continue to celebrate the continuing presence and power of the Holy Spirit who is always at work in drawing men and women from every nation, kindred, tongue and people to be part of the redeemed multicultural and diverse community who will sing a new song to the Lamb (Rev. 7:9-10)?
The answers to these questions are complex and varied. They require imagination, creativity, organizational and structural reforms, cultural competence, cultural sensitivity, cultural and contextual appropriateness. These initiatives must be guided by the Holy Spirit. The purpose of this book is a modest attempt to engage in the search for answers to these complex questions and issues. It provides a window of opportunity to embrace this emerging new Adventism in all its richness of diversity and multiculturalism and to leverage it as an opportunity and a blessing to celebrate our differences and explore its vast capital for accomplishing God’s mission in the world.
In the Church’s imagination, nothing is more urgent and compelling than fulfilling the great commission:
And Jesus came and spoke to them saying, “All authority is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo I am with you always even to the end of the world” (Matt 28:18-20, The Message).
The mandate, the mission, the message and the promise are unmistakably clear. They are at the heart of the Church’s reason for existence. It is now up to us to develop strategies to make them reliable, relevant and fulfilled.
Ellen White calls our attention to a very successful strategy Jesus employed in His effort to reach those who were the objects of His missionary engagement: “Christ’s method alone will bring true success. The Savior mingled with the people as one who desired their good, He had compassion on them, ministered to their needs, then He bade them follow me.”4 This strategy is particularly relevant and reliable in a multicultural, multiethnic, multinational context. Like its Head and Founder, the Church must continually explore different methods and strategies to fulfill its commission in a rapidly changing world.
1 Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (New York, Oxford University Press, 2002), 2. See also L. Robert.
2 John Mbiti, quoted in Kwame Bediako, Christianity in Africa (Edinburgh University Press, 1995), 154.
3 It is estimated that by 2020 there will be 50 million Adventists in the world. Over 85 percent will be first generation from the developing nations. Several million of the adults will be illiterate.
4 Ellen G. White. Ministry of Healing (Washington: Review & Herald, 1905), 143.