Islam losing ground to Christianity?

Christianity may be declining in the West and Islam is surging, but in the world as a whole, it’s a different story.  So says Ryan Mauro:

It’s true that Islam (as well as atheism and universalism) is growing in the West, mostly because of high birth rates among Muslims and immigration, but the exploding growth of evangelical Christianity around the world through conversion is unreported. The analysis is distorted because of the lack of reporting from places like Africa, where nearly half of the population is estimated to be Christian. In other places like China, news of such trends is suppressed, leaving few to know that some estimates put the Christian population there at up to 111 million. There may be more members in the underground evangelical movement there than in the 75-million strong Chinese Communist Party. It’s been reported that 10,000 Chinese convert to Christianity per day. That number may be a stretch, but if current trends hold, predictions that China will become the country with the largest number of Christians by the middle of the century could come true.

The image in one’s mind of a Christian is usually of an American or European. The decline of Christianity in the West gives the impression that the religion is collapsing when it is really transforming. In Dinesh D’Souza’s What’s So Great About Christianity, he writes that in 1900, over 80 percent of Christians lived in Europe and the U.S. Now, two out of three evangelicals live in Asia, Africa, and South America. South Korea now holds the title as the second-place country in sending out missionaries, despite the fact that the number one country, the U.S., has over six times as many people.

Another fact to consider is that while the number of Christians overall is declining in the West, the number of evangelicals is rising. There are less of those “Sunday Christians” who do the church routine and don’t make having a relationship with God part of their very being. They are falling away from church as it becomes more socially acceptable to do so and are turning to agnosticism, atheism, and a universalism that believes all religions are one and the same. Christianity is changing into a smaller but more devout and active force.

It is much harder to detect “Friday Muslims” in the Islamic world than it is “Sunday Christians” in the West because of the societal repercussions and the suppression of other religions. Those questioning their faith are likely to keep it private and still go to mosque even if they party on the weekends. The dismal state of the Islamic world economically and politically and the savagery of extremism is turning many Muslims away. For example, I’ve been surprised at how many Iranians I’ve communicated with are atheists or aren’t devout Muslims. There is a clandestine movement to acquire Bibles and practice Christianity in private homes, as up to 1 million are said to have turned to Christianity in the past five years.

This is a problem that raises significant concern in the Muslim world, but the West misses it. In April 2008, Andrew Walden wrote a top-notch piece here at Pajamas Media about this phenomenon. One top Islamic scholar in Libya says that 16,000 Muslims convert to Christianity every day and Walden writes that evangelist Wolfgang Simpson says that “more Muslims have come to Christ in the last two decades than in all of history.” He writes that the mufti of the Malaysian state of Perak says that about 250,000 Muslims in his country have filed to officially leave Islam, including 100,000 that have converted to Christianity. The mufti warned that this number doesn’t include those who are non-practicing Muslims.

It is undeniable that Islam is growing in the West, but there are signs that the number of Muslims that don’t diligently practice the faith is increasing just as is the case with Christianity. In February 2005, the Sunday Times wrote that “one estimate suggests that as many as 15 per cent of Muslims in Western societies have lost their faith.” A Pew poll in July 2007 found that Muslim-Americans are in third place in how many describe religion as playing a “very important” role in their lives, with 72 percent affirming the statement as compared to 79 percent of white evangelicals and 85 percent of black Protestants. Most interestingly, only 50 percent of Muslim-Americans take their holy book, the Koran, literally, whereas 66 percent of white evangelicals and 68 percent of black Protestants take the Bible literally.

via Pajamas Media » Is Islam Really the Second-Fastest Growing Religion?.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Winston Smith

    I welcome that report as good and heartening news.

    For the West, it’s a mixed blessing. The wonderful news is that the Gospel is reaching the lost of every kindred, tribe, people and nation, as Jesus said it would. The bittersweet news is that American and European Christians, evengelical or otherwise, are no longer on the cutting edge of missions. Asians and Africans are undertaking the role that white American and English Christians played in the 18th and 19th centuries. They have the power, the inspiration and the momentum. They seem to be God’s chosen vessels in this age. Meanwhile, we in the West are seemingly as relevant to fulfilling the Great Commission as the churches in Antioch or Ephesus were by the time of Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley.

  • Winston Smith

    I welcome that report as good and heartening news.

    For the West, it’s a mixed blessing. The wonderful news is that the Gospel is reaching the lost of every kindred, tribe, people and nation, as Jesus said it would. The bittersweet news is that American and European Christians, evengelical or otherwise, are no longer on the cutting edge of missions. Asians and Africans are undertaking the role that white American and English Christians played in the 18th and 19th centuries. They have the power, the inspiration and the momentum. They seem to be God’s chosen vessels in this age. Meanwhile, we in the West are seemingly as relevant to fulfilling the Great Commission as the churches in Antioch or Ephesus were by the time of Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley.

  • larry

    I generally don’t see numbers as “growth” one way or the other. The church often grows and thrives, too, when it is decreasing in numbers. Numbers historically always wax and wane, but the church marches on. Even in Jesus ministry the numbers went up often only to fall to just 12 when the Gospel became very clarion in its expression, thus the church marched on in Christ. Revelation speaks that as the end actually approaches, a time unknown to us as to specifics, but that its nearness is indicated by great fallings away from the faith via proliferation of false doctrines and such. The point at which Christ and thus the Gospel was most clear, at the Cross, the numbers reduced to one (Christ alone). God hiding under opposites. Reason tends to like numbers, faith tends to cling only to the Word in the face of numbers up or numbers down. Reason via the senses says, “Numbers up, there must be Christianity”. Faith says, “Where the Word is, there is Christianity (in high or low numbers). Jesus says, “where two or three are gathered in My name, there I am”, not “where two or three million are gathered in my name”. That’s not to disparage two or three million Christians, not at all, but to put things into perspective.
    Don’t understand me wrong, I like more Christians, in fact I’d love nothing but 100% Christians and often lament that here it seems there are (1) more and more openly antichristians and (2) even those naming Christianity really seem little more than religionist.
    Growth, per se, seems to be this way:
    When it is persecution openly by the sword unto the doctrine the numbers go up (e.g. china).
    When it is persecution by false doctrines immediately against the truth, the shear numerical direction seems to be in the decreasing numerical direction (e.g. the US).
    Luther makes an eye opening point when he states that faith thrives in persecution and suffering, the greater the persecution the more faith is purified and grows. Persecution itself seeks to kill the faith yet in paradox in fails in its mission and the opposite actually occurs. That’s not the eye opening part, he further points out that the greatest persecution the faith and the church faces, is thus, no persecution at all. This persecution is the most deadly toward killing faith and the most fertile ground, paradoxically, for false doctrine. Here faith is tried and suffers mightily, though externally it appears to be “all is well”.

  • larry

    I generally don’t see numbers as “growth” one way or the other. The church often grows and thrives, too, when it is decreasing in numbers. Numbers historically always wax and wane, but the church marches on. Even in Jesus ministry the numbers went up often only to fall to just 12 when the Gospel became very clarion in its expression, thus the church marched on in Christ. Revelation speaks that as the end actually approaches, a time unknown to us as to specifics, but that its nearness is indicated by great fallings away from the faith via proliferation of false doctrines and such. The point at which Christ and thus the Gospel was most clear, at the Cross, the numbers reduced to one (Christ alone). God hiding under opposites. Reason tends to like numbers, faith tends to cling only to the Word in the face of numbers up or numbers down. Reason via the senses says, “Numbers up, there must be Christianity”. Faith says, “Where the Word is, there is Christianity (in high or low numbers). Jesus says, “where two or three are gathered in My name, there I am”, not “where two or three million are gathered in my name”. That’s not to disparage two or three million Christians, not at all, but to put things into perspective.
    Don’t understand me wrong, I like more Christians, in fact I’d love nothing but 100% Christians and often lament that here it seems there are (1) more and more openly antichristians and (2) even those naming Christianity really seem little more than religionist.
    Growth, per se, seems to be this way:
    When it is persecution openly by the sword unto the doctrine the numbers go up (e.g. china).
    When it is persecution by false doctrines immediately against the truth, the shear numerical direction seems to be in the decreasing numerical direction (e.g. the US).
    Luther makes an eye opening point when he states that faith thrives in persecution and suffering, the greater the persecution the more faith is purified and grows. Persecution itself seeks to kill the faith yet in paradox in fails in its mission and the opposite actually occurs. That’s not the eye opening part, he further points out that the greatest persecution the faith and the church faces, is thus, no persecution at all. This persecution is the most deadly toward killing faith and the most fertile ground, paradoxically, for false doctrine. Here faith is tried and suffers mightily, though externally it appears to be “all is well”.

  • Gulliver

    Extended prosperity begets pride and delusional philosophies instead of gratitude to God. The prophets who lived during the prosperous times of Jeroboam II had the difficult task of telling people that God was blessing them instead of the idols they worshiped. Is the culture we live in today similar to what the Old Testament prophets experienced? Modern life makes people comfortable; by its nature true law-gospel preaching makes people uncomfortable, and so, unpalitable. Perhaps we should thank God for the economic difficulties our nation is experiencing and pray that people learn true humility so that they trust in God’s salvation and providential care.
    However, even after the destruction of Jerusalem, the people who fled to Egypt told Jeremiah that their misfortunes resulted from NOT burning incense to their idols! (Jeremiah 44:15-19)

  • Gulliver

    Extended prosperity begets pride and delusional philosophies instead of gratitude to God. The prophets who lived during the prosperous times of Jeroboam II had the difficult task of telling people that God was blessing them instead of the idols they worshiped. Is the culture we live in today similar to what the Old Testament prophets experienced? Modern life makes people comfortable; by its nature true law-gospel preaching makes people uncomfortable, and so, unpalitable. Perhaps we should thank God for the economic difficulties our nation is experiencing and pray that people learn true humility so that they trust in God’s salvation and providential care.
    However, even after the destruction of Jerusalem, the people who fled to Egypt told Jeremiah that their misfortunes resulted from NOT burning incense to their idols! (Jeremiah 44:15-19)

  • Louis

    Well, one should never think of God’s Kingdom as a numbers game. A team of elders from the last church we belonged to in SA had a trip to Botswana and Zambia, to support local churches there. To their horror they discovered that ancient heresies had reared their ugly heads – heresies like adoptionism. Also, I grew up in an independant church (read sect) in South Africa, which, unique for the apartheid years, had a complete cross section of South African society in it. The sect was pelagian in theology, but nevertheless got lots of support from well known conservative evangelicals in the US and Europe.

    I don’t deny that the church in the Third World is growing. But, people in the “west” should get rid of that overtly romantic way they view these types of reports – heresies spread just as fast, if not faster. And there are no innocent cultures or peoples. We all need a Saviour, equally.

  • Louis

    Well, one should never think of God’s Kingdom as a numbers game. A team of elders from the last church we belonged to in SA had a trip to Botswana and Zambia, to support local churches there. To their horror they discovered that ancient heresies had reared their ugly heads – heresies like adoptionism. Also, I grew up in an independant church (read sect) in South Africa, which, unique for the apartheid years, had a complete cross section of South African society in it. The sect was pelagian in theology, but nevertheless got lots of support from well known conservative evangelicals in the US and Europe.

    I don’t deny that the church in the Third World is growing. But, people in the “west” should get rid of that overtly romantic way they view these types of reports – heresies spread just as fast, if not faster. And there are no innocent cultures or peoples. We all need a Saviour, equally.

  • Tom Hering

    All this talk about the decline of the West/America/Christianity is beginning to sound a bit overwrought. And I have no doubt that God wants His children to be able to live in peace, without persecution. It’s not as if the Christian, living in peace, no longer has neighbors who need to hear Law and Gospel. Or as if the Christian, living in peace, no longer speaks Law and Gospel to his neighbor – naturally and spontaneously, as a new creation.

  • Tom Hering

    All this talk about the decline of the West/America/Christianity is beginning to sound a bit overwrought. And I have no doubt that God wants His children to be able to live in peace, without persecution. It’s not as if the Christian, living in peace, no longer has neighbors who need to hear Law and Gospel. Or as if the Christian, living in peace, no longer speaks Law and Gospel to his neighbor – naturally and spontaneously, as a new creation.

  • DonS

    We have several missionaries supported by our church who are on the mission field in “undisclosed countries” in the far east, middle east, and in northern Africa. They all report a ripe harvest field, including in Muslim areas. In the far east, communist China has a rapidly growing Christian population, and the sadistic oppression of Christians in Myanmar is really strengthening the church in that region. Africa is ablaze. The real struggle, as has been alluded to above, is to counter the cults, which have also been very active and growing in these third world regions, particularly JW’s and Mormons.

    For the sake of the world, it is a good thing that the face of Christianity is no longer the American and white European. The most effective missions work is to plant churches and train up native pastors to take them over and ensure proper follow-up with young Christians, and then to continue in a supporting role, regionally.

  • DonS

    We have several missionaries supported by our church who are on the mission field in “undisclosed countries” in the far east, middle east, and in northern Africa. They all report a ripe harvest field, including in Muslim areas. In the far east, communist China has a rapidly growing Christian population, and the sadistic oppression of Christians in Myanmar is really strengthening the church in that region. Africa is ablaze. The real struggle, as has been alluded to above, is to counter the cults, which have also been very active and growing in these third world regions, particularly JW’s and Mormons.

    For the sake of the world, it is a good thing that the face of Christianity is no longer the American and white European. The most effective missions work is to plant churches and train up native pastors to take them over and ensure proper follow-up with young Christians, and then to continue in a supporting role, regionally.

  • John C

    Christianity may be thriving in Africa but it may not be the kind of Christanity many on this blog would approve.
    The broadcaster in the following radio documentary looks at Christianity in Nigeria — a microcosom of the west with financial scams, big oil spills and pentecostal churches.
    http://www.abc.net.au/rn/360/stories/2009/2735036.htm

  • John C

    Christianity may be thriving in Africa but it may not be the kind of Christanity many on this blog would approve.
    The broadcaster in the following radio documentary looks at Christianity in Nigeria — a microcosom of the west with financial scams, big oil spills and pentecostal churches.
    http://www.abc.net.au/rn/360/stories/2009/2735036.htm

  • Porcell

    Whenever Christianity migrates it takes on the coloration of local traditions along with its core orthodoxy. Phillip Jenkins, so far the best scholar of the global spread of Christianity, writes in an essay, The Next Christianity,:

    Worldwide, Christianity is actually moving toward supernaturalism and neo-orthodoxy, and in many ways toward the ancient world view expressed in the New Testament: a vision of Jesus as the embodiment of divine power, who overcomes the evil forces that inflict calamity and sickness upon the human race. In the global South (the areas that we often think of primarily as the Third World) huge and growing Christian populations — currently 480 million in Latin America, 360 million in Africa, and 313 million in Asia, compared with 260 million in North America — now make up what the Catholic scholar Walbert Buhlmann has called the Third Church, a form of Christianity as distinct as Protestantism or Orthodoxy, and one that is likely to become dominant in the faith.

    While Christianity has become increasingly marginal in the West, the growth of the global church is an encouraging sign. Though it won’t happen in our time, the growth of the global church could inspire a resurgence of orthodox Christianity in the West.

  • Porcell

    Whenever Christianity migrates it takes on the coloration of local traditions along with its core orthodoxy. Phillip Jenkins, so far the best scholar of the global spread of Christianity, writes in an essay, The Next Christianity,:

    Worldwide, Christianity is actually moving toward supernaturalism and neo-orthodoxy, and in many ways toward the ancient world view expressed in the New Testament: a vision of Jesus as the embodiment of divine power, who overcomes the evil forces that inflict calamity and sickness upon the human race. In the global South (the areas that we often think of primarily as the Third World) huge and growing Christian populations — currently 480 million in Latin America, 360 million in Africa, and 313 million in Asia, compared with 260 million in North America — now make up what the Catholic scholar Walbert Buhlmann has called the Third Church, a form of Christianity as distinct as Protestantism or Orthodoxy, and one that is likely to become dominant in the faith.

    While Christianity has become increasingly marginal in the West, the growth of the global church is an encouraging sign. Though it won’t happen in our time, the growth of the global church could inspire a resurgence of orthodox Christianity in the West.

  • http://lutheranguest.blogspot.com/ Jim

    Not to be pedantic (which means I’m going to be pedantic), but I “think” the title of the column is supposed to be that Islam is the second largest religion in the world. Not the second fastest growing in the world.

    Assuming that Christianity is the fastest growing religion in the world, then however fast the “second fastest” growing religion is growin, it can’t become “the biggest religion during this century.”

    Right? If my population is the largest, and grows by 3 percent every year, then your population cannot overtake it at any point in the future if it’s growing by 2 percent every year.

    Or maybe the fastest growing religion is something other than Christianity.

  • http://lutheranguest.blogspot.com/ Jim

    Not to be pedantic (which means I’m going to be pedantic), but I “think” the title of the column is supposed to be that Islam is the second largest religion in the world. Not the second fastest growing in the world.

    Assuming that Christianity is the fastest growing religion in the world, then however fast the “second fastest” growing religion is growin, it can’t become “the biggest religion during this century.”

    Right? If my population is the largest, and grows by 3 percent every year, then your population cannot overtake it at any point in the future if it’s growing by 2 percent every year.

    Or maybe the fastest growing religion is something other than Christianity.

  • http://www.thirduse.com fws

    here in brasil the fastest growing group is the universal church. which appears to be penticostal but is heretical to the point of probably not being christian. but their sign says “jesus is lord”

    they are growing fast in the usa too. all the pastors have brasilian accents and prey exclusively upon latinos. so anglo speakers are blind to this phenomenon largely. their message is “stop suffering” the other message, once they have ya, is to send in your money. max your credit cards to do this or sell your home…

    but the devotees are not innocent. they are told that if they make such faith offerings, that God will respond with more money in return. it looks really crass . greed becomes a righteous virtue that God rewards is what this looks like.

    this is the fenomenon that purcell writes about. it os not protestant vs orthodox vs catholic different. it is christian vs mormon different.

  • http://www.thirduse.com fws

    here in brasil the fastest growing group is the universal church. which appears to be penticostal but is heretical to the point of probably not being christian. but their sign says “jesus is lord”

    they are growing fast in the usa too. all the pastors have brasilian accents and prey exclusively upon latinos. so anglo speakers are blind to this phenomenon largely. their message is “stop suffering” the other message, once they have ya, is to send in your money. max your credit cards to do this or sell your home…

    but the devotees are not innocent. they are told that if they make such faith offerings, that God will respond with more money in return. it looks really crass . greed becomes a righteous virtue that God rewards is what this looks like.

    this is the fenomenon that purcell writes about. it os not protestant vs orthodox vs catholic different. it is christian vs mormon different.

  • John Seelan

    I am a Indian Christian. The local mainstream protestant churches and evangelical churches have a rapid growth here. Though I am not an evangelist I have to accept evangelism is spreading rapidly than any other religion in India. Indian government claims to be secular but it is not. They try to hide the rise of christian numbers in an indirect way. Most of the christian converts are from lower caste(Schedule caste and Schedule tribe) . The Indian government offers lots of privileges to lower caste people. If a lower caste man converts to christianity he will be considered as a backward caste and so he will loose all privileges. So these low caste people convert to christianity will not register themselves as christians in the government registry. So naturally the actual christian numbers are down as per the government. But I dont think this is going to last for long as the numbers are booming. I hope that in the next 30 or 40 years the actual number of Indian Christians will be revealed and their numbers will be atleast 30%. GOD BLESS INDIA

  • John Seelan

    I am a Indian Christian. The local mainstream protestant churches and evangelical churches have a rapid growth here. Though I am not an evangelist I have to accept evangelism is spreading rapidly than any other religion in India. Indian government claims to be secular but it is not. They try to hide the rise of christian numbers in an indirect way. Most of the christian converts are from lower caste(Schedule caste and Schedule tribe) . The Indian government offers lots of privileges to lower caste people. If a lower caste man converts to christianity he will be considered as a backward caste and so he will loose all privileges. So these low caste people convert to christianity will not register themselves as christians in the government registry. So naturally the actual christian numbers are down as per the government. But I dont think this is going to last for long as the numbers are booming. I hope that in the next 30 or 40 years the actual number of Indian Christians will be revealed and their numbers will be atleast 30%. GOD BLESS INDIA

  • http://no kanikadass

    chrsitianity in india ia due to the christian catholics ( the defenders of christianity)

  • http://no kanikadass

    chrsitianity in india ia due to the christian catholics ( the defenders of christianity)

  • http://no kanikadass

    because of these protestents who are the spys and betrayers of christinity islam was able to grow

  • http://no kanikadass

    because of these protestents who are the spys and betrayers of christinity islam was able to grow

  • http://no kanikadass

    protestents never supported christianity. they make money in the name of jesus christ

  • http://no kanikadass

    protestents never supported christianity. they make money in the name of jesus christ