Protestantism After 500 Years

Image: Wikimedia
By 2040, half of all Protestants will live in Africa.

I grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in the Scandinavian Lutheran tradition on a steady diet of hot dish, sola fides, and Davey and Goliath TV episodes. From my Lake Wobegon perspective, the Protestant world did not extend much beyond Iowa. Today, I am on sabbatical in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where Buddhists abound and Lutherans are difficult to find. Yet, in a real sense, I am probably closer than ever to the Protestant movement.

This year, Protestants around the world are celebrating 500 years of history, starting from Martin Luther’s 95 theses on the door of Wittenberg Church in October 1517. While there is indeed much to celebrate, Protestants are also penitent over Luther’s inexcusable tirade against the Jews and subsequent history of anti-Semitism that still plagues many Protestant churches. One of my hopes and prayers in this celebratory year is that we will stand in solidarity with Jews and fight for freedom for all religious and nonreligious communities around the world.

Although for several centuries the Protestant movement was based in Europe, then North America, it eventually expanded out of its Western homelands until it spread all over the world. Today, different types of churches exist within Protestantism, including Anglican, Baptist, Brethren, Churches of Christ, Congregational, Disciples, Evangelical, Friends (Quakers), Lutheran, Mennonite, Methodist, Moravian, Pentecostal, and Reformed/Presbyterian.

The Center for the Study of Global Christianity’s research, found on the infographic, shows that there are 560 million Protestants in 2017, in nearly every country. Two major movements within Christianity, Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism, overlap with Protestantism (as shown in the last diagram in the infographic).

The infographic also shows the continental distribution of Protestants, including Anglicans, from 1600 to 2015. Nearly all Protestants were European in 1600, but by 2017 the European share had dropped to 16%. By 2050, it is expected that less than 10% of Protestants will be European. African Protestants were only 1.7% of all Protestants in 1900—and these mostly Europeans in South Africa—but in 2017 they represent 41% of the global total and are projected to reach 53% by 2050. That is, sometime around 2040 half of all Protestants will live in Africa.

In light of this fact, I find the relative absence of Africans speaking at the numerous 500th anniversary conferences troubling.