On Baptists in the Global South

Philip Jenkins has a fascinating article at the Christian Century on Christianity in the Global South. Christians living in the Global South are the largest demographic of every Protestant tradition, except for Baptists. Part of Jenkins’ explanation points to the distinctly American character and heritage of Baptist theology. There are somewhere between 50-110 million Baptists in the world (he favors somewhere closer to 55 million), and ~40 million (44%-80%) of them live in the United States.

On the high end, Baptists then account for 5% of the global Christian population of ~2.4 billion, or 2.2% on the low end. Counting only the 800-900 million Protestants in the world, Baptists at most make up only 13.75% of global Protestants, and only 5.5% on the lowest end. When the historical church is taken into account, with Baptist theology and practice only emerging in the 17th century, (sorry Landmarkists!) the total percentage becomes much smaller. This is only going to become more evident as the Christian population in the Global South increases.

Truth is not determined by numbers, so Baptists could still be in the right. But it is fair to say that the church is united in confessing that believers and their children should receive the sacrament of baptism. The church only appears to be divided on this issue to Americans because of the large presence of Baptists in the United States. If I had to bet, I would say the individualism of Baptist theology (e.g., no ecclesial oversight of congregations, the sacraments revolving around individual choice) accounts for its marked success in the United States. Of course, it is difficult to discern whether Baptist theology flourished because of American culture, or if American culture was shaped by Baptist theological priorities.