Last evening, Philip Jenkins spoke on "The Coming of Global Christianity," as part of UTC's LeRoy Martin Distinguished Lecture Series.
I am amazed at how Jenkins can stand in front of an audience of over 100 people and simply talk about Global Christianity seamlessly for an hour without any notes. It is even more impressive that he can cite dozens of statistics on various indigenous groups in the so-called Global South solely from his memory. At several points during his talk, you could hear gasps, and subtle "wows," from the audience as Jenkins informed us of the differences between western and "southern" Christianity.
Most of the material from his lecture came from his books, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South, and God's Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe's Religious Crisis. He described, for instance, how the religious groups of the Global South are typically more conservative theologically, more charismatic, and more comfortable dealing with spiritual forces than the churches in the West. Based on the reaction of the audience, it seemed that most of this information was previously unknown for many people who attended last night. Several people came up to me later in the evening, mentioning how much they enjoyed his talk and wanted to know the date of the next lecture.
I consider it a privilege to be able to organize these lectures, but I have to admit that it can be very stressful at times. I am often the sole person who ensures that the caterers bring the food on time, that the UTC bookstore has a proper table set up with the speaker's books for sale (and has ordered the books), that the tech-person is present and available, and that the hotel and meal reservations have been made for the speaker. I also arrange for local advertisements in the Times Free Press, on Chattanooga's NPR radio station, and distribute posters of the event to local churches, colleges, and civic organizations. On top of all that, I usually introduce the speaker and perform the role of moderator during the Q & A after the lecture. I sometimes have to remind myself to sit back and enjoy the lecture, rather than fret about the various potential problems that could occur during the evening. All-in-all it is very satisfying to bring speakers like Jenkins to Chattanooga where they can make an intellectual contribution to our understanding of religion. Now it is time to consider who to invite for the 2013-2014 academic year.