Local professor to teach at Yale Divinity School

By Julie Fann
star staff
jfann@starhq.com
Transforming the way in which Christians view their own faith and assisting them in communicating it to others in the 21st Century is the goal of one Emmanuel School of Religion professor. Dr. Fred Norris, professor of Church History, will be teaching a course in World Christianity this fall at Yale University Divinity School.
"When I stand up in front of these Yale students and try to say - 'Why did they ask somebody from East Tennessee to come up and teach their course?' - one of the things that I want to say to them is, 'We have a Muslim study center/worship center on the Tree Streets in Johnson City. We have a brand new Hindu temple up in Bristol, and there are two Bahi congregations floating around, and so how would you prepare yourself to be a Christian minister, if I don't try to go through the history of the church clear back to Jesus and say, 'Well, we've got a track record with how we try to work with Muslims, and it's not just the Crusades'," Norris said.
Norris, who received his Ph.D. in Church History from Yale 33 years ago, is author of a book titled "Christianity: A Short, Global History". In the book, he attempts to take 2,000 years of Christian history around the globe in 280 pages.
"It's extremely important because, in the 19th Century, 85 percent of Christians lived in Europe and North America, and, in 2003, more than 60 percent of them live in South America, Africa, and Asia," Norris said.
The reason for a decrease in the number of professing Christians in Europe, according to Norris, is that too much of European Christianity has become "overly intellectual" and not enough, in Norris' words, "centered on the full life".
"If you go into South America and Africa and Asia, you've got people who, their whole life is tied up in their faith, and they just can't think of it any other way. It's deep in the heart, and the head follows the heart," Norris said.
Currently, there are 360 million Christians in Africa, and, Norris predicts in another 22 years there will be 600 million. "Christianity is no longer really a Western religion," he said.
When asked why other cultures seem to be more receptive to Christianity, Norris said it is, to some degree, due to the fact that those in South America, Asia, and Africa don't see life as existing within the realm of human control, as most Westerners do. "They also know, firsthand, that there's a kind of spiritual warfare that goes on; that there really are demons ... and this is not just 'what do I decide about religion' but there are good forces and bad forces."
"When we think of people like this in the United States, we think, 'no - those are the people that didn't get an education, and they really didn't come from good homes' and that sort of thing, but many of these people come from the best homes and receive the best education. They just know that life is different," Norris said.
Norris has taught Church History at Emmanuel School of Religion for 26 years. A native of Ohio, his parents were founders of the seminary, which is affiliated with the Christian Church and Churches of Christ.