Global Christianity has transitioned from a western and northern hemisphere-dominated religion to one where the majority of its adherents exist in the southern and eastern hemispheres.
A closely related trend is that the Christianity of the south and of the east is increasingly characterized as more or less Pentecostal or charismatic. I suggest that the main reason for this trend is that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not only words of eternal truth, it is also meant to be a demonstration of superior power.
In animistic cultures people are not primarily concerned about what is more true. They want to know what is more safe? Will we be more protected from oppression and witchcraft by trusting in Jesus or by staying with our present religion and rituals? And for the great majority of these peoples, unless they have tangible proof of Christ’s superior power over the spiritual entities that rule in their world, they simply will not and cannot believe. Animists believe the world is inhabited by and ruled by unseen spiritual forces and entities. These entities must be appeased and pacified if one is to live unhindered and unharmed. Ancestor worship is closely associated with this as well. Idol worship is part of this system. It is a system built on fear.
I have personally heard the testimonies of hundreds of Christian converts from animistic backgrounds. I cannot think of a single case where someone came to Christ without some demonstration of supernatural power (usually healings or release from demons). This might offend your purely rationalistic approach to faith, but it’s the simple fact. Furthermore, I have personally experienced the reality of these power encounters as I have preached to thousands of animists over the years.
You must be able to demonstrate to the animist that your God is well able to protect them from the certain backlash that will come if they turn to Christ. They know spiritual power is real and the demons will be vengeful. If the animist is not convinced that they are safe in Christ, they simply will not be willing to take the risk.
Follow the history of the expansion of the church into Gentile territory in the Book of Acts. What I’m sharing here is what happened there. Billions of people in our world still live under the same basic worldview that dominated the minds of the Gentile peoples who listened and observed the Apostle Paul in the first century. From Paul’s first missionary stop on Cyprus, where the sorcery Elymas held sway, to the superstitious men onboard the sinking ship on the way to Rome, we find animists turning to Christ when they observe the demonstration of God’s superior power.
If this subject interests you (or bothers you!), and you’ve got 45 minutes to invest, I think you might find the talk I gave this past Sunday helpful. Click on the link to go to my audio page and then select the teaching, Close Encounters of the Gospel Kind.