I have received recently, from Rev. Dr. Christopher Wright, International Ministries Director of Langham Partnership, the request to respond to a few questions as he prepares for a presentation at a coming Lausanne meeting. The general topic he will address is the one in the title of this post.
Since the questions are of general relevance for many of the readers of this blog, I have decided to post here my response to Chris Wright.
You are free to interact with my resp[onses, or the questions, if you are interested, whether you agree or disagree with me. So, here it is.
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Here is my attempt at a response to your questions:
1. What are the most important social- cultural- political trends in Europe today?
In this area, secularisation remains, in my estimation, the main dynamic on the continent, as it is in Britain. It is, I believe, not so much a sign of decreased interest of Europeans in religious/spiritual matters, but, rather, the consequence of the church’s irrelevance to contemporary concerns and her search for temporal power. The overwhelming popularity of Pope Francis, who incarnates opposite values, like authenticity and humility, proves that, when genuine, faith still attracts many in Europe.
Consumerism is the new religion of Europe, as it is the case with most of the world, not just its developed part, shopping malls being its ‘temples’. Do Christians understand what human drives, that are not met by the church, are fulfilled by this form of practical materialism/ I doubt it.
Nationalism (the European, supposedly more sophisticated, version of tribalism) is also one of the most intriguing traits of a continent that displays a large degree of historically rooted cultural and religious diversity. When connected with religion, in a more or less sectarian version, this combination – know generally as the Christian heresy of ‘philetism’, that is affecting an ethnic group’s search for identity, can become toxic and has become at times explosive, like in former Yugoslavia.
2. How would you summarize the state of the Christian church (meaning in this context mainly, though not exclusively, the evangelical community) in Europe (or your part of Europe) today?
If majority churches are tempted by nationalism and by getting in bed with political power, evangelical churches tend towards creating a sort of generic globalised ecclesial culture (which often is, intentionally or not, nothing else but an expression of American missionary imperialism). As a result, totally irrelevant theological and cultural debates of North American origin – like inerrancy, cultural wars, and neo-reformed fundamentalism, are imported into the European environment, while hot contextual matters – like the aging population of Europe, the crisis of the social care system, and the Roma problem, remain untouched. This is completely contrary to the principle of incarnation and, if continued, it will make evangelicalism even more irrelevant than it is of continental Europe.
Evangelical youth are disenchanted with the sectarianism of the older generation of evangelical leaders, and
– are searching for new ecclesial expressions that are more historically rooted – sometimes also more liturgical,
– are more concerned about the fundamental unity of the body of Christ, ‘one, holy, catholic and apostolic’, and
– are more committed to an integral vision of Christian witness, one that does not separate artificially, let alone oppose, like in old evangelicalism, evangelism and social action.
It is in this new generation of evangelicals, as guided by the Spirit of God, that the hope of evangelicalism in Europe resides.
3. What are the greatest obstacles to Christian evangelism and discipleship in Europe today?
Old, unimaginative leadership is, in my estimation, the greatest obstacle to church renewal – including evangelism and discipleship, in Europe. Institutional churches, including the evangelical ones, are often compromised in the eyes of the general public, and especially of the younger generation:
– because of their financial and theological dependence on American evangelicals;
– because of their failure to play a prophetic role in society, and, at times, of straight collaboration with authoritarian regimes, be them fascist or communist;
– because of their obvious lack of humility and prophetic imagination.
As long as new leadership (of the Pope Francis kind) does not surface, evangelistic efforts will remain fruitless and Christian discipleship will be non-existent.
Theological institutions are, to a large extent, dominated by an out-dated Enlightenment paradigm, and major on intellectual formation, being often dominated by sectarian mentalities, that rarely impact the character and spiritual formation of future evangelical leaders. I guess this is where I get closer to your topic, of ‘Being Disciples of Truth in Europe Today’. What I mean is that, thankfully, for younger Europeans, ‘truth’ is not anymore a mere epistemological concept, but an incarnated existential/personal reality. We know now that bare concepts cannot save. Truth, as incarnated in the divine person of Christ, has to be become reality in one’s life in order to become effective and salvific.
4. What are the opportunities of greatest potential for the gospel and the kingdom of God in Europe today?
When God does not have a prophet, he uses a donkey. When ecclesial leaders and theologians become more of less useless, God starts speaking through unlikely tools, like artists, fiction writers, musicians, movie makers, or even social workers. It is with them, I believe, that the greatest potential for the gospel and the kingdom resides in Europe, and maybe the entire world.
I hope this helps. You know already that you have to take everything I say with a pinch of salt. 🙂
All the best to you.
Yours, in Christ,