Christian comeback in Europe?

Is Europe hopelessly anti-Christian and must it's self-destructive secularism inevitably open the way for it to become the next Muslim continent? Some commentators have lamented this possibility. But Philip Jenkins disputes this analysis in an article (and in his new book, God's Continent ) in which he argues that Christianity is poised to make a comeback in secular Europe. I hope and pray that he is right - and am more than willing to take another mission trip to Europe, as the campus ministry I serve did last Summer.

Two paragraphs from the Jenkins article stuck out to me:

In fact, the rapid decline in the continent’s church attendance over the past 40 years may have done Europe a favor. It has freed churches of trying to operate as national entities that attempt to serve all members of society. Today, no church stands a realistic chance of incorporating everyone. Smaller, more focused bodies, however, can be more passionate, enthusiastic, and rigorously committed to personal holiness. To use a scientific analogy, when a star collapses, it becomes a white dwarf—smaller in size than it once was, but burning much more intensely. Across Europe, white-dwarf faith communities are growing within the remnants of the old mass church.

I have long wondered if this is basically what may happen to the "Mainline" or "historic Protestant" Churches of the United States, including The United Methodist Church. As the society moves away from a Christendom approach, fewer and fewer people will join our churches, fewer will come to us to baptize their children, fewer will come for church weddings, fewer will do any of these things "just because that is what one does." In other words there will be fewer nominal Christians (and fewer nominal United Methodists). Those who are left will be the truly committed: the disciples of Christ, not merely the cultural Christians, will populate our churches.

Of course, we will shed a great many more members (that is, our membership roles will shrink significantly, even if actual church attendance remains somewhat steady). We can only guess where our membership will "bottom out" - but when it does, we will have a wonderful opportunity to regroup and then grow.

The other thing that struck me was this:
Jürgen Habermas, a veteran leftist German philosopher stunned his admirers not long ago by proclaiming, “Christianity, and nothing else, is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy, the benchmarks of Western civilization. To this day, we have no other options [than Christianity]. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source. Everything else is postmodern chatter.” Europe may be confronting the dilemmas of a truly multifaith society, but with Christianity poised for a comeback, it is hardly on the verge of becoming an Islamic colony.

Could it be that a growing number of European intellectuals will recognize how important the Christian notions of justice and love, of humans bearing the image of God, of faith and reason - how all of these Christian elements have made possible not only the birth, but also the continuation of Western Civilization? We'll see what happens.

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Blogger Stephen said...

And if you have ever been to Taize, 95% of the pilgrims are ages 18-29 from across Europe. I believe after talking to some of those pilgrims that young people are hungry for something more than european secularism.

9:57 AM, July 30, 2009  

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