Archive for April 2010

Virtue and evangelism: the reign and mission of God in Europe

April 26, 2010

I’m trying to think ahead for a change and have been revising material for our new MA in European Mission and Intercultural Christianity which, if all goes to plan, will hopefully be validated by the University of Gloucestershire on Wednesday of this week.

Doing that, I’ve been reading Bryan Stone’s excellent book Evangelism after Christendom. He describes evangelism in the following way,

‘The practice of evangelism is a complex and multilayered process – multiple activities that invite, herald, welcome, and provoke and that has as its end the peaceable reign of God and the social holiness by which persons are oriented towards that reign. As the end of evangelistic practice, the reign of God is not external to evangelistic practice but internal to it in the form of the politics by which that practice is carried out, a politics that is formed by a distinctive story and sustained by distinctive virtues such as presence, patience, courage and humility. To practice evangelism faithfully ad with excellence, then, is to practice it from within this politics, to play by the rules of this politics, so to speak. These rules, as McClendon reminds us, are not like “‘no loitering in the hallways’… Rather they are practice-constitutive rules: one who flouts them is to be thought of not as naughty or nasty, but simply as disengaged from the practice in question’. ”

Within the setting of European mission, the practice of evangelism is frequently that which provokes the strongest reaction from secular observers, church leaders, and even some missiologists. Stone’s emphasis does at least have the virtue of suggesting that if the ‘reign of God’ (aka. Kingdom of God) has any significance for Europe’s future, then our human co-operation in seeing God’s reign established can never be a denial of the values of the Kingdom. It’s never going to solve accusations of proselytism from the majority churches but a sustained and self-reflective commitment by evangelicals to the Christ-like virtues of ‘presence, patience, courage and humility’ might go some way to forms of evangelism in Europe that could be characterised as ‘hit-and-run’, anxious, fearful, and arrogant.

If that can avoided, we should certainly be doing more inviting, heralding, welcoming and provoking. If Jesus had been announcing the start of his public ministry in contemporary Europe, I sometimes wonder where he might have begun doing these things?

Europe: culturally captive and a mission field

April 16, 2010

Just a century ago, Europe was not seen by everybody as a mission field. The Edinburgh 1910 World Mission Conference published a World Atlas portraying mission stations geographically. Within Europe, only missionary work among the Jews was mapped. This reflected the dominance of the Anglican Churches which insisted that Europe was not to be considered a mission field due to the presence there of Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

Europe and North America were described as mission fields at the Tambaram meetings of the 3rd World Mission Conference of the International Missionary Council in 1938. Europe was gradually being toppled from its throne as ‘top Christian continent’. With it would go view that the Christian Gospel was synonymous with the advance of Western civilisation and universal norms although the links were still being argued well into the 1950s.

At the World Mission Conference held in Bangkok, 1972, the cultural superiority and dominance of western Christianity was categorically proclaimed. By the 1996 World Mission Conference of the WCC in Salvador de Bahia saw acclaimed missiologist, Lesslie Newbigin, pointedly ask how the western churches which proposed to evangelise the whole world in one generation could be saved from their own cultural captivity.’ Salvador’s acceptance of cultural diversity and plurality within global Christianity marked the end of Eurocentric forms of thinking within ecumenical missiology.

It seems obvious now that Europe is a mission field. Surveys, anecdotes, the popular media, and our own daily encounters, together paint a picture of a continent populated to a very large extend by practical secularists. The churches haven’t quite managed to shake off these tendencies either.

Despite this, the New Testament doesn’t seem to allow us to retreat into pessimism, insisting that the light of Christ always shines in the darkness (Jn 1:5). If Europe is truly the ‘Dark Continent’ (and personally I don’t find this kind of language helpful) then we would expect to find the light of Christ shining in it – even to the extent that it is not overwhelmed by the darkness.

It’s true that European theology is not universal theology. That can be hard at times for evangelicals who have struggled to come to terms with the churches of the global south who have argued that social justice should be seen as a constituent part of the Gospel. It has also been equally challenging for enlightenment evangelicals to accommodate the world-view of the global south that has little difficulty in making room for spirits, demons, and the so-called ‘supernatural’. The consequent emphasis on exorcism, spiritual warfare, and other forms of spirit activity has not always been widely welcomed by western evangelicals who function as practical materialists in this sense.

Despite this, the de-throning of European theology has been accompanied by a growing awareness of the reductionist character of western evangelicalism’s dogmas and an accompanying appreciation of the contribution of global missiology to our own limited understandings and practice of mission.

Comments welcome!

Hungary lurches to the right

April 12, 2010

The Magyar Garda

Elections to the Hungarian Parliament have given seats to  26 members of the far-right Jobbik (see the current edition of our research quarterly Vista). The 31 year old leader says he will take his oath wearing the paramilitary uniform of the Magyar Garda (Hungarian Guard), linked with violent attacks on Roma communities in Hungary.

The majority of votes (52.8%) were won by the centre right party, Fidesz, which between 1998-2002 courted the support of Hungary’s majority Roman Catholic Church (5.5 million members according to the 2001 census) and the Reformed Church (1.6 million members in 2001) . The success of Fidesz is a reflection of the Socialist Party’s inability to deal with corruption and its own  inability to govern effectively.

The churches of Hungary and a number of mission agencies are active among the Roma communities in Hungary. Their accommodation to the political changes will require wisdom and a keen Kingdom perspective as they work in welfare, community, church-planting, and evangelistic initiatives.

Religious Freedom in the UK

April 9, 2010

The latest Theos report, published on March 18th, written by Professor Roger Trigg highlights the gradual erosion of religious freedoms and argues that religious freedom should not be reduced to one type of freedom of speech. He argues that religious freedom is a basic right and that its scope cannot be determined by the democratic will of the people.

This FREE report can be downloaded from

Emerging and European: how significant are the experiments of the 1980 and 90s?

April 6, 2010

Just been trying to find out a bit more about the history of Emerging/Emergent Church whilst I’ve been updating several lectures for Redcliffe’s European Studies programme. I became a Baptist minister in 1989 and have seen a few things come around in the twenty years since. I also collect too many books and thought I’d get some out and try to remember what I heard some of their authors say at the time.

The issue I have is that the short-list of emergent histories (mainly blogs – like this one!) mostly discusses it with reference to what was going on in the USA. They mostly overlook the missionary/missional shifts in congregational thinking going on in a number of European centres. Of course, the major mistake that Europeans made (according to some emerging leaders) was to believe that something new might emerge out of established church traditions and remain closely identified with those traditions in some instance.

Andrew Jones (tallskinnykiwi) traces the explosion of the term to 2001 although he mentions a book written in 1970 called The Emerging Church (and later used by Dan Kimball as the title of his 2003 book). He’s very frustrating when he writes in a 2007 blog that in 1988 he discovered that British models were far in advance of other continents and although he promised to write about it ‘another time’, I’ve yet to see what he would have written if that time had come.

The first reference I can find to its use in a European context is its appearance in the title of of a 1981 book by Johann Baptist Metz The Emergent Church: The Future of Christianity in a Postbourgeois World. Metz argued that Christian memory generates change, not only of the congregation but also of the surrounding world. In this way, the church was ’emergent’.

Robert Warren’s Being Human, Being Church (1995) where he outlines three chapters on ‘The Church in Emerging Mode’ including chapters on ‘Models’and ‘Marks’. The key for Warren was missionary/missional aligned with spirituality.

It’s also worth taking a look at what came out of the ‘Towards Missionary Congregations in a secularized Europe’  that kicked off in 1989 within the Conference of European Churches and the mission section of the World Council of Churches. The resultant process and book Hear what the Spirit says to the Churches (edited by Gerhard Linn, 1994) has a really organic feel and describes 25 congregations that were emerging during the late 1980s and early 1990s. A concluding phrase from Hear what the Spirit says.. says ‘And the result? The answer is simply: We do not know! We are still on the move.’ The sense of the church being in emerging mode is clear and undergirds the occasional use of the term throughout the book.

It seems that the contribution of European churches and mission leaders to the emerging church is a history that is waiting to be written; even if only an emerging and provisional history. Its contribution might also be to challenge the emerging consensus that emergent church can only ever be contained within totally new wineskins.