Europe: A matter of perspective – 2

PERSPECTIVE 2 : RE-IMAGINING GOSPEL ENGAGEMENT IN EUROPE
DAVID KERRIGAN

Photo: Wolf Schafer

Photo: Wolf Schafer

The last issue of Vista (Vista 13, April 2013) contained naturally, a number of emphases on the economic and political crisis in the Eurozone, the secularism of the continent, and a lament that the continent that was once a missionary powerhouse was arguably in terminal decline.   But the hope for Europe expressed by those who are viewing it from outside seemed to me to be too dependent on the challenges of sending missionaries.

I have long argued that the Euro-centric missionary enterprise that made such progress in the 19th and 20th centuries is not easily reversible.  Missionaries then had skills in education, medicine and the sciences that meant they had something that recipient cultures wanted and needed.  There were power dynamics at play also insofar as those who came were extensions of Empire. These dynamic aren’t present in Europe today.

This is not to say that Europe doesn’t need missionaries. But their energy and commitment will not be enough.  Even the vibrant Christian commitment of first-generation economic migrants in Europe is no guarantee that the same secular environment won’t dull subsequent generations.

But I can see a new dynamic emerging.  The evangelicalism that inspired so much missionary endeavour is changing.  And it needs to change.  Too often evangelicalism has been experienced as a boundary-setting, rule-imposing culture. And people in Europe have said ‘no, thank you’, not to Jesus necessarily, but to the way the church has packaged a relationship with Jesus.

21st century western culture, of which Europe is an example par excellence, isn’t just one more chapter in the history of the world.  It is the first truly globalising culture.  The ubiquity of television and social networks, the ease of travel, the suspicion of institutional authority – these things are spreading far beyond Europe’s boundaries.

The challenge to reconvert Europe might be better recast as the challenge to reimagine how the Gospel can engage with a culture whose influence is growing.  And that, primarily, is a task for the church in Europe.

David Kerrigan
General Director
BMS World Mission

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