Archive for the ‘secularisation’ category

“Theologizing” the City in Europe

November 7, 2012

The unprecedented phenomenon of urbanization since the European Industrial Revolution has gone global, and shows no sign of letting up. Today, more than half of humanity is in, or within the domain of, a city. European Urbanisation is currently over 75% and is predicted to reach 82%.

The Industrial Revolution produced an entirely new urban reality requiring new paradigms for church and mission. Since the end of the Second World War, a new form of the city, the post-industrial, postmodern, globally-connected megacity or global city, is proliferating worldwide. All indicators suggest that this wave of urban expansion represents more than a mere extension of the Industrial Revolution: the emergence of the megacity portends another fundamental metamorphosis in human sociology with its own set of spiritual perils, missiological challenges and opportunities.

Urban missiology in the developed world is woefully out-of-touch and out-of-sync with today’s city-builders, each out to create his/her own idea of urban paradise. Inadequate theologies of the city and consequent non-theological understandings of modern urbanization have stifled the growth of urban churches and movements in European cities, and contributed to the demise of urban Christianity.

Harvie Conn argued: “Current evangelical discussions, as rich as they are, largely orbit around a missiology of the city more than a theology of the city…. Our missiological vision for the city must also be a theological vision of the city.” These new urban phenomena require fresh theological reflection, missiological creativity, and united action if Christian mission is to address the unprecedented opportunities, as well as potential new levels and forms of hardship and conflict for city dwellers, generated by the emergence of global cities. Urban thinkers and actors must give priority to a re-examination of the biblical data with regard to the theological meanings of the city and their significance for Christian mission.

French city theology pioneer Jacques Ellul, in his groundbreaking The Meaning of the City (1970), demonstrated that the abundant biblical data with regard to cities – human and divine, temporal and eternal, as places of rebellion and of devotion, as objects of judgment and of blessing – are, in fact, evidences of a well-developed theology of the city. For Ellul this theology seems prophetically intended to aid the church in her understanding and practice of mission during this age of global urbanisation. Ellul is probably the first biblical commentator to truly “theologise” the city not as a metaphor of human culture (e.g., in the tradition of Saint Augustine’s The City of God, early fifth century), but as a concrete social reality (e.g., in the line of Lewis Mumford’s The City in History: Its Origins, Its Transformation, and Its Prospects, 1961).

Ellul wrote: “We are in the city, and this is one of the most important facts of our generation. It is absolutely indispensable that we realize what that means for us, for our actual life: the undeniable presence and influence of the city are of infinitely greater importance than the urban problem itself…. If the Word of God is clearly marked out for us in our concrete situation, and if at the same time as it takes hold of us (for our condemnation and salvation) it enlightens our understanding of that situation, and if we are truly involved in the city and the Bible shows us what we are in the city for and what the city signifies for us and our relation to her, then all that we have learned should form the proper nucleus for a science of the city.”

It is precisely this spiritual and theological “science of the city,” which is begging to be nourished so that it might mature and bear fruit in the form of a thoroughly biblical and missional theology of the city. Such a theology of the city would be a sufficient foundation on which to build sound urban missiology, allowing for the discovery and development of new paradigms and strategies of mission to Europe’s urban centres.

Such a theology would ensure that the church-in-mission

… comprehend that the essence of the city is not a random collection of sociological phenomena under purely secular powers, but rather a profoundly spiritual entity – the locus of spiritual powers vying for the souls of men.

… rejoice in the knowledge that the Scriptures portray a merciful and loving Creator who progressively takes pains to accommodate man’s insistence on city-building and city-dwelling, sovereignly carving out spaces in cities where his redemptive purposes may operate in the midst of human rebellion and perversion.

… marvel at God’s sovereign election of the human city – the very symbol of man’s rejection of God, – as the epicenter of his salvific act in Christ and his ongoing loving actions in human history, and understand that God’s election has resulted in the localization of the conflict of the ages in the world’s cities.

… be liberated to be intentionally, proactively, and strategically present in the cities, to engage their inhabitants both intelligently and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

… might labour with the assurance that the fruits of mission among redeemed peoples of diverse nations and in their centers of culture, their cities, will have some kind of real continuity in the New Jerusalem, and therefore, have eternal value.

With such a renewed theology, might Christian mission to the global city, as Harvie Conn once conjectured, in fact “provide the contextual instrument for fulfilling David Bosch’s prediction of an emerging paradigm shift in the theology of mission for our day”?

Ben Beckner

References:
Harvie Conn, 1993, “A Contextual Theology of Mission for the City,” in The Good News of the Kingdom: Mission Theology for the Third Millennium, eds. Charles van Engen, Dean S. Gilliland, Paul Pierson, Maryknoll, N, Orbis Books, p. 101.

Ellul, 1970, The Meaning of the City, Grand Rapids, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, p. 147-148.

Harvie M. Conn, 1994. “Introduction” in God So Loves the City: Seeking a Theology for Urban Mission, Charles Van Engen, Jude Tiersma, eds., Monrovia, California, MARC, p. v.

Benjamin Beckner, former urban church planter in several European cities and based in Lyon, France,
serves as professor of missiology, missions consultant, trainer and mobiliser for the church in French-
speaking Europe.

This article first featured in Issue 11 of Vista.
You can download the full pdf and previous issues here

SECULARISATION IN EUROPE: A GENERATIONAL SHIFT

December 2, 2011

At the recent meeting of the World Evangelical Alliance’s Mission Commission I presented a 25 minutes overview of several of the main features of Europe that we have been researching and which impact the mission of the Churches. One of those concerns work on the generational impact of the 20-29 year olds on trends relating to secularisation.

Six questions from the European Values Study (1980 and repeated in 1989, 1999 and 2008, the latter including 47 countries) form the basis for our ‘Nova Index of European Secularity’:

  1. Do you believe in God?
  2. How important is religion in your life?
  3. Are you religious, non-religious or atheist?
  4. How often do you attend religious services?
  5. How much confidence do you have in the church?
  6. 6. How often do you pray?

From these measures we believe that the 2008 data points to a ‘developing post-Christendom identity’, characteristic of people who have previously been, or who remain, ‘Christian’ but who presently have no institutional affiliation (or a very diluted form of it). The data represents a shift from ‘Christendom’ religiosity to ‘post-Christendom’ spirituality, rather than from ‘Christendom’ nonreligiosity towards ‘post-Christendom’ spirituality. The newly ‘spiritual’ are not on a journey towards faith but instead are on a journey away from church affiliation. Whether this data represents a deepening of secularity or a mutation of religiosity deserves closer and more rigorous attention and debate.

The EVS data indicates a markedly irreligious generation of 50-69 year olds, best characterised as ‘ideologically hostile’ to religiosity. This generation is now beginning to retire from influential roles in the media, politics, education, and the arts. The havoc that these ‘lost generations’ have wreaked – in constructing a narrative of hard secularism – may finally be waning.

Our initial analysis supports the findings of other social scientists who suggest that the current generation of 20-29 year olds is reportedly less hostile to religion and religiosity but that this may be little more than a generation best characterised as ‘benignly indifferent’ to religiosity. This more ‘open generation’ may prove to be more amenable to creating the space necessary for a discussion of religion and religiosity within the media, politics, education, and the arts.

Where post-ideological commitments like this are held relatively lightly there may yet be scope for a considered exploration of the public value of religious belief and practice.

The non-religious Swiss increases in size

April 20, 2011

25% of the Swiss are non-religious

A March 31st report by Swissinfo.ch (31st March, 2011) carried news of a survey indicating that one in four Swiss citizens chose to describe themselves as ‘non-religious’. This was significantly up from the 1% who claimed to be non-religous in 1970 and the 11% who did so in the year 2000.

The Natural Science Foundation funded survey was carried out by Lausanne University professor Jörg Stolz and Münster University professor Judith Könemann, who suggested caution in interpreting the data. They pointed out that these unaffiliated individuals ‘might believe in God or be alternatively spiritual.’

The survey polled 1,229 people and a further 73 in-depth interviews produced a categorisation of people as one of four types: distanced (64%), institutional (17%), secular (10%), and alternative (9%). Institutionals represent the active churchgoers whilst the majority ‘distanced’ group attended occasional church services but did not consider religion to be very important in their lives. Most ‘alternatives’ were women and interested in’meditation, reincarnation and herbal remedies’.

Commenting on the findings, Markus Ries, a theologian at Lucerne University, predicted that in 25 years time there would be much more plurality regarding religious and non-religious practice, mirroring the increasing plurality in society at large.

In 2000, 161,075 people or 2.2% of the population belonged to so-called free churches (non-state recognised Christian denominations). For the moment Switzerland remains a Protestant country with 32% of the population claiming allegiance, a slim 1% ahead of the Roman Catholic population.

Further information about the changing face of religion in Switzerland and a number of useful links to the websites of various Swiss Churches is available by following this link.

Non-religious young people in Britain

April 15, 2011

Dr. Rebecca Catto (Lancaster University) has published her initial reflections on a small-sale survey of non-religious young people on the guardian online. ‘Beyond Grayling, Dawkins and Hitchens, a new kind of British atheism‘  reports on a one year project that explores the worldviews of young people who self-identify as atheists, free thinkers, humanists, secularists, and/or sceptics.

Catto reports that these ‘new atheists’ may be ‘more flexible and open to different perspectives than older non-religionists (some report attending events with actively Christian friends), and prefer to engage with online communitiesthan belong to official organisations. They are strongly influenced by family and education. Some have reacted against Christian upbringings; have been influenced by writers like Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris; one man is looking to challenge the influence of the Christian Union on his university campus; and another would like to break the association between Britishness and Christianity. For one woman, the important thing is being pro-human rather than anti-religious.’

This greater flexibility on the part of the new atheists compared to older non-religionists is supported by our own analysis of data from the European Values Survey in which we examined generational differences and secularisation.

The challenge to Christian witness is not necessarily that the new atheist perspective is a ‘faith-free’ zone. For some it would appear to be a search for truth and morality and for whom ‘the secular can be just as moral, emotional and sacred as the religious.’  Lesslie Newbigin serves as an important reminder that our task in Christian mission is to demonstrate the truth that Christian versions of morality, the sacred, and human nature are more adequate, beautiful, and compelling than its rivals.

Norwegian belief and Ice Age 2

April 11, 2011

The percentage of Norwegians who claim to attend church at least once a month has declined over the last ten years from 11 to 7% of the population, according to the Norwegian BAR magazine. During the same period, the percentage of self-described ‘atheists’ has increased from 10 to 18%. The percentage of children being baptised has fallen from 81% in 2000 to 68% in 2009. Figures from the Norwegian Research Institute, KIFO, indicate that while 81% of the Norwegian population remain in membership of the Norwegian (Lutheran) Church, this figure falls to 72% among the 20-30 year olds. However, census figures returned to the Church in March 2011, showed that the average Church of Norway member went to church once a year in 2010, that in 2010, 78% of Norwegians were church members, 66% had their children baptised, and confirmations had declined from 68.3% in 2000 to 64.9% in 2010. The percentage of Norwegians opting for a Church funeral was 91.1% in 2010.

In their book ‘Religion in Norway today: between secularism and secularisation’ Ulla Schmidt and Pål Ketil Botvar, point to the significant numbers of Norwegian young people who are leaving the Church for new religious movements. Meanwhile, and lending support to europeanmission’s own pan-European research (download from here), there is a noticeably low level of religious orientation and activity among 55-65 year olds. Botvar comments ‘This group has been vaccinated against religion.’

Consequently, the opinion shapers for the last ten to fifteen years in the media, education and government appear to have been active secularists and it may be that children and young people are gaining most of their religious impressions from the globalised entertainment industry.

Norwegian Professors, Liv Lied and Dag Øistein Endsjø, responsible for a book on religion and popular culture in Norway, suggest that Norwegian young people are far more likely to have learnt about ‘a ship that rescues animals from a flood’ from Ice Age 2 than from the book of Genesis. Consequently the religious preferences of many young people are drawn from popular culture and not the traditional teaching of the church. The authors argues that the Church has to understand popular culture in order to know how best to communicate with and disciple young people today. Equally importantly, the authors describe religious identity in Norway as something that is built according to personal choices and preferences – the Church cannot assume that it’s dogmatic teachings are being accepted without challenge or adaptation.

The willingness of the Norwegian church to adapt does not seem to be an issue, rather it seems to be a failure of the Church to understand what kind of religious identity and experience Norwegians want and how best to address that with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.