Tuesday, June 26, 2007

European Christianity

There is the old "joke" about the armed rebels who burst into a church in some Christian-unfriendly nation. Brandishing their Kalashnikovs, they warn that all unbelievers have thirty seconds to leave the premises. After the building empties out, they announce to the small minority that remained to face death rather than to renounce their faith, "Well, now that the pretenders are gone, let's get down to some serious worship!"

Maybe, just maybe, something like that—a vigorous and healthy culling of the visible church, is what is happening in Europe. Perhaps it's not, as we have assumed, that European Christianity is dying. Perhaps, instead, we are witnessing only the welcome demise of the bloated, pseudo-Christian state church. And while the cathedrals are now little more than museums, there is, in Europe, a vital core of believers who, unlike the cultural Christians of the state churches of their parents and grandparents, are adherents of a true, saving faith.

Such is the premise of this Foreign Policy article by Philip Jenkins, distinguished professor of history and religious studies at Penn State University.

Jenkins writes, concerning the European Church:

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.

It's enough to rekindle the optimism of this postmillennialist.

Hat Tip: In The Agora

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