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Sunday, November 29, 2009

God’s Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe’s Religious Crisis by Philip Jenkins

It is the year 2074. Silver Jubilee celebrations are planned for the month of Ramadan to the delight of the citizens in Londonistan. In Paris-al-Alwah, the Sharia law courts continue their long docket of cases against homosexuals, while Christians gather in front of the mosque of Notre Dame to pray and silently protest the loss of their church. Meanwhile, Rome continues to stand as an empty ruin as the city was rendered uninhabitable by a powerful dirty bomb that was set off in the Vatican several years ago. These, and other dire ‘what-if?’ scenarios often crowd the pages and talking points of people concerned about Europe’s future in the 21st century. But then Philip Jenkins has to come along with another one of his well-researched and thoughtful books and ruin the apocalyptic party. In God’s Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe’s Religious Crisis, Jenkins doesn’t say any of this couldn’t happen or even that it shouldn’t. In point of fact, Europe is wealthy, increasingly secular, and so hedonistic, that it is committing suicide by demography. On top of this, the nations of Europe identify more racially than nationally which means for the most part they are adrift as far as having any core values or things they would fight and die for as a people. Given these factors, should we be surprised that the large and vocal Muslim immigrant population of Europe is slowly and inexorably moving in to take over in the coming decades? And if Europe is so culturally sick, wouldn’t it be best that she live by her own value system and be euthanized? But this is only part of the story of God’s Continent. According to Jenkins there are some other factors that need to be considered. First, Muslim immigration is relatively new (since the 1950’s). Families most likely to immigrate are younger and more energetic, and are likely to have children that fill local schools which makes people feel like they are being overrun. In reality, immigrant communities generally have a dropping birthrate the longer they live in a host culture especially if the cost of living is extremely expensive. Another factor ignored by many is that Europe has a lot of other immigrants also coming in from Asia and Africa and these are not Muslim but vibrant Christian believers. The empty state-run Churches of Europe belie the fact that immigrant churches are growing by leaps and bounds and are evangelizing and revitalizing the ancient faith that came to them from European missionaries in the 19th century. Quite apart from this are spontaneous revival movements occurring within the more traditional Anglican, Protestant, and Catholic denominations. Certainly another dimension to this is Muslim demands are making European leaders and people wake up to the reality that if they are doing cartwheels to accommodate this one group, why aren’t they doing more to protect the future of their majority population? The irony of all this is that Europe for decades has been almost prideful of her secularism and toleration of amorality, and yet despite their best efforts to remove God from the continent, their most consuming problem in the coming decades will be religious. Apparently Europe may be done with God but God is certainly not done with Europe.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Next Evangelicalism : Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity by Soong-Chan Rah

If you are a white, middle-aged, raised-in-the-suburbs evangelical Christian who is socially and politically conservative and either active in the church or in vocational ministry, this book is going to offend you a few times and possibly even hurt your feelings, but you need to read it anyway especially if you care about the future of the Church in America. The author, Dr. Soong-Chan Rah, has a message of hope for the American Church but one that is going to require an adjustment in our heads and hearts. That American demographics are on a trajectory of great change is not a news flash for most people. Since the 1960’s birth rates, immigration patterns, and intercultural marriages have led to what some have called the “browning of America” and now it is estimated that by 2050 there will no longer be a majority culture in America. While many are heralding this as a tragic loss, Rah defends the thesis that de-Europeanization is not tantamount to de-Christianizing our country. In fact, the author asserts a preponderance of the new immigrants coming to America are Christian by faith and socially conservative with strong family values. His point: the Church in America will experience this shift long before the general culture does and if embraced properly will stem the tide of decline most churches and denominations are experiencing today. But for this to happen there is a cost and that is to reexamine our notions of ‘doing church’ which make sense for a predominantly white industrialized culture, but may not be as Biblical or Christian as we suppose although certainly comfortable. The other and more painful point the author makes is how deeply embedded racism is in our culture and especially in the church. What makes us so profoundly blind to it is that most Americans have no sense of corporate sin and thus we see ourselves as innocent. And when you feel innocent, it’s hard to want to change your ways and racism must be addressed if our churches are going to reflect our new reality. That said, I felt the author might have said a little something about the fact that while white Americans have their own share of guilt they don’t have a corner on the market with racism. Racism has no boundaries and I know too much about world history and other cultures to ever buy in to the idea that we need to do all the repenting. I also wonder if the author is not a bit overly idealist in his multicultural vs. homogenous church model. Having some experience in missions, I have seen the church in other countries quite apart from any missionary input organize along ethnic lines. Is there then a brown cultural captivity as well or do things just tend to shake out that way no matter what country you are in? It was God’s idea in the first place to separate nations by languages and this too has purpose. Put another way, it might just be simple economy of effort that makes people of like culture and language gather their own churches. Put yet another way, perhaps the church will naturally become more multicultural as the American landscape becomes so in the years ahead. Overall, I think The Next Evangelicalism is an insightful and helpful book and even if you don’t agree with all his conclusions, in the wake of political hysteria about immigration, it is a reminder to American evangelicals that ‘welcoming the stranger’ may be the form of our next Great Awakening.