This article is from Issue 56: Mar/Apr 2012

An Unexpected Awakening

A look at the beginnings of a surprising spiritual movement in Western Europe.

When you think of “Christianity in Europe,” what comes to mind? Maybe the Pope, Martin Luther or the King James Bible? Maybe the Crusades, or something you learned in history class about the Holy Roman Empire? Maybe a bunch of gigantic churches that are beautiful but usually sit empty aside from tourists? Maybe you think Christianity in Europe is something that used to be the norm, but doesn’t really exist anymore.

You wouldn’t be alone in thinking that.

The suggestion that Europe is a “post-Christian” continent is certainly not revolutionary. Nor are the plethora of statistics that reinforce the fact that Christianity has declined drastically in Europe. For years Christians have been viewing discouraging reports of European religious decline with a sense of dread—asking whether the trend can be reversed and if younger, technologically developed nations like the United States face the same inevitable fate.

Phil Kingsley has been doing ministry in Ireland for nearly 30 years, and he’s familiar with missional efforts throughout Europe. Does he see the continent as post-Christian?

“The European context is fairly complex, and broad brush descriptions usually aren’t very helpful,” Kingsley says. “In Western Europe, I think it’s fair to say the Good News about Jesus and the Kingdom of God is not considered to be a credible solution to the problems facing modern nations. The stats suggest that in most European countries, no more than 1 percent of the population would claim to have a transformational relationship with Jesus.”

This prompts the suggestion that, rather than “post-Christian,” it might be more accurate to label Europe “pre-Christian.”

"Yes, Europe is postmodern [and] yes, it's post-Christian in general—and yet there are pockets of believers who are quietly and faithfully trying to stir things up." —Paul Baloche

“If you start with the understanding of Christianity as something distinct from ‘Christendom’—which is widely regarded as the unusual alloy of the story of Jesus plus military, civil and economic power, control and empire expansion—it’s probably fair to ask if Europe was ever largely ‘Christian’ in the first place,” Kingsley says. “If we limit the term ‘Christian’ to a culture that is actually being shaped by the message of the Lordship of Jesus and the Good News of His rule and reign on Earth, then it’s probably very accurate to say that Europe may have never actually been ‘Christian.’ So maybe in that sense it’s fair to describe Europe as ‘pre-Christian.’ ”