By Xanthi Morfi*
What is the future of Christianity in Europe and how could evangelism be relevant to the radically changing realities of European people today, are among the main issues addressed in the newly published volume “Sharing Good News: Handbook on Evangelism in Europe”.
A panel discussion centred on the launch of the book and the importance of evangelism in Europe today, took place at the Ecumenical Centre, in Geneva in early February. A substantive dialogue on the challenges of Christianity - within the new and asymmetrical sociocultural contexts of the European continent - followed the presentations of the co-editors and the guest speakers.
“Human life is evangelistic to the core”, Rev. Dr Gerrit Noort, director of the Netherlands Mission Council, and Prof. Stefan Paas, missiologist, and co-editors, note at the opening pages of the volume. If evangelion (from the Greek word euangélion) means good news, the need of sharing the good news is inherent to the human nature. It is a responsibility and necessity for people, as social beings, to share information and wisdom, to communicate the word of life and consolation, to share what is good, creating positive changes to the lives of others, that is to evangelize.
“What it means to share good news - within our radically changing denominational and religious European landscape - is a crucial question that requires a defined answer”, Noort noted at his opening discussion remarks, also commenting on the need for the re-evangelization of Europe and a renewed understanding of evangelistic mission within the contemporary discourse, substantially relevant to the current social realities of secularization, migration, cross-cultural and interreligious encounters.
The identity crisis of the West, along with the credibility lack of Christianity within the rational age, are addressed by most of the volume`s contributors – coming from a variety of confessional traditions - as issues directly linked with the occasionally less prominent place of evangelism in certain contexts . As stated in the book`s preface, the sharing of the good news has been inextricably connected historically in our cultural imagination with memories of cultural superiority, authoritarianism and obscurantism. Western certainties and balances lost, along with the aggressive rise of nationalisms and populism, result in the creation of new narratives to the worldview of the masses. Fear, deep insecurity, social and economic imbalances and the certainty that the world that used to be will not return, describe a serious part of today`s realities.
“Now is the time to be intentional in Europe, to rediscover what it means to be a Christian in this region of the world today, addressing issues that will bring meaning in people`s lives again”, Rev. Dr Kenneth Ross of the University of Edinburgh added to the discussion, emphasizing that only our own living experiences of church and country initiatives towards truth, peace and reconciliation can become the good news shared with the rest of the world, as paradigms of true evangelization.
“Sharing the Good News”, as a product of a series of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME) regional consultations addressing the place of evangelism in theological education and missiological formation in all continents, testifies to the renewed interest in evangelism within the ecumenical movement. The book is received as an important and inclusive contemporary statement that offers its readers a most complete overview of current evangelism issues in Europe, in a systematic and ecumenical framework, directly responding to the need for new evangelistic paradigms relevant to the secular, multicultural and multireligious contexts of our times.
“The publication of this book is one important step towards the way to discover whether Christianity has a future in Europe, a future shaped by the good news we are called to share” stated Kyriaki Avtzi, co-editor and WCC programme executive for evangelism, while Rev. Dr Jooseop Keum, CWME director, shared his strong belief “that the production of quality teaching material on evangelism will help us shape the future leadership of the ecumenical movement, since evangelism is indeed the test of the truth expression of ecumenism”.
There are millions of people in Europe who need to hear the good news, in order to find meaning, truth, and peace again, within societies that hardly recognize anymore the value of a life lived in the existential fullness of faith. The challenges brought to Europeans by secularization, and changing cultural and social realities, should be seen as a challenge and inspiration for action and dynamic presence in the environments of those “outside”.
For Europe today evangelism is rather a question of being, than doing, and the paradigm of individuals participating in the process of this transformation towards the future European societies, with the powerful and living experiences of their faith, is the best invitation to a true and much needed re-evangelization of this continent.
Dr Xanthi Morfi, is communication officer at the World Council of Churches.