An appreciation of Philip Jenkins, God’s Continent. Christianity, Islam and Europe’s Religious Crisis, Oxford 2007
In one of what I regard as my important short essays of recent months—“Jerusalem & Gafcon” in The Mandate, for May-June, www.pbsusa.org -- I refer to Philip Jenkins’ book, The Next Christendom, and the discussion surrounding it, as being one of the major influences in causing the new recent seceders from The Episcopal Church to turn to African Primates and Provinces for succor and a spiritual home in the Anglican Communion.
Now I wish to commend another important book by Dr Jenkins on the situation in Europe caused by (a) the powerful secularization of European Christianity and Churches in modern times; (b) the advent as immigrants of people of Muslim background, and other factors.
From this book, God’s Continent…, which I have read carefully and with profit, I have gained what I may call a complementary vision of that which American Episcopal seceders gained from the earlier book, The Next Christendom. I can now see (any maybe my European birth, education and ordination in the C of E contribute!) that there is—human speaking, and based on a long historical view of Europe in the past— a real chance of a slow but true renewal of authentic Christianity in Europe in a few years time: that is, after there is a settling down of some of the raw emotion and politics associated with the presence and demands of Muslims, as they have to face the reality of secularist Europe and so modify their religion to fit in.
Of all the Churches in Europe that has been affected by secularism in the most obvious way and so widely, since World War, is the R C Church. And it is, of course, by far and away the biggest and with the largest global connections. Any restoration of viable Christianity would, I envisage, have to include in a central and significant way, this Church, which would then, as it were, energize Lutherans, Anglicans and others to rediscover their own true heritage and vocation. Now this revival or restoration would not come out of nowhere for there are now signs in small enclaves of this beginning of renewal and vision.
However, for it to take off – see Jenkins for suggested preliminaries—it will need Europeans through their encounter with Islam socially, politically, at work, in government and so on to be led as it were to ask questions about their own cultural and religious background and heritage (e.g. why all the great cathedrals and churches around? What is the real truth about spirituality and self-meaning.? Who is God and Christ and what is salvation? And so on).
There are a lot of ifs and factors and unknowns, but to see the beginnings of a rejuvenating European Christianity with the R C Church leading and in genuine best Vatican II mode—and including a new power and vision in the See of Canterbury— in a decade is not a stupid vision: it is reasonable in the sense that it makes sense of possible factors now in play and known from other periods of history and places. And it believes that God loves the disobedient, rebellious people of Europe for Jesus sake!
If this rejuvenation were to occur, then the New Christendom of the Global South would be enriched by the new energy and insight from God’s old Continent, the spiritual home of most of the Churches of the Global South. And there would be the real possibility of a united Anglican Communion with the See of Canterbury acting in biblical apostolic fashion.
Eve of Trinity Sunday, 2008.
“Blessed, praised and adored be the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.”