The Context of Christian Witness in the 21st Century
Hempelmann, Reinhard, International Review of Mission
If 'you analyze the context of Christian witness in Germany you are confronted with the difficulty that the ideological and religious developments of our time cannot be reduced to a few types. There are numerous publications written with the intention of scrutinizing our present time in order to discover promising currents and trends with future prospects. Recently, such attempts have tended to be increasingly unsuccessful.
If you compare different diagnostic analyses, the difference in their results will be obvious. In a rapidly changing modem world, even trend forecasts are subject to a tendency rapidly to grow old (1). Some people claim to know not only about the present but also about future developments, and base their forecasts on experience and intuition. Such forecasts must be regarded as rather dubious. In addition, every trend seems to be accompanied by an anti-trend. Characteristic trends in our present civilization obviously produce counterforces. Thesis as well as anti-thesis describes reality and helps to interpret developments of our time.
1. Trends and anti-trends
* Cultural exchange and internationalism have been accompanied by the tendency to revert to nationalism, radicalism, violence and hatred of foreigners. Tolerance and intolerance have grown simultaneously. On the basis of the developments we can observe in our society, both ideas make sense. On the one hand, there is the idea that cultural and religious differences will be less important in the future. On the other hand, there is the prospect of a "clash of civilizations". (2)
* Secularization has been gaining ground. The fall of the Berlin wall undoubtedly gave a new push towards secularization. However, we can also observe since the early 1970s a development characteristic of our postmodern time, i.e., a "return of religion", the emergence of new religious movements and the search for a new religiosity. For the most part this religious search has lost touch with Christian tradition. At the same time, there is a growing Islamic and Buddhist presence in our society, caused by migration. Buddhism is a "trend-religion" in the Western world, including Germany. (3)
* In connection with the increase of secularization, religion is often regarded as a private matter. Religion has been pushed away into a private sphere; at the same time, secular life has become more and more religious. (4) The many religious themes and motifs used for advertising purposes are obvious examples of this phenomenon. "My blood for you" does not only occur in the liturgy of the Lord's supper, but is also a slogan of the German Red Cross Organization. You can read it on your way to the railway station or underground.
* On the one hand, our society is characterized by individualism. On the other hand, we can observe the existence of community movements. These criticize the negative and destructive results of the "excessive individualism" of Western societies. They say individual rights and the individual's responsibility for the community need to have a new balance. The movements aim at a renewal of society by refraining from an idealization of the free individual. Instead, they want to strengthen the civic sense and social institutions, such as the family. (5) Processes of individualization have been accompanied by the emergence of many groups.
* Hopes of a religious as well as of a secular character still play an important part and are characterized by the expectation of progress and growth. At the same time, such hopes are regarded sceptically and there are corresponding anti-movements. Progress in science and technology, for example in the field of genetic research, is nurturing optimistic visions of an ideal world and of human life unaffected by illness and suffering. For others this progress is feeding an apocalyptic pessimism: They are expecting the end of history and the end of humankind as it now exists. …