Ministries in Post-Enlightenment Europe

By Lodberg, Peter | International Review of Mission, July-October 2006 | Go to article overview

Ministries in Post-Enlightenment Europe


Lodberg, Peter, International Review of Mission


It is debatable how strong secularization is in Europe, and how important its consequences are for the European churches. Peter L. Berger has introduced the idea of Europe being the exception to the rule that modernization means more secularization. Berger thinks the only major part of the world in which the old secularization theory continues to be empirically tenable is western and central Europe. The single most interesting question for the sociology of religion today is, according to Berger, 'Is Europe religiously different, and if so why?'

I agree with Peter L. Berger that we are experiencing in Europe what could be called a distinctive Euro-secularity that is part and parcel of a cross-national European culture. This Euro-secularity is characterized by a plurality of reasons why people still belong to the Christian church in a situation where they could choose something else. Grace Davie has tried to catch this new situation of the church by suggesting the term, "believing without belonging". Jose Casanova has turned the phrase around and speaks of a situation that he describes as "belonging without believing". Thus, the church is still a privileged institution even though Europeans do not attend church services. Some Europeans look to the church as if to an insurance company, where it is good to be member if at last it will show that Jesus is the way, truth and life. I would call this last perspective "believing in belonging".

Alongside the changing attitude to membership of organized religion there is a shift in religious faith. It is becoming much more individualistic, fluid and changeable. The result is that faith becomes part of a personal project of self-realization. In the process, bits and pieces from different religions are mixed in order to help deal with the question of personal identity in a situation where work-related pressures create stress and erupt the old patterns of family life. Globalization changes all aspects of life, including the religious life.

As a result of secularization, globalization, and ideological and religious pluralism the ordained ministry has lost its old authority. The pastor is no longer the only religious or educated expert in the local arena or in the public discourse. Media-people have taken over his/her position as an authoritative public voice. The pulpit has lost to television. What is left to the minister is authenticity. In all that he/she does, the pastor is negotiating and legitimizing the Christian gospel as the way of life for post-enlightenment Europeans. The minister's personal faith and authenticity become the primary examples of the content and wisdom of the Christian message because he/she has to accept the rule in the post-modern media society that the media are the message. Many young pastors especially find it difficult to deal with this reality, which is a reality that in my Lutheran tradition and theology is far away from the basic idea of the Lutheran ministry.

In post-enlightenment Europe the minister becomes a witness to the gospel and its meaning among people who have a very distanced awareness of Christian faith and tradition. He/she becomes a missionary in a society that is multicultural, multi-religious and a secularized liberal democracy, where modernity pluralizes the worlds of individuals, and undermines all certainties that are taken for granted. In this situation the pastor must know the mechanisms of his/her culture, politics and religions so that he/she is in accordance with the present. However, she/he cannot accommodate herself/himself to culture and society. A critical orientation towards culture and politics must be preserved based on the theological insight that we meet Jesus Christ in the middle of our lives and societies. In this respect, John A. T. Robinson's insights from his books Honest to God and The Hoist to God Debate still remain to be dealt with:

   My book seems to have touched people at a point where truth really
   matters to them. … 

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