Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Christianity: Sunrise or Sunset?

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Christianity: Sunrise or Sunset?

Article excerpt

Have you seen Christianity lately? Depending on where you look and whom you are talking to, the followers of Jesus are either watching the sunset of days gone by or anticipating the sunrise of a new day. Inside this week's NCR you will find two stories about the future of Christianity. But whether you see a sunset or a sunrise will be up to you.

John Allen offers us some perspectives on the challenges facing the Christian churches of Europe as major cultural shifts reshape the European religious landscape (Page 5). There is no denying that the influence of Christian Europe as the cradle of Western civilization is fading. But to interpret this as the end of the tradition that produced the great schools of religious thought and such theological masters as Aquinas, Bonaventure, Catherine of Siena and Teresa of Avila may say more about our inability to read between the lines than about the demise of one of the greatest stories of all time.

Small numbers for any denomination have never reflected the size of their influence. The Society of Friends, numbering approximately 350,000 worldwide, has had a disproportionately large impact on the world's understanding of nonviolence and egalitarian community. Similarly, the Baha'i faith, founded in Iran during the 1800s to emphasize the spiritual oneness of humanity and the underlying unity of the major world religions, has only 6 million members, but they can be found in nearly every country in the world.

My point is that Christianity--Catholicism in particular--despite its falling numbers in Europe, may in fact be entering a time of profound renewal. But only if we are willing to entertain new possibilities for a church that clearly needs reform and new formulations of old doctrines. In order for the seedlings of new theological thought to take root and grow into a church that reflects inclusivity and respect for the charisms of all its baptized members, the thick institutional brush and clerical undergrowth that now covers the land will need to be cleared. …

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