Christian Comeback in Europe

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For many Americans, the expression Christian Europe is an oxymoron. As both the secular and religious press tell us, Europe is “post-Christian” and thoroughly secularized—so much so that the drafters of the new European constitution could not bring themselves to acknowledge Europe’s Christian past, never mind its present.

But, to paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of Christianity’s demise in Europe may have been greatly exaggerated.

That’s what Dutch columnist Joshua Livestro argued in a recent piece in the Weekly Standard. The article, titled “Holland’s Post-Secular Future,” describes what Livestro calls a “Dutch relapse into religiosity.” And by “religiosity” he means Christianity.

A very public example of this “relapse” is the “corporate prayer” movement. More than one hundred companies—including Dutch stalwarts like Phillips and KLM, as well as the government—facilitate on-site prayer meetings for their employees. The phenomenon is such an established part of corporate life that Dutch unions “[lobbied] the government for recognition of workers’ right to prayer in the workplace.”

Another possible example of the rekindling of Dutch Christianity is “the remarkable critical and commercial success of a number of openly Christian writers.” In 2005, “Holland’s most prestigious literary prizes” went to “books dealing in a sympathetic way with Christian issues of faith and redemption.”

One of these books, Kneeling on a Bed of Roses, by Calvinist author Jan Siebelink, was the second-best selling Dutch book of the past decade. Want to know the best-selling book? A new Dutch translation of the Bible, which sold 500,000 copies in a nation of 16 million people: the equivalent of 10 million copies in the United States.

Then there’s the success of the “Alpha Courses.” More than 120,000 Dutch have taken these introduction-to-Christianity courses. Even the head of the program is surprised at its success. As he told Livestro, “there’s a growing group, most of them young people, who are genuinely interested, for whom this is all completely new.”

These are a few of the reasons why Livestro thinks that “the century-long wave of secularization seems to have crested, and may even have begun to recede”—a hypothesis supported by the data.

While this news is very heartening, we are still left with the question, “What lies behind the relapse?” One answer is that the alternative to the Christian faith has been tried and found wanting.

Secularism’s failure was not for lack of trying. As historian Tony Judt has written, leaders in post-war Europe worked hard to forget the past, including Europe’s Christian roots. They thought societies that “provided everything” and “forbade nothing” would make western Europeans happy and secure.

It did neither. Instead, the results included suicide rates between four and sixteen times higher than that of “less developed” European countries and the United States. Combine this with the notoriously low European birthrates and what you get is despair, a society imploding.

As the Dutch are discovering after a century of secularization, it’s not too late. It never is with the Gospel. While Christianity may be “completely new” to them, its truths are eternal. And that gives Europeans—and all of us—great hope indeed.

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From BreakPoint®, January 29, 2007, Copyright 2007, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. “BreakPoint®” and “Prison Fellowship Ministries®” are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship Ministries