by Stan Guthrie
It is time to bring the same compelling message of hope to an outwardly prosperous, yet increasingly pessimistic, continent.
A young tough from the east end of Glasgow, Stuart McAllister liked his job as a dance hall bouncer because he actually got paid to beat people up. A drop-out, he had left home at age 16, a heavy-drinking, gang-banging vandal. For McAllister, life was a party, money was the answer, and he wasn’t too particular how he got it.
Then one day, the married woman he was living with started talking to him about Jesus. A jaded 21, McAllister didn’t take her seriously—until she moved out because of her new Christian convictions.
“There was no sense of a search; there was no sense of hunger,” McAllister said. “I can’t say that I was (feeling) lost and miserable. In fact, it was the very opposite. I was very happy, as far as I could tell. There were things that were wrong, but my life was interesting. I had money, girls, friends.”
One night McAllister went to beat up the Christians who had urged his girlfriend to leave. Instead, knowing he had a lot to lose if they were right about their holy, omnipotent God, McAllister also became a Christian.
“The question for me, I think, was one of truth,” McAllister said. “And the evidence they presented wasn’t overwhelming—you can’t prove Christianity conclusively—but it was compelling.”
McAllister, now the general secretary of the Vienna-based European Evangelical Alliance, with 21 member alliances, says it is time to bring the same compelling message of hope to an outwardly prosperous, yet increasingly pessimistic, continent. The EEA, a member of the World Evangelical Fellowship, and other partners have launched a comprehensive initiative called Hope for Europe. “I think the climate in Europe is changing,” McAllister said. “It’s a crisis of human spirit that we’re seeing.”
Reasons for Europe’s malaise
That Europe should be experiencing “continental drift” into angst seems curious when one considers that the Soviet menace has disappeared and the region is emerging from a long and painful recession. But Europeans, who have suffered through two world wars this century, face more uncertainty than ever in today’s “post-modern” age, which some say started following the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
Today, when they might be basking in their victory over communism, instead nearly every Western European government faces widespread public skepticism, contempt, or hostility. The nearby genocide in the former Yugoslavia has made Europe’s elected leaders appear feckless, craven, and divided. “There is no Kissinger, Brzezinski, or Bismark on the horizon,” a senior Croatian diplomat has said. “There’s a lack . . . of long-term concepts or strategies. The idea is to survive until next Monday or the next election.”
The dream of European unity (and collective security) has faded. Norway’s voters have rejected integration into the Community, and Britain’s John Major has stated that “the high tide of European federalism has reached its zenith and is now declining.”
In the meantime, many Europeans are seeing their standards of living disappoint, their expansive social safety nets fray, and their education systems fall short. Despite a jump in real disposable income of 46 percent between 1971 and 1992, only 31 percent of Brits feel “very satisfied with their lives,” according to Eurobarometer, a public opinion service. While lawlessness is minor compared to the crime rates in the U.S., it is increasing in Great Britain, where over-matched bobbies are for the first time using guns to fend off heavily armed thugs. Last year the entire country was transfixed by the case of two boys who took a toddler from a shopping center in broad daylight and then killed him.
A continental jobless rate of about 16 percent (25 percent in Spain), large-scale immigration from the East into Italy, Austria, Germany, and France, skinhead and neo-Nazi protests against “foreigners,” unsettling rumblings coming from the Russian bear to the north, fears of integrating economically withthemore backward East, a possible explosion of Algerian refugees from across the Mediterranean, and troop withdrawals from the continent’s traditional defender, the United States, have contributed to the disquiet many Europeans may not see as much as feel.
“We are, in Austria, on the edge of a security plateau,” Foreign Minister Alois Mock has said. “We need to be under the protective umbrella of the (European) Union.”
Increasingly, worried intellectuals are groping for a recovery of values and a “re-sacralization of society,” McAllister says. Many want to see a sense of community built across Europe. Evangelicals such as McAllister are attempting to open dialogue with key European leaders on that issue.
“You can’t build a community unless you have values,” McAllister said. “The question is, whose values will shape the European Union? So obviously, as evangelicals, we would like to be a part of that.”
As the old Enlightenment paradigm exalting human reason collapses, McAllister cites a growing interest in the gospel across Western Europe’s secular landscape. “It’s not a question of re-evangelization,” McAllister said. “For most Europeans, they have never, ever heard the gospel.”
Great Britain is an example of growth. Clive Calver, general director of the Evangelical Alliance of Great Britain, counts more than a million British evangelicals, in a dozen denominations, who now account for 46 percent of all Protestant churchgoers. One of the keys has been answering the questions that the country is asking.
“You are working with a society that has forgotten, that doesn’t actually realize, the implications of the gospel,” Calver said. “So you actually have to go back and pick up people where they are. So we do a lot of work in trying to to help people to understand that there’s a whole series of steps leading to Christ. . . . People aren’t asking, ‘How do we meet Jesus?’ They’re asking. ‘Is Jesus actually relevant, or any more relevant than any other messiah?’”
McAllister says churches must also emphasize the personal. “I think the one thing that is working for Europeans and has always worked is relationships,” he said. “If the church is succeeding, it’s only because people are succeeding at building friendships and getting out of the church board rooms and getting people in. And where there’s a very relational emphasis and a willingness to understand and a willingness to discuss complex issues, then people will. But we have to be able to translate: What does theology have to do with the environment? What’s theology have to do with Bosnia? And Christians who are going to be talking about God and sharing their faith have to be alert to candid questions that are on people’s hearts.”
That includes missionaries, who, he says, are sometimes ignorant of the prized European philosophers and who sometimes import an individualistic, consumer-driven gospel. “Overall, I think American missionaries are making a great contribution,” he said. “(But) some of the U.S. ministries—not all of them, but a significant proportion—are unprepared for the cultural contacts.”
Encouraging evangelical trends
In Operation World, missions researcher Patrick Johnstone cites a number of encouraging spiritual trends, including improved opportunities for theological training, a massive turning of Gypsies to Christ, the responsiveness of some immigrant groups, and the progress of evangelicals in Romania, Albania, and Bulgaria. Johnstone estimates that 2.8 percent of Europe’s population of 514.8 million is evangelical.
“In mainline denominations their proportion is increasing and newer evangelical, charismatic and Pentecostal denominations are growing and attracting young people,” he writes. “All over Europe liberal schools are empty, and evangelical schools are multiplying and often full.”
The Evangelical Theological Seminary in Osijek, Croatia, has students from 14 nationalities. “The school has a great future,”ETSfounder Peter Kuzmic said in Contact, the magazine of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton, Mass. “It is the leading school in Eastern Europe and years ahead of all the schools that are being established and pioneered.”
Nikolay Nedelchev, director of the Bulgarian Biblical Academy-Logos, Sofia, used to secretly train pastors during the communist regime. Although government and social pressures still exact a price from evangelicals in Bulgaria, recently the academy began meeting in a new building. BBA-Logos has 28 students in its residential program and 400 taking correspondence courses. The school also provided its first intensive, one-week course for 17 pastors.
“Praise the Lord, each of our students are leaders in their churches or youth groups,” Nedelchev says. “They are involved in evangelization and they lead groups.”
Manfred Kohl, formerly the executive director of World Vision International Germany, says doctoral research at Gordon-Conwell uncovered some 100 evangelical theological initiatives, with a minimum of 3,000 students, in the formerly communist world. Another 5,000 students were involved in extension programs. “These findings indicate that theological training is available in the countries in which pastors and other Christian leaders are to serve,” Kohl said.
In the West, Calver says that even the liberal schools in Britain have sparked conservative gains. “The fascinating thing is that today’s leadership among British evangelicals is much more conservative because most of us went through liberal theological education,” he said. “We came out at the other end knowing what we didn’t believe. . . . If you survive that, you come out very conservative.”
Game plan initiated
To energize members of Europe’s traditionally disparate, insular evangelical minorities to not just maintain their faith but cooperate and evangelize the continent, the EEA and the Lausanne Europe Committee are building ownership of Hope for Europe. The strategy includes forming networks across the continent and with global partners in theology, prayer, evangelism, church planting, unreached peoples, research, women, culture, leadership development, missionary sending, and national strategies. In addition, Hope for Europe, coordinated by McAllister in Vienna, aims to encourage national, regional, and local evangelism strategies. Hope for Europe leaves room for a possible pan-European consultation before the end of the decade to assess progress.
However, Hope for Europe did not spring fully formed and ready for battle from the heads of European evangelical leaders and missionaries. McAllister says evan-gelicals have not often cooperated or had a continental strategy, much less been aware of what their Christian brothers, both European and American, in other groups were doing.
“We found out actually that the landscape (in the West) was very bare,” McAllister said. “Then it was clear, when we were in Eastern Europe, that the landscape was tragically competitive and confused, because everybody was in there.”
Several continental gatherings on the evangelization of Europe have been called in the last few years, including the first Lausanne Europe conference in Stuttgart (1989), the Budapest Summit (1991) and the Bad Boll Consultation on Evangelization (1992). As other groups—such as March for Jesus, the AD2000 and Beyond Movement, the U.S.-agency-led Coalition for the Evangelization of Europe, and New Eastern Europe for Christ—began to pour in, the European Evangelical Alliance, the Coalition for the Evangelization of Europe, and the Lausanne Committee for Europe convened the first meeting of the European Round Table, in Lettenbuck, Germany, in late 1992.
Members of the European Round Table, comprised of 20 representatives of pan-European evangelistic movements and networks, discussed cooperation and coordination. The European Round Table’s stated aim is “to build relationships and trust throughunderstanding and sharing, as a foundation for progress toward the goal of a united effort for the evangelisation of Europe.” Following the second meeting of the ERT in France in December, 1993, the Hope for Europe proposal was drawn up.
A year later, at last December’s European Round Table meeting in Vienna, participants affirmed the theme of hope and focused on how to more clearly express it. One of Hope for Europe’s stated “aspirations” for the continent is to see, by the year 2020, nearly one fellowship for every 1,000 inhabitants. Other goals include a strengthened emphasis on prayer, increased research networking and use of the “electronic highway,” a “multinational force of young women and men . . . salting European society in all manner of professions,” and a “renewed church with a renewed commitment to help the church world-wide in the fulfillment of the Great Commission.”
“The Church of Jesus Christ, in short, will have begun to actively shape the spiritual, social and cultural life of the peoples of Europe,” the Hope for Europe manifesto reads. “Christians in every walk of life will be demonstrating the hope of the gospel in word and deed, through their lifestyle and verbal witness, being salt and light among neighbours, friends, colleagues and relatives, and influencing the values and infrastructures of society.
“Christians will have again become known as the people of hope.”
These worthy goals aside, McAllister is still not one to pull his punches about whether Europe can really be reached with the gospel.
“I know a group of leaders who would like to put their life energy—30 or 40 years or whatever God gives by his grace—into seeing that happen,” he said. “And I really think that Europe could be reached. I think if we mobilize our resources, if there’s increased prayer, if there’s increased evangelism, if there’s an intentionality factor in the reaching of the nation, I really do believe we will see people (come to Christ).”
“I don’t think that there’s any problem with the gospel in Europe,” McAllister continued. “It’s not a matter of getting people willing to listen to the message. The problem is finding those who want to preach it.”
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