Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

Vista 17: The Cross over Europe

May 3, 2014

The Cross above EuropeIn my experience there are two common fallacies on mission in Europe. The first sees all Europeans as broadly the same: all of Europe is said to be thoroughly secularized, or pagan, or devoid of vibrant Christian witness. The second considers the context of each nation or region as so unique that only those who have a deep appreciation of the language, history, culture and religious traditions of that place can possibly engage in authentic Christian mission. The first ignores European diversity and the second disregards Europe’s many common features. And when it comes to mission the first makes few allowances for contextualization whilst the second blinds us to opportunities to learn lessons from elsewhere.

As Alexander Dumas once said, “All generalizations are dangerous, even this one.” The problem, of course, is not the making of generalizations. We all do that as a step in our learning. The problem is turning those generalizations into absolutes so we don’t have think any further. But the opposite can also occur, where localisms are turned into absolutes, so that our thinking is closed to outside influences.

This edition of Vista seeks to trace a middle way between those two dangers. Evert van de Poll’s lead article explores some of Europe’s common regional features and this is followed by four responses, one from each of Europe’s four “corners”.

Vija Herefoss, writing from Norway, takes Evert to task for some of his generalizations of Scandanavia. Chris Ducker brings a Slavic perspective. Stephen March writes from the view of Catholic Europe and Kostake Milkov gives us a Balkan angle. Each emphasises the importance of understanding history and culture in contemporary Christian mission.

So whichever “corner” of Europe we are from, all of us can learn something if we are willing to reflect deeply on these stories of contextual mission in Europe today. And that is no sweeping generalization.

Download Issue Number 17 The Cross above Europe

Jim Memory

Spirituality and Religion in Europe: Philip Hughes

February 11, 2014

For some years, a number of scholars, such as Linda Woodhead and Paul Heelas (2005) and David Tacey (2000), have been arguing that the world, or at least the Western world, is going through a spiritual revolution. People are embracing ‘spirituality’ rather than ‘religion’. Recent research has enabled critical evaluation of this claim.

The Extent and Nature of the Affirmation of Spirituality in Europe
The International Social Survey Program conducted in 44 countries during 2008/2009 included a number of questions on spirituality and religion. In one of these questions people were asked whether they described themselves as religious and spiritual, religious but not spiritual, spiritual but not religious or neither. Table 1 below summarises the responses to this question for each of the 24 European countries in the study. It shows that the proportion of people who identify themselves as spiritual but not religious varies from 24 per cent in Slovenia to 6 per cent in Cyprus.


Table 1. Responses to the Question Whether People Follow a Religion or Are Spiritual, Both or Neither, and the Percent of People Under 60 Less the People Over 60 Affirming They are Spiritual by European Country (Percentage in Each Country)

This question about being religious or spiritual has not been asked before in a large survey program such as this. Thus, it is not possible to ascertain the trends by comparing it with other surveys completed at different periods of time. However, some indication of probable trends can be identified by comparing older and younger people. Assuming that comparatively few people change their sense of being religious or spiritual over time, a comparison of the responses of older people and younger people may give us some idea of how changes in culture are occurring.

A comparison of the responses of under and over 60s shows that in every country in Europe, older people are more likely to describe themselves as religious. In Croatia and Austria, the differences are not significant at 95 per cent level, but in every other country, the differences are significant, indicating a decline in people following a religion.

However, the patterns are quite different in relation to spirituality as shown in the final column of Table 1. In 12 countries, more younger people than older people saw themselves as spiritual. In 11 countries, more older people than younger people saw themselves as spiritual. In one country, Poland, there was no difference between older and younger people. It should be noted that in 14 countries out of the 24, the differences between older and younger people were not significant at the 95 per cent confidence level (no asterisk).

It will be noted that there is a tendency for the higher numbers of younger ‘spiritual’ people to be found in the northern countries of Europe with a Protestant history. The lower numbers of younger spiritual people are found mostly in the Catholic and Orthodox countries of south and eastern Europe.

Further analysis has shown that in most of the countries where spirituality is less among younger people, it is associated with belief in a personal God. In other words, in these countries, spirituality is understood in terms of personal devotion, or belief in the supernatural powers of God. In those countries where spirituality is found more among younger people, it is usually associated with belief in a higher power or spiritual forces in nature, rather than with a personal God. In other words, ‘spirituality’ means quite different things in different countries and there is no one ‘spiritual revolution’ across Europe.

What is evident is that in a number of countries in northern Europe where there is a Protestant heritage and in which the making of meaning is approached more individually, there are more young people than older people embracing spirituality as something individual and associated with higher powers rather than with the God of religious institutions.

The Origins of ‘The Spiritual Revolution’ in Northern Europe
It is highly likely that the northern European kind of spirituality has its roots in the individualism of post-modernity that has arisen from those types of child-rearing that emphasise meeting the needs and interests of each individual child rather than focussing on the wellbeing of the whole family. This has been shown to be connected to the reduction in family size and changes in technology in the home which allowed greater attention to the needs of individual children in the 1960s and 1970s (Berger et al, 1974). Along with other social processes such as an increase in the pluralism of beliefs and life options that came through migration, world travel and television in the 1960s and 1970s, there was a significant change in the way people sought meaning in life.

Heelas and Woodhead (2005) have argued that, prior to the 1960s, meaning was primarily sought through the fulfilment of those roles which one had inherited through birth or through one’s social situation. Married women sought meaning, for example, in fulfilling the duties of being a good wife and a good mother. Men sought meaning in providing economically for their families. Both men and women sought meaning in fulfilling the duties of the religion which they inherited by birth. Such a sense of finding fulfilment by fulfilling one’s duties in life is still common in the southern and eastern European countries. Most southern and eastern Europeans have a strong sense that their religious identity is given to them by birth and that being a good person means fulfilling those religious duties.

However, children who grew up after the 1960s when thinking about their own needs and interests looked for fulfilment in what Heelas and Woodhead call their ‘subjectivity’. Life consisted in finding what was personally fulfilling, what gave a sense of personal authenticity, rather than the fulfilment of external duties laid upon them by birth or their social situation. It is in this situation that many have turned away from the traditional duties of religion and have sought meaning in the spirituality which they have personally constructed for themselves. In the terms of the social theorist, Anthony Giddens (1991), life came to be lived more reflexively, as a constantly developing biography, rather than as a fulfilment of a specific set of duties and responsibilities.

‘Spirituality’ means a great many things to different people. But common characteristics include the fact that it is seen as developed and owned individually rather than by institutions. It is often developed from a range of sources rather than one particular source. It is found expressed in the recounting of experience rather than in expression of dogma. It tends to focus on this life rather than the next, and is oriented towards human wellbeing rather than towards a transcendent God (Fisk, quoted in Geels 2009).

The Implications of The Spiritual Revolution for Mission
The development of such forms of individualised spirituality in Western Europe has many important implications for how mission is conducted in those places. There are a number of features of contemporary spirituality which many Christians can affirm, and, indeed, in some of those features there may be helpful correctives for some ways in which Christianity is expressed.

Firstly, contemporary spirituality recognises that there is ‘something beyond’ this material world. A number of commentators, such as Antoon Geels (2009), have noted that many forms of contemporary spirituality recognise the mystery in human life and in the universe as a whole. It is, in part, a protest against reducing the world to that which is material and mundane. Geels argues that this sense of mystery is very much in line with that described by the mystics of many religions including those in the Christian tradition. The recognition of mystery in contemporary spirituality may be an important antidote to the Protestant tendency to anthropomorphise God, as Karen Armstrong (1993) has argued.

Contemporary spirituality also reminds people of the fragility of the earth and the need for its care. It reminds Christians of the important of recapturing respect for creation and dedicating themselves to its care. Associated with the sense of the mystery of God is the emphasis on the experience of God. Again, this fits with many Christian traditions, and has been a feature of the Pentecostal and charismatic churches.

Where Christians need to make a stand over against some forms of contemporary spirituality is in arguing that such fulfilment in life is not found primarily by focussing on self-realisation or obeying one’s inner impulses, as Heelas and Woodhead seem to suggest, but through one’s contribution in relationship with others. In contemporary society, each individual can develop their own biographies but they will not find those biographies meaningful until they make their own personal contributions to the lives of others and to the wider society. Ultimately we find fulfilment in life when we focus on the wellbeing of others and not just ourselves.

To put it in Jesus’ terms: the purpose of Christian mission is to call people to love God and to love their neighbours as themselves. Love of self, love of our neighbour – not only our friends and relatives but also the members of wider society – and love of God is the spirituality to which Jesus calls us.
Contemporary spirituality can remind us that Jesus’ call is to relationship. It is not primarily a call to church attendance, even though that may be a significant basis for relationships with others. We are likely to see increasing numbers of people looking for ways in which they can explore faith or express faith through short-term activities such as involvement in social welfare or social justice activities, through music and drama, through small groups and large festivals, rather than through the weekly congregational worship. We may still want to uphold weekly congregational worship as part of the nature of the church, but we may need to see it as the end of a path, rather than the start of an exploration for the love for God, for one’s neighbour and one’s self.

Philip Hughes
Christian Research Association, Australia

Armstrong, K., A History of God. London: Random House, 1993.
Berger, P., Berger, B. & Kellner, H., The Homeless Mind. London: Pelican Books, 1974.
Geels, A., “Glocal Spirituality for a Brave New World.” In Postmodern Spirituality, edited by Tore Ahlback and Bjorn Dahla. Abo, Finland: Donner Institute for Research in Religious and Cultural History, 2009.
Giddens, A., Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991.
Heelas, P. & Woodhead, L., The Spiritual Revolution: Why Religion Is Giving Way to Spirituality. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2005.
Tacey, D., The Spiritual Revolution: The Emergence of Contemporary Spirituality. Sydney: Harper Collins, 2003.

Data Source
International Social Survey Program (2008-2009)

Vista 16: Losing my religion: Spirituality and Religion in Europe

January 30, 2014

Spirituality pictureHardly a month goes by without some media report about the slow demise of Christianity in Europe. Certainly many sociologists continue to hold to the secularization thesis which predicts the inevitable decline of religion in modern society.

Yet as Goodhew’s collection of studies (2012) has shown, the picture (in Britain at least) is at certainly more complex than that. Yes, there are many signs of decline, but also of growth. Secularization and desecularization are occurring simultaneously. This is born out by a recent study on church growth in the Church of England by David Voas

Certainly, surveys like the European Values Study show that many (but not all) countries show a decline in organized religion. However, though fewer consider themselves to be ‘religious’ than previous generations, many more describe themselves as ‘spiritual’. So is spirituality replacing religion in Europe?

Our lead article by the Australian sociologist Philip Hughes goes some way to answering that question through analysis of data from the International Social Survey Programme. Jim Memory follows that up by a detailed analysis ofhis  research into the spirituality of European students. And Darrell Jackson wrestles with the thorny issue of definitions as well as setting out the breadth of research that is taking place into spirituality in Europe today.

This issue concludes with a case study by Jo Appleton looking at some of the challenges of discipleship in a context where people are attracted by ‘spirituality’ but have little understanding of following Christ.

Download Vista 16 here

Crucial Issues for Eurpoean Mission and Theology

January 1, 2014

If you are working in mission in Europe, what are the issues you need to understand?

Redcliffe College is offering the MA module Crucial Issues for European Mission and Theology as a stand alone course in late January and March.  You will explore European identity, secularism, migration, Islam in Europe,European politics,  the relationship between Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox churches and much more.

Taught by Jim Memory, you can choose to study for credit or to audit the course. If you complete the assignments, you can either register and continue with an MA at Redcliffe, or use the credit as APL (accredited prior learning) to study with us up to three years later.  If you wish to continue with an MA, the cost of this module will be deducted from the total fee.

So if you are free on 31 January – 3 February and 14-17 march 2014, why not take this exciting opportunity?


Europe – a matter of perspective – 4

August 30, 2013

Our final ‘perspective’ comes from Jim Memory who is co-editor of Vista, and course leader for Redcliffe’s MA in European Mission and Intercultural Christianity. 


Spain has always had a rather love/hate relationship with the rest of Europe. Throughout its history Spain has allied with the Dutch, English and Germans against the French, with the French against the English, and found itself alone facing Germany, France and England. This could be said of many other countries but no Western European state, not even the United Kingdom, has been as staunchly isolationist as Spain.

Spain’s national identity, forged under the Catholic Kings of Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492 when Jews, Muslims and later Protestants were expelled or converted has, for the best part of five centuries, been that of a bastion of Roman Catholicism.

This religious isolationism has played out politically and economically too, most recently, during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco (1939-1975). Whilst initially favourable to the axis powers, Spain under Franco remained largely neutral during the Second World War, afterwards adopting a stict policy of autarky (self-sufficiency) and cutting off almost all international trade for the best part of twenty years. As a result Spain was the only major western European nation to be excluded from the Marshall Plan. Spain’s isolationism had already started to crumble long before the death of Franco in 1975 but it wasn’t until 1982 that Spain joined NATO and 1986 that Spain joined the EEC, the forerunner to the European Union.

Over the last thirty years Spain has been transformed into a modern liberal democracy and has reaped significant economic benefits. Tourism, construction and free-trade revitalized the economy and, since joining the EU, Spain has received more EU structural funds than any other member country. Membership of the Euro further fuelled the construction boom propelling Spanish earnings and GDP towards the European mean.

As a result, for more than a generation, Spaniards have been reflexively pro-European, apparently convinced of the truth of the dictum of José Ortega y Gasset, the philosopher and writer, that if “Spain is the problem, Europe the solution”. That is no longer the case. In five short years, the Spanish economic, political and social bubble has definitively burst.

Figure 1: Lack of Trust in the EU

Figure 1: Lack of Trust in the EU

The economic recession has left over six million Spaniards without work (27% of the working population) but it is among the young that the impact has been most dramatic. 57% of the under-25s are without work and facing emigration as the only alternative. And the austerity measures that have been required by the EU in order to support the Spanish economy have meant drastic cutbacks in public spending, turning Angela Merkel into a hate figure.

The degree to which Spanish trust in “Europe” has collapsed is well illustrated by the findings of a recent Eurobarometer study (Figure 1). As recently as 2007, the Spanish were one of the most pro-EU of the Europe’s larger countries. Less than five years later, Spaniards are found to be even more Eurosceptic than the British.


Figure 2: Foreign national residence permit holders and undocumented migrants (padrón) in Spain 1975-2007

Figure 2: Foreign national residence permit holders and undocumented migrants (padrón) in Spain 1975-2007

Spanish isolationism meant migration to Spain was rare until very recently. During the early 20th Century many Spaniards emigrated from Spain to Latin America and during the 60s and 70s to Germany, France and beyond, but migration to Spain was limited to wealthy Northern Europeans seeking a place to retire on the Costas. All this changed from the mid 90s. From under half-a-million foreign residents as recently as 1995, the boom in the Spanish economy and liberal migration policy saw that figure rise to nearly six million or 12% of the population by 2009 (Figure 2).

The influx was brought to a shuddering halt by the economic downturn and today many young Spaniards are emigrating once again. Spain’s population shrank by 200,000 during 2012. Whilst they are outraged that austerity measures imposed (as they see it) from Germany, the young seem reconciled to learning German to find work there. In Madrid and Barcelona there has been a 60% jump in the number of young Spaniards seeking to learn German (The Economist, June 1st 2013).

Even so, the last 15 years of migration to Spain have changed the country forever. After 500 years of isolationism, today one-in-eight citizens is a migrant. The Spanish church of the future will be an international church. The isolation of the past is a distant memory. A truly contextualized gospel for Spain will not only take into account Spanish history and culture, but also the impact of migration over the past 15 years.

The church
Previous generations faced with economic or political crises have turned to the Roman Catholic church for leadership, but the Spanish church is aligned with the governing right-leaning Partido Popular. Unlike Ireland or the US, the Spanish RC church has not (yet) suffered from scandals of sexual abuse however it is under attack for the generous tax arrangements it enjoys.

Most Spaniards, when asked about their religious affiliation, continue to identify with the RC church but have disassociated themselves from the church´s positions on human sexuality and reproduction. Because of its low fertility rate in recent decades, Spain is ageing rapidly. Having had 5.6 people of working age for every retired person in 1970, Spain has just 3.6 today. By 2050, the ratio will have deteriorated to 1.5, according to the OECD.

Religious isolationism is also a problem for the protestant and evangelical churches in Spain. Persecution during the time of Franco was followed by many decades when evangelical churches isolated themselves from the public sphere, except where public problems such as drug addiction and, more recently, migration came to them.

The economic crisis has changed this however. Not all evangelical churches wanted or felt capable of dealing with people with drug problems but opening a food bank has become more and more common. The vast majority of evangelical churches in Spain now have an official or unofficial distribution of food to the needy. Whereas in the early 2000s food hand-outs were generally to poor migrants, today many Spanish families are turning to the church for help, whether that is the food banks of the evangelical church or those of Caritas, the RC charity.

The arrival of migrants has also had a marked impact on Spanish churches, particularly the arrival of significant numbers of Latinamerican and Romanian evangelicals. Some churches have become predominantly churches of migrants with just a small minority of nationals. Many more ethnic churches have appeared, Romanian churches but also new Spanish-speaking churches gathering believers from single nations despite their common language. Integration is an on-going challenge.

Esperanza para Europa
Faced with an aging population, failing trust in political and religious institutions, and economic stagnation, where can Spanish citizens turn for hope? The challenge for Spanish churches is to remain confident in the message of hope that is found in the gospel, to be what they were called to be, a people “from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev.5:9) will gather to worship and serve him.

As Tomas Sedlacek argues this world´s only hope is in a return to the consumption-driven economic growth that got us into this mess. The churches of Spain, and across Europe must incarnate and communicate a different hope, one that solves the isolationism that beleaguers the soul of us all: our isolation from God and from each other. Europe is not the solution for the problem of Spain. The only hope for Spain; the only hope for Europe was, and is, and always shall be Jesus Christ.
Jim Memory
Redcliffe College


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 573 other followers