A leading US Christian says that faith in Europe will be re-energised by a creative Christian minority and by the example of Islam. But he is too sanguine about the integration of Muslims and about "model" America—where religiosity is, in part, a function of white ethnic anxietyby E K / November 25, 2007 / Leave a comment
God’s Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe’s Religious Crisis, by Philip Jenkins OUP, £16.99
This is the third volume in Philip Jenkins’s acclaimed trilogy on the future of Christianity. The two previous works projected an optimistic vision of resurgent global Christianity, with its motor in the developing world, particularly sub-Saharan Africa. Jenkins’s new book is about Christianity’s encounter with the challenges of Islam and secularism in its European heartland.
Is Christianity dying in Europe? It seems so, with emptying pews, greying congregations and a plunge in the numbers studying for the priesthood. Meanwhile, Islam seems to be surging ahead, leading to a spate of apocalyptic books about “Eurabia” with titles like While Europe Slept. But Jenkins counsels optimism. As an American academic historian with a clear Catholic-Christian commitment, he forms part of a small but important voice within the halls of American higher education (which in turn informs a much larger centrist-conservative formation on the US intellectual landscape).
Jenkins’s optimism is based on the idea that Europe’s remaining Christians are transforming themselves into a “creative minority” whose spiritual commitment is stronger than that of previous generations. As evidence, he cites the rising popularity of pilgrimage to European religious shrines like Santiago de Compostela. Many pilgrims are younger people, as are those who make up the rapidly growing ranks of European evangelical Christianity. Jenkins shows that Europe’s evangelicals, charismatics and Pentecostals are twice as large a force as Europe’s Muslims, and have a parallel growth rate. There is also the boost provided by Afro-Caribbean, Filipino, Latin American and other Christian immigrants, who bring a vibrant new spirit to the religion. Though the white majority is only marginally involved in them, these movements may help to evangelise Europe’s lapsed Christians, many of whom still profess supernatural beliefs, thereby “believing without belonging.” In short, although Europe’s future may be increasingly nonwhite, Christianity’s future in its heartland will burn bright.
Jenkins spares no detail in the story of Islam’s recent clashes with Europe, such as those over blasphemy laws, gay rights, women’s rights and foreign policy. Oddly, the pattern of his analysis is to raise the alarm by pointing up the most disturbing trends, and then to look for the silver lining. For example, he begins his chapter on Europe’s Muslims with figures on their rapid growth: “if Muslim numbers quad-rupled in that short [1970-2000]…