Et overaskende comeback?

Jeff Fountain, tidligere leder for Ungdom i Oppdrag Europa, skriver denne uken følgende om det han kaller for «et overaskende comeback»:


Two swallows don’t make a summer, says a Dutch proverb. Yet two recent Dutch books do perhaps signal a significant climate change concerning Christianity in Europe.

One is written by the publisher of the successful spirituality magazine Happinez. As mentioned in an earlier weeklyword, Inez van Ooord argues in her book Rebible that ‘we have cuddled buddhas and trees for too long and that now it is time to rediscover our Christian roots’. For our true identity needs to be found in our roots, says van Oord. Which doesn’t mean returning to the stultifying legalism of yesterday’s church, she argues, but rather drawing fresh inspiration from the ancient wells of scripture.

That this new sound comes from a leading spokesperson for the New Age movement is surprising enough. But a second and more broad-ranging book published just this month comes from the pen of a former editor of a national left-wing newspaper who now believes Dutch society threw out the baby with the bathwater some four or five decades ago.

In her book Ongelofelijk (Unbelievable), Yvonne Zonderop describes her sense of liberation as a young woman after leaving the Catholic church in disgust, along with other members of her family – and her generation. During the sixties and seventies, faith disappeared behind the front door, she writes. Secular became the norm. Freedom, individualism and autonomy became the celebrated values.


Yet, Zonderop now realises, this personal liberation has had great social consequences. Something important has been lost. Her generation has raised a whole new generation without Christian roots, which for centuries had nurtured and formed western culture and morality. A common foundation for society has been eroded. Who knows what the Exodus meant? she asks. Who can explain the biblical scenarios Rembrandt painted? And who realises that without Christianity we most probably would not have a democratic constitutional state?

After decades, Zonderop has come to see that her generation had robbed themselves of the cultural context in which they had grown up.  Yet now it is becoming obvious that the alternatives to religion for offering meaning and values are few and far between. Millions of Dutch people continue to waver between faith and unbelief. In politics, the Christian heritage keeps resurfacing, she observes, because it is the source of our culture, democracy and ethics.

She quotes a doctoral candidate from the University of Amsterdam who researched individualisation as the motto for Dutch education after World War Two. Observing that babyboomers valued individuality, he concluded: ‘but, woe to you if you did not wear jeans or did not criticise religion!’

Which recalls for Zonderop the comic scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian in which the Messiah figure tells his crowd of followers that they are all individualists, they are all different; to which the crowd responds by chanting in unison: ‘Yes, we’re all different!’ Then one lone voice pipes up: ‘I’m not.’


Zonderop now views the ideal of individual freedom as having held Dutch society in a strong grip, of which the collective departure from the church is just one example. But freedom has now become a devil’s dilemma: when you make a mistake, you’re on your own. Today’s youth, she argues, seek the support circle of friends to fall back on. Social capital is more important to them than individual freedom. Religion can become a source of meaning for them again.

The loss of togetherness is more broadly felt in society these days, writes Zonderop. People miss the social cohesion formerly offered by trade unions and churches. They miss the ‘vertical dimension’, where someone higher than you is looking after your welfare, whether that be a group leader or God.

The book’s subtitle, About the surprising comeback of religion, refers to the closing chapters which describe a number of new expressions of church in the Netherlands and particularly Amsterdam today. A wave of pioneers is appearing, both within and  outside the church, confirming rumours of the death of Christianity as having been greatly exaggerated.

Zonderop ends her book with a surprising citation from a Muslim German-Iranian art critic connecting the loss of the spiritual dimension with the rise of populism.

In his intriguing book, Wonder Beyond Belief: On Christianity, Navid Kermani observes: It is completely understandable that many Europeans are afraid for Islam and seek security in the familiar. If you no longer know your own culture, you can’t be open to other cultures. It is a great shortcoming if you don’t know what Pentecost is. German literature of the 19th century can’t be understood if you don’t see the Christian allusions. Many writers of that time were ministers sons. The while German literature and music are saturated with Biblical references.

If we don’t know that legacy, we don’t know ourselves. And then we become susceptible for racism, xenophobia and nationalism.


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Cities – Where Discipleship of Nations Happens

Have you ever been to a market place in the Middle East? I have. And I love it!

At such places there are people everywhere who want to sell stuff to you. Fancy a new watch or a new cell phone? Compared to prices in Europe, you pay crumbs for these items with “brands” like Nokia and Omega. Of course, most of it is faked. That’s part of the deal. You know what you get. Your new Omega watch may last for three months – if you’re lucky.

Being in the capital cities of Europe is like being at a market place. People are pushing stuff onto you. However, the big difference from a Market Place in Amman and the city of Oslo is what people want to sell you.


In the capital cities of Europe, ideas are for sale!

There are agendas, and they are all over us. Different people want to push their ideas – politics like environmental-friendly thinking, sustainable living, or same sex marriage. It may be the latest trendy clothing brands, or even more seriously, their worldview. You may not be aware of it, but you are a target for someone’s mission.


Remember the early ’90s when you were surprised to see men holding hands?

Where is change taking place? We can divide a society into seven spheres of influence: Politics, Religion, Communication and Media, Celebration and Culture, Family, Education and Business. All of these layers of society have their own ‘missionaries’ that intend to impact you to think, buy and act according to the worldview they advocate.

In the big picture, I believe change of society today really takes place within the sphere of Education and Celebration. New ideas are shaped at our universities, as well as by celebrities. They are doing new things in new ways (It’s a bit like how YWAM is supposed to be!). Remember Madonna kissing Britney Spears at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2003? I do. Back then it created major headlines around the western world. Today, I believe a similar incident would hardly the headlines at all. Why? Because the boundaries have been moved.  In this case, it was two female celebrities kissing on a public stage.

While new ideas and trends are shaped at the universities and among celebrities, media communicates these to the masses. Down the line our politicians make these new ideas and trends legitimate by voting for them in our parliaments. And the rest of us? We act according to what society deems normal, allowing the world views of the world to impact us, instead of us impacting them.


What am I saying?

The shaping of culture happens in the capital cities. This is the place were new ideas and trends pop up. Firstly, in the underground and at the fringes; next they will be in the mainstream. Revolution never happens in the corridors of power. Have you ever heard of a revolution starting at the top of a pyramid of power? I haven’t. Think of the French Revolution! Or the Russian Revolution! Or the abolition movement against slavery! It started in the fringes – in the capital cities.  


What is our calling? 

YWAM is called to disciple nations. Change happens in a man’s heart. When enough hearts are transformed, transformation of society happens. Like this, we can impact and influence ideas and eventually the world around us.

From a human perspective, it may look like we as the Church of Christ are losing: It is tempting to believe that we are not able to transform societies. However; in times of unbelief, have we lost our faith in God – what he can do and who he is? I believe God is the X-factor. Throughout the centuries God has invested so much in Europe and I believe He has not yet received a full payback from his investments yet. God wants transformation much more than we do. And he is to be trusted.


What can we do?

What happens in Oslo today happens in the rest of Norway tomorrow. I believe it is time for YWAM to focus on the capital cities. By being involved in our capital cities we can by God’s grace be a part of shaping the things to come. Like this, Europe can turn back to its roots of trusting God and his Word.

This is my motivation for why I am involved in mobilising and training young YWAM pioneers to establish fresh expressions of YWAM ministries in our capital cities. During the last years, we have established teams in Oslo, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Reykjavik and Tallinn.  These are five out of eight capital cities in our region. (YWAM operates in Riga and Stockholm already.)

Let’s pray for the only capital city without YWAM presence in Northern Europe:  Vilnius in Lithuania ( Pray that young leaders will rise up to the challenge and take on this ‘giant’ as well. Let’s also pray for the pioneering teams in these five cities and for the existing teams in Riga and Stockholm.


This article was written for YWAM Europes prayer network.