May 13, 2011
Congress gives fresh perspectives on Europe
photo: Diane Collard
Against a background of crisis and scandal embroiling European institutions, some 500 leaders returned home from the HOPE•II congress in Budapest buoyed with fresh perspectives of hope for Europe.
Gathered from 40 European nations, congress participants heard over twenty short talks from speakers including globally-known authors such as Os Guinness, Vishal Mangalwadi, Thomas Schirrmacher and Philip Jenkins addressed plenary sessions at the Budapest Congress Centre on the first two days, May 9 & 10.
Over the remaining two days, participants were spread across the city in nine hotels, engaged in network consultations ranging from church planting and urban missions to children’s and disability ministries. Politicians and artists, health workers and women in leadership, theologians and evangelists, intercessors and migrant pastors were among professions and callings building relational links across the continent and strategising for the future.
Open evening sessions, when participants could visit other hotels, gave opportunity for various networks to interface in sessions of prayer, worship, dialogue or simply relaxed fellowship.
HOPE•II is the second pan-European congress held by Hope for Europe, following HOPE•21 also held in Budapest in 2002. Hope for Europe is a relational movement networking Christians in many fields across the continent, with close ties to the European Evangelical Alliance. Greetings from the World Evangelical Alliance were conveyed on the opening session by Dr Schirrmacher, chairman of the theological commission of the WEA.
Keynote speaker Philip Jenkins anchored the plenaries with talks on Europe yesterday, today and tomorrow. Originally from Wales, the Penn State University historian addressed several myths widely accepted in Europe. When in the past he had said he was working on a book about religion in Europe (God’s Continent), he had often been told that it must be a very short book. By and large, he commented, people had no idea how deeply rooted Europe was in the Christian faith, and scoffed at the vague phrase ‘spiritual impulse’ used in the proposed European constitution, an oblique reference to Christianity’s contribution.
‘Look around you,’ he urged his listeners, at street names, religious holidays, flags, monuments, 'and you can’t avoid seeing how much Europe is rooted in a deeply Christian past.' This cultural past still could be appealled to in helping today’s Europeans understand their roots, he urged.
Yet educated Europeans had been taught many myths about Christianity being an 'aggressive and expansionist' religion, promoting tyranny and ignorance against ‘enlightened’ and ‘reasonable’ explorers and scientists. One such myth was that Christopher Columbus exposed the 'falseness' of church teaching that the earth was flat. The truth was that the debate concerned how big the round earth was–Columbus had been wrong and did not end up in India as he predicted; the ‘ignorant and fanatical’ friars and monks had been proved right, he said.
While Christians were often painted as ignorant obstructionists to progress, the rise of science had in fact been a Christian project, asserted Jenkins. Charles Babbage, for example, 'father of the modern computer', wrote a book on why miracles were not only feasible, but essential for the creation.
Modern Europeans continued to search spiritually, he said, claiming that the golden age of pilgrimage was not to be found in the 14th or 15th centuires, but in the 21st century! Never had so many undertaken pilgrimages as in our own time, he pointed out.
Another widely believed myth, Jenkins said in his second session, was that Europe would be swamped by Muslim migrants. Out-of-date figures ignored the rapidly falling birth-rates of Muslims in Europe, which were also reflected across much of the Muslim world. Iran, for example, had fallen from a fertility rate of 6 to 1.6 in 25 years, the steepest fall ever recorded. A social revolution was taking place which would give Europe a much more diverse population. Secular lifestyles generally created low birth rates and undermined sustainability. Europe would need more migrants for the work force and would need to recruit more from Christian Africa in the future, further boosting the Christian population.
Several other speakers, including Os Guinness and David Bjork, expressed their belief that Europe’s weaknesses can also be strengths as in our need, we find fresh answers to greed and corruption, or reach out in unity towards other parts of the Body of Christ. Michael Schluter, Prabhu Guptara and Michael Ramsden each addressed the failings of a humanistic vision of society and economy, proposing biblical truth and values to offer a hopeful future for Europe. Without God it was dusk for Europe, concluded Professor Guptara, but with the true God it was always dawn.
Five HOPE awards were presented in the last plenary session to the following ministries selected by the Hope for Europe Round Table for outstanding contributions towards promoting hope: • the Santa Clara Church
in Stockholm, Sweden, for bringing hope to the inner city • Paris-based TopCrétien.com
website for innovative internet evangelism • Sergey and Mariana Glushko
of Teen Challenge, Kyiv for ministering hope to the downcast • Shirinai Dossova
for bold witness over decades in former Soviet lands among communists and muslims • Patricia Green
for her Berlin-based work against human trafficking.
Videos and audio recordings of the plenary sessions will be available shortly on the www.hfe.org site giving access to twenty or more short and varied ‘Hope’ talks.
A congress reader, The Bridge of Hope
, with 20 articles from plenary speakers, will also be available for purchase or download on the congress website.
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