Against a background of crisis and scandal embroiling European institutions, some 500 leaders returned home from the HOPE•II congress in Budapest a few days ago, buoyed with fresh perspectives of hope for Europe.
Globally-respected speakers including Os Guinness, Vishal Mangalwadi 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, theologians and evangelists, intercessors and migrant pastors were among other professions and callings building relational links across the continent and strategising for the future.
Open evening sessions, when participants braved the public transport system to visit other hotels, gave opportunity for various networks to interface in sessions of prayer, worship, dialogue or simply relaxed fellowship.
Keynote speaker Philip Jenkins anchored the plenaries with talks on Europe yesterday, today and tomorrow. The Penn State University historian, originally from Wales, addressed a number of 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 can be appealled to in helping today’s Europeans understand their roots.
Yet educated Europeans have 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 is that Christopher Columbus exposed the falseness of church teaching that the earth was flat. The truth is 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. Charles Babbage, for example, considered the father of the modern computer, wrote a book on why miracles are not only feasible, but essential for the creation.
Modern Europeans continue to search spiritually, he said, claiming that the golden age of pilgrimage was not to be found in the 14th or 15th centuries, but in the 21st century! Never have so many undertaken pilgrimages as in our own time.
Another widely believed myth, Jenkins said in his second session, was that Europe would be swamped by Muslim migrants. Out-of-date figures ignore the rapidly falling birth-rates of Muslims in Europe, which are also reflected across much of the Muslim world. Iran, for example, has 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 will give Europe a much more diverse population. Secular lifestyles generally created low birth rates and undermined sustainability. Europe will need more migrants for her work force and will 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.
Videos and audio recordings of the plenary sessions will be uploaded soon on the www.hfe.org site giving access to twenty or more short and varied ‘Hope’ talks.
The plenaries closed with the presentation of five HOPE awards to various ministries from Moscow to Paris.
Next week, we’ll describe these ministries selected for special recognition because of the hope they have brought into various corners of the continent.
Till next week,