Scandinavia’s two tracks of Christianity

The Scandinavian countries are often called among the most secular in the world, with researchers citing the low rate of weekly church attendance (only 3% in Denmark).  But what goes on in the state churches is only part of the story of Christianity in northern Europe. There is the church, but there are also the Mission organizations.

The Pietist movement, as early as the 18th century, was accompanied by the rise of independent groups and organizations in which Christian laity met for spiritual growth and good works.  In Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland, these groups came together as “Mission” organizations and institutionalized themselves as part of the nation’s religious culture.

The “Outer Mission” sent countless missionaries around the world and is largely responsible for Africa today being one of the most Lutheran areas in the world.  The “Inner Mission” took on the task of evangelism and promotion of the faith inside their countries.

The state church is theologically liberal.  Inner Mission is theologically conservative. [Read more…]

Converting the barbarians

Today we express our appreciation to the Irish for saving civilization.  St. Patrick converted the Irish, who copied books from classical literature through the Bible and kept alive the ability to read them, as the barbarians ravaged Europe after the Fall of Rome.  The consequent “Dark Ages” (not to be confused with the Middle Ages!) lasted until the Irish and others  converted the barbarians to Christianity.

No offense to the “barbarians”–as they were termed by the Greco-Romans–who did, actually, have civilizations of their own, but these pagan warlike tribes really did settle down, once they accepted Christianity, giving us the High Middle Ages and the various nations of Europe.  So let’s give credit to St. Patrick, but also to those other missionaries who brought the Gospel to the ancestors of us European-Americans: [Read more…]


While I was in France and Germany, I was most struck by how in the cities and towns the center of the community is still, to this day, the cathedral or the church. This is true of both Strasbourg, France, with its Roman Catholic cathedral, and Heidelberg, Germany, with its Lutheran church. They dominate the central square. Around these churches and in their shadow are sidewalk cafes where people are talking and enjoying themselves; there are artists and musicians; people buying and selling, pursuing romance, and being part of a community. This makes a striking image of life in its abundance presided over by the Christian faith.

I am aware that many, if not most of the people gathered around the cathedral squares are no longer Christian believers. But still. It is surely significant that no one gathers around the modernist buildings that these towns also feature. In Cologne, a television tower with a spire that ascends to the heavens, the top of which features a revolving restaurant, which must have been quite impressive a few decades ago, though at the center of its own square, is all but abandoned and the restaurant has gone out of business. The civilization of Europe still, at least by habit, revolves around its Christian heritage. Even in the buildings around the squares, so old and quaint, often dating from the 17th century back into the medieval days, have a human scale and an aesthetic dimension quite lacking in modernist, postmodernists, and the commercial buildings of today.

This speaks of the concept of “Christendom,” a civilization informed by the Christian faith. There was a time when every citizen of the town would have been a member of the church. Everyone would have been baptized. In fact, even in secularist Europe today, most people when they were infants were baptized. Perhaps it is in theological traditions that practice infant baptism and that have served as “state churches”–Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, Lutheranism, the Reformed–that have the most positive theologies of culture. At any rate, I am aware that some Christians today think the very notion of Christendom is impossible. Only individuals, they say, not cultures, can be Christians. The church is intrinsically alien from the world. The church that embraces the world or seeks to guide it becomes worldly. Some people think there can be a Christian society, but that only come from the church’s exercise of political power. This is the position of some Christians and, ironically, many secularists. Cultural influence, that of salt in food and light in dark places, is more elusive.

Do you think Christendom is possible, even as an ideal? Can there be a Christendom in which even non-Christians can find a haven, just as non-believers too prefer to gather in the shadow of gothic spires?

Why America Is So Great

In taking a look at my trackbacks, I came across the blog of Cameron Buettel, an Australian living in Denmark. He wrote a post entitled Why America Is So Great!. After conceding to his anti-American friends and countrymen some of the problems of America and its global influence, he makes three observations:

Observation 1
One thing I continually find to be overwhelmingly different in the USA is the common belief that there are still things worth fighting for. Right now there is a truth war going on over the Christian Gospel. In both Europe and Australia, the passivity of professing Christians concerning the fundamental truths of the Christian faith has allowed the false gospels of life enhancement and post modern philosophy to have an open door into mainstream evangelical churches. This has also happened in America but at least there is a fight going on over it. We seem to roll over and play dead when it comes to defending the once for all delivered glorious Gospel purchased with the precious blood of Christ. Meanwhile in America, there are still great preachers who are leading a growing phenomenon of churches and young preachers who will not compromise on the purity of the true Christian Gospel. This is important for all of our sakes. It is also a call to men who have relinquished the roles of priest in their home and guardian in their church to man up, realize that there are hills worth dying on, identify those hills, and go out there and fight to the death.

Observation 2
For many years I have heard the anti-American tirades of many a man on the street and sometimes even in the pulpit. There is no doubt that there is legitimate criticism that can be levelled at the American culture – not least of which their disastrous choice of a radical pro-abortionist President. People certainly vary from state to state and demographic to demographic but I have to say that when it comes to Christian hospitality and compassionate love, I have never experienced it on the level that I have in the local church communities that dot the American landscape. This is something that has humbled me in my travels and caused me to reexamine my own life and conduct among the body of Christ. So instead of taking up the popular pastime of "yank bashing" maybe it's time to at least try to adopt one of the finer points of their culture. . . .

Observation 3
May we never forget that America is the engine room of missions giving, missionary activity, and theological training. The global blessing that this has been is a sleeping giant that those of us who are Christians living outside the USA take for granted. (It also needs to be said, in fairness, that much of what is bad has also emmanated from the USA and we have been quick to embrace many of these in the name of pragmatism). In spite of all the flaws, there is a lot for us to be thankful for when it comes to American contributions to the Great Commission. And pray for the great arsenal of faithful preachers as they persevere in the "Truth War" that rages over there.

The focus here is on American Christianity, which he finds famous, though it’s interesting how he laments the impact of America’s religious pragmatism. I criticize contemporary American culture and contemporary American religion all the time–while still being something of a flag waver–but it was refreshing to get this perspective. Along these lines, what else is great about America? (I’d especially like to hear from denizens of other countries, including expatriates such as FWS.) [OK, we’ll give critics a shot later.]