The End of Christendom

[This paper is taken from Stuart’s book: ‘Post-Christendom: Church and Mission in a Strange New World’]

Here’s some stuff that caught my glance … will think about it more.


Post-Christendom is not the experience of all Christians. It is the experience of Christians in Western Europe and other societies with roots in this culture. The term ‘post-Christendom’ is less familiar in some places than others, but once understood is widely accepted as a framework for explaining changes many have perceived but not analysed and interpreting strong but confusing feelings. Using this language on recent visits to Australia, New Zealand, Canada and several European nations has provoked vigorous nods of confirmation from those already aware of the issues and excited or tearful responses from others who can suddenly understand their context. Historical, socio-political and cultural differences have produced different forms of Christendom in different nations and have resulted in variations in the pace of its demise and the shape of the emerging post-Christendom. But transition to post-Christendom is the shared experience of most Christians in western culture.

It is not, however, the experience of Christians in many other societies. Some belong to ancient churches in regions where there was no Christendom era. Early Christian missionaries went east as well as west, planting churches across central Asia and reaching India and China. In the medieval period there were probably more Christians in Asia than in Europe. But, because church history is usually told from a Eurocentric perspective, only recently has the story of Asian Christianity become better known. Asian Christianity spread, flourished and struggled in a different environment, facing not ageing European paganism but major religious alternatives Zoroastrianism in Persia, Hinduism in India, Buddhism in China and Islam in the Middle East and Central Asia. It never experienced Christendom (although on occasions this suddenly seemed possible). The history of Asian Christianity may offer insights to Christians in post-Christendom faced with a plural religious context for which Christendom has not prepared us.

Nor is post-Christendom the experience of Christians in nations, especially in Africa, Asia and Latin America, where Christianity is growing exponentially in cultures that can be described as pre-Christendom or still-Christendom. The decline of Christianity in western societies is more than matched by its expansion in these areas. Christians in post-Christendom are abnormal: our wealth, whiteness, declining numbers, experience of secularisation and postmodernity, weariness and struggle to adjust to marginality are exceptional within the global church. During the twentieth century Christianity’s centre of gravity moved south, even if our denominational and institutional structures have not yet acknowledged this. If post-Christendom does spell the virtual extinction of Christianity in Europe, this will not be terminal for God’s global mission any more than God’s mission was thwarted by similar geographical shifts in previous generations. Indeed, missionaries from the former ‘mission fields’ of Asia, Africa and Latin America are arriving in Europe in increasing numbers to evangelise the former ‘sending nations’: their impact on post-Christendom culture may be as significant as any response western churches make.

But, as we celebrate the extraordinary growth of the global church and redefine mission as ‘from everywhere to everywhere’, we should heed some notes of caution. Missionaries from Christendom exported their culture, assumptions and structures as they preached the gospel in Africa, Latin America and Asia. New Christendoms may be established in these continents, with consequences that are scarcely imaginable but may be profoundly disturbing. Can painful stories from European Christendom be shared, humbly but urgently, with these emerging ‘Christian societies’ before they are repeated with devastating consequences? Furthermore, adopting southern hemisphere patterns of church or mission for post-Christendom, hoping missionaries from these regions will re-evangelise Europe and tailoring our expectations to growth rates in other cultures will exacerbate the crisis we face. Partnership and mutual learning across different cultures offers more than dependence or plagiarism.


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