The Krönele Synod
Last night in Lustenau, I gave a long speech about the Benedict Option, assisted by Tobias Klein (above, in the red t-shirt), the translator of the German edition. It was a wonderful time; it is hard to overstate how good it is to make new friends. I was startled and delighted to learn that a group of Swiss Reformed pastors drove in from the Zurich area to hear me speak: the eminent theologian Paul Bernhard Rothen (former pastor of the Basel cathedral), Mike Lotz, and Lukas Zünd, who was ordained just two weeks ago. After the talk, we retired to the Gasthof Krönele for an ecumenical synod of sorts: the Swiss Reformed, the Roman Catholic (Tobias), and the Eastern Orthodox (self). Ingrid Schmalleger, who was also present (and who took this photo), is a Free Church Evangelical who lives in Lustenau.
The conversation was all off the record, but let’s just say that we had a great exchange about the profound challenges all traditional Christians face in living out the faith in this post-Christian world (especially when some of the fiercest post-Christians are in the church!). It was such a delight to meet Protestant Christians at a European Ben Op talk. I can only think of one previous time when it happened. Usually my European hosts and audiences are Catholics, but meeting these new Reformed friends was a good reminder that the Ben Op is an ecumenical project.
Our conversation was also a reminder that in the US, most Christians really have no idea how bad things can get, in terms of believers falling away and/or apostatizing while staying in place. As usual, it’s much easier to talk about the Ben Op with European Christians; they don’t need convincing about the fact of massive decline. They only want to know what can they do about it.
When I bade my new Swiss friends goodnight, I told them that I hope to come to Switzerland sometime in the future to talk about what the Ben Op would look like from a Swiss Reformed point of view. I need to take my Reformed buddy Lance Kinzer, who is a big part of the book, along with me, to share some ideas, and to learn from our Swiss brothers.
I’m headed to my beloved Slovakia today, and will speak in the church in Nitra on Wednesday night, then in Bratislava on Thursday. Off to Budapest on Friday.
I like this photo of the Reformed pastors. Good men fighting the good fight for God:
UPDATE: A German Evangelical reader writes to say that it is not the case that all European Christians are aware of the cultural and religious decline around them:
We went to a Christian family retreat for summer vacation. We were 10 families from all over Germany from all types of evangelical denominations (plus one Catholic). It was altogether a very refreshing time. However, on a side note, not one person I talked to, shared in any way/shape/form our urgent concern as far as the cultural decline and the church is concerned. This is hardly statistically representative, I know. But still. It reflects my experience on my little spot on our earth.
I appreciate the prompt to clarify. It is true that not all Christians see it this way. In fact, someone who came to my Austria lecture told me that only a minority of Christians there grasp the seriousness of the crisis. The typical response one gets from Christians in denial is that to express concern is “apocalypticism,” and to call for greater spiritual and moral discipline in accordance with Christian normative teaching is “fundamentalism.”
So, I should be more careful with my language describing the situation in Europe. In my experience, it is much easier to talk to European Christians than to Americans about the Ben Op, because the evidence of Christianity’s decline is everywhere. But it is still possible to live in denial, and many do.