God’s Continent

Philip Jenkins, Distinguished Professor of History and Religious Studies at Penn State University in USA, and author of the highly acclaimed ‘The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity’ and ‘The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South’, has now added a further volume to his ‘Future of Christianity’ Series in the form of a survey of the state of religion in Europe.

The ‘crisis’ of which the title speaks is that occasioned by the rising tide of Islam in Europe. Not only do a large number of immigrants into Europe come from mainly Muslim countries, and fertility rates mean that an ever-increasing percentage of Europe’s population are Muslim, with the result that Islam as a religion is becoming an increasingly significant force within European society. In view of the continuing decline of Christianity, will Islam become Europe’s dominant religion?

Jenkins’ answer to this question is ‘not necessarily’. To begin with, Islam in Europe is a very diverse phenomenon. Many Muslims have a purely nominal attachment to their inherited faith; others become assimilated, to a greater or lesser degree, to the generally secular environment in which they find themselves; and those who take their faith seriously adhere to different branches of Islam, with only a small minority becoming ‘extremists’. Secondly, not all immigrants are Muslim. Many also come from mainly Christian countries in the developing world, and bring with them their own vibrant form of the Christian faith, forming new churches and helping to invigorate already established ones. Thirdly, there are many signs of a Christian renaissance, as seen, for example, in pilgrimage centres, conventions, and renewal movements which are attracting large numbers of people. What is more, the growing presence of Islam itself, Jenkins argues, is likely to cause many secularised Europeans to reconsider the claims of religion in the coming years, and to take a fresh interest in Europe’s Christian heritage. Prophecies about the demise of Christianity in Europe are therefore premature.

This is an important book for all who are seriously concerned about Europe’s religious future. It is exceedingly well researched, with a mass of statistics, soundly analysed, to back up its main theses, and is written in an engaging style. I recommend it to anyone who is interested in gaining an in-depth understanding of the trends which are currently shaping Europe’s fast-changing religious scene. Whether its projections are valid time will tell, but at least this book gives grounds for believing that Muslim expansion will have its limits, and that the Christian Church in Europe is heading, not for extinction, but for resurrection.