Stealing a title from Lesslie Newbiggin, Harvey Kwiyani has written a couple of excellent papers which anyone who is involved in church leadership or church planting in the UK should read. This is not comfortable reading, but sometimes it takes an outsider to see things which people born and brought up in a culture miss – this is one of those cases. Here are a couple of quotes to get you going (the first is from part one and the second – you’ve guessed it – is from part two).
We often tell people to follow Christ without telling them that this will change their lives. Of course, how can a Westerner, born and bred in consumerism, individualism and secularism begin to follow Christ without the change that comes with conversion? Yet, we often invite people to follow Christ without explaining that being a follower of Christ involves adopting a new worldview. It is nothing short of conversion where Enlightenment-shaped Westerners who live in a dualistic world where God is non-existent (or very transcendent and distant) and are buffered from anything that cannot be proven by science, have to switch to a worldview in which God is both real and close, the spirit-world (including both good and evil spirits) is active and in constant contact with the human world, and then be baptised into the fellowship of the Holy Spirit and walk in this same Spirit. This is conversion.
So, back to Newbigin’s question, “Can the West be converted?” My answer is that it is possible that we will see the West embrace Christianity again—though it maybe later rather than sooner, and if it happens, it will not be a straight forward endeavour. The confidence that many have that because Europe was Christian before, it will be evangelised with less difficulty is grossly misplaced. Yes, Europe was the Christian-dom (or Christendom), but that does not promise anything about the future possibilities of successful evangelism in any of the European countries. We know from history that parts of North Africa, the Middle East and Asia Minor were once Christian heartlands. In most of those areas, Christianity today exists only in archaeology and history books. There is nothing that suggests that once-evangelised lands are easier to evangelise. If anything, Newbigin was right when he said the mission field of Europe is harder than India. I would add that Europe is a much harder mission field than probably anywhere else in the world.