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Full Access The Making of a Mission Field: Paradigms of Evangelistic Mission in Europe

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The Making of a Mission Field: Paradigms of Evangelistic Mission in Europe

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AbstractSince the Second World War Europe has increasingly been considered as a ‘mission field’. Sometimes it is suggested that this belief could only emerge after the collapse of the colonial empires, effectively abolishing the difference between the ‘Christian’ and the ‘pagan’ world. However, this is only partially true. There has always been a strong undercurrent within European churches, especially among missionary practitioners, that Europe was not all that ‘Christian’, even when its institutions and laws were influenced by Christianity. In this article I argue that this consciousness even increased in the post-Reformation centuries. In fact, ‘home missions’ were in every bit a part of the great Protestant missionary movement, just as ‘foreign missions’. Before the 20th century the awareness of Europe as a mission field was embodied in two missionary paradigms that I have termed ‘confessional’ and ‘revivalist’. In the 20th century a new paradigm emerged that I have called ‘ideological’.

1. FN11 Finn Jor, Drømmen om det kristne Europa, Oslo: Land og Kirke 1964, 209. Quoted in Jan-Martin Berentsen, ‘The Dream of Christian Europe’, in: Aasulv Lande and Werner Ustorf (eds.), Mission in a Pluralist World, Frankfurt: Peter Lang 1996, 105.
2. FN22 R.K. Orchard, Witness in Six Continents: Records of the Meeting of the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism of the World Council of Churches held in Mexico City, December 8th to 19th, 1963, London: Edinburgh Press 1964.
3. FN33 Emilio Castro, Freedom in Mission: The Perspective of the Kingdom of God. An Ecumenical Inquiry, Geneva 1985, 161.
4. FN44 Timothy Yates, Christian Mission in the Twentieth Century, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1994, 30-31.
5. FN55 Quoted in Teresa Okure shjc, ‘The Church in the Mission Field, Edinburgh 1910: A Nigerian/African Response’, Edinburgh, 26 April 2003 (, accessed on 28 August 2010; or
6. FN66 Stephen Neill, A History of Christian Missions: Revised Edition, Penguin Books: London, 3rd edition 1990, 35-39 (first edition 1964).
7. FN77 Cf. Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries, San Francisco: Harper 1997, 3-27.
8. FN88 See Neill, 39-96.
9. FN99 Andrew F. Walls, ‘The Translation Principle in Christian History’, in: Andrew F. Walls, The Missionary Movement in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission of Faith, Maryknoll ny: Orbis, 8th edition 2004 (first edition 1996), 37.
10. FN1010 See e.g., Peter Brown, The Rise of Western Christendom: Triumph and Diversity, A.D. 200-1000, Oxford: Blackwell, 2nd edition 2000 (first edition 1996), esp. 217ff.
11. FN1111 Andrew F. Walls, ‘Culture and Coherence in Christian History’, in: Walls, Missionary Movement, 20.
12. FN1212 Cf. Anton Wessels, Europe: Was It Ever Really Christian?, London: scm 1994; Alan Kreider, The Change of Conversion and the Origins of Christendom, Harrisburg pa: Trinity Press International 1999.
13. FN1313 David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission, Maryknoll ny: Orbis Books, 24th edition 2008 (first edition 1991), 230-236.
14. FN1414 The baptism of the Lithuanian king Jagiello on 15 February 1386 ‘marks the end of European paganism as an organized body . . .’ (Neill, 96).
15. FN1515 Rodney Stark, ‘Efforts to Christianize Europe, 400-2000’, Journal of Contemporary Religion 16 (2001), 108. Italics in the original.
16. FN1616 Adriaan H. Bredero, De ontkerstening der middeleeuwen: Een terugblik op de geschiedenis van twaalf eeuwen christendom, Baarn: Ten Have 2000, 217.
17. FN1717 Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2007, 45.
18. FN1818 Taylor, Secular Age, 61-63.
19. FN1919 Cf. Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1989, 211: ‘Ordinary life is . . . those aspects of human life concerned with production and reproduction, that is, labour, the making of things needed for life, and our life as sexual beings, including marriage and the family.’
20. FN2020 Cf. Paul Wetter, Der Missionsgedanke bei Martin Luther, Bonn: Verlag für Kultur und Wissenschaft 1996; Thomas Schirrmacher (ed.), Martin Bucer als Vorreiter der evangelischen Mission, Bonn: Verlag für Kultur und Wissenschaft 2006; Thomas Schirrmacher (ed.), Calvin and World Mission, Bonn: Verlag für Kultur und Wissenschaft 2009.
21. FN2121 See, for instance, Luther’s and Calvin’s commentaries on the Parable of the Sower (Lk. 8: 4-15), or the words of Jesus about the ‘narrow gate’ to eternal life (Mt. 7: 13-14).
22. FN2222 Cf. Kenneth J. Stewart, ‘Calvinism and Missions: The Contested Relationship Revisited’, Themelios 34 (2009). See the website of The Gospel Coalition, (accessed on 28 August 2010).
23. FN2323 Wilbert R. Shenk (ed.), Anabaptism and Mission, Eugene: Wipf and Stock 2001.
24. FN2424 See e.g. the website of The Anabaptist Network,
25. FN2525 Cf. Jonathan I. Israel, The Dutch Republic: Its Rise, Greatness and Fall, 1477-1806, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 4th edition 1998), 366 (first edition 1995), 366: ‘In the late sixteenth century, the majority of the Dutch population . . . cannot unequivocally be described as Protestant or Catholic. For the majority constituted a non-confessionalized, or barely confessonalized bloc . . .’
26. FN2626 These examples can be found in Hijme Stoffels, ‘Opkomst en ondergang van de buitenkerkelijke: Enige historische ontwikkelingen’, in: Gerben Heitink and Hijme Stoffels (eds.), Niet zo’n kerkganger: Zicht op buitenkerkelijk geloven, Baarn: Ten Have 2003, 13-15.
27. FN2727 A.Th. Van Deursen, Bavianen en Slijkgeuzen: Kerk en kerkvolk ten tijde van Maurits en Oldenbarnevelt, Franeker: Van Wijnen, 3rd edition 1998 (first edition 1974), 128ff.
28. FN2828 Benjamin J. Kaplan, Divided by Faith: Religious Conflict and the Practice of Toleration in Early Modern Europe, Cambridge ma: Harvard University Press 2007, 269. For Jesuit missions in the French countryside during the last part of the 16th and the 17th century, see Dominique Deslandres, ‘Exemplo aeque ut verbo: The French Jesuits Missionary World’, in: John W. O’Malley et al. (eds.), The Jesuits: Cultures, Sciences, and the Arts, 1540-1773, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2nd edition 2000 (first edition 1999), 258-273.
29. FN2929 Neill, 152-153. Cf. A. Camps, ‘The Catholic Missionary Movement from 1492 to 1789’, in: F.J. Verstraelen et al. (eds.), Missiology: An Ecumenical Introduction, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 1995, 219-221.
30. FN3030 James A. Scherer, Gospel, Church, & Kingdom: Comparative Studies in World Missiology, Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House 1987, 67.
31. FN3131 J.A.B. Jongeneel, ‘Voetius’ zendingstheologie: De eerste comprehensieve protestantse zendingstheologie’, in: J. van Oort et al. (eds.), De onbekende Voetius: Voordrachten wetenschappelijk symposium Utrecht, 3 maart 1989, Kok: Kampen 1989, 120.
32. FN3232 Jongeneel, ‘Voetius’ zendingstheologie’, 129, 132-133.
33. FN3333 Jongeneel, ‘Voetius’ zendingstheologie’, 119.
34. FN3434 Bosch, 255-260. On ‘expansion’ as a missionary motive of the Puritans, see also Yates, 7-12.
35. FN3535 K.J. Rivinius, ‘Die Entwicklung des Missionsgedankens und Missionsträger’, in: E. Gatz (ed.), Geschichte des kirchlichen Lebens III: Katholiken in der Minderheit, Freiburg: Herder 1994, 251-265. Cf. Neill, 335ff.
36. FN3636 Yvonne Maria Werner, ‘Catholic Mission and Conversion in Scandinavia: Some Reflections on Religion, Modernisation, and Identity Construction’, Scandinavian Journal of History 35 (2010), 65-85.
37. FN3737 Michèle Sacquin, ‘L’Évangile au village: Le colportage évangelique en France’, in: Frédéric Barbier et al. (eds.), Le livre et l’historien: Etudes offertes en l’honneur du Professeur Henri-Jean Martin, Geneva: Droz 1997, 697-699.
38. FN3838 Irene Whelan, The Bible War in Ireland: The “Second Reformation” and the Polarization of Protestant-Catholic Relations, 1800-1840, Dublin: Lilliput Press 2005.
39. FN3939 Quotes from Maria Denoon Peddie, The Dawn of the Second Reformation in Spain, Edinburgh: Colston and Company 1871 (partly digitalized by Google), 1-3.
40. FN4040 Quoted in Bosch, 229.
41. FN4141 Bosch, 218-219, quoting Benedict xv’s encyclical Maximum Illud (1919), where Catholic ‘heralds of truth’ are described as struggling with Protestant ‘servants of error’.
42. FN4242 Deslandres, 267.
43. FN4343 Bosch, 252-255.
44. FN4444 Bosch, 262ff.
45. FN4545 G.J. Mink, Op het tweede plan: Evangelisten in de tweede helft van de negentiende eeuw, Leiden: J.J. Groen en Zoon 1995, 47-48; Gerrit Noort, De weg van magie tot geloof: Leven en werk van Alb. C. Kruyt, Zoetermeer: Boekencentrum 2006, 117-118.
46. FN4646 Cf. for example, Thomas Watson (c. 1620-1686) in his sermon The Knowledge of God: ‘And are there not many among us, who are no better than baptized heathen, who need to seek the first principles of the oracles of God? It is sad, that after the sun of the gospel has shined so long in our horizon, that the veil should still be upon their heart.’ Similar terminology was applied in that time by Dutch preachers from the circle of the Further Reformation.
47. FN4747 E.g., Sermon 22 (The Folly and Danger of parting with Christ for the Pleasures and Profits of Life): ‘If we were but sensible of the great necessity there is, in this our day, of being real Christians, sure we should not be contented with being nominal ones; but we are sunk into I know not what; we are no better than baptized heathen.’
48. FN4848 Quotes derived from H.J. Margull, ‘Über die Einheit von Weltmission und Volksmission’, in: H.J. Margull, Zeugnis und Dialog: Ausgewählte Schriften, Hamburg: Missionsakademie an der Universität Hamburg 1992, 49-50.
49. FN4949 Adolf von Harnack, Reden und Aufsätze, Bd. II, Giessen 1904, 113-115. Quote in Berentsen, 111.
50. FN5050 Ernst Troeltsch, Gesammelte Schriften, Bd. II, Tübingen 1913, 797. Quote in Berentsen, 111.
51. FN5151 Gustav Warneck, Evangelische Missionslehre. Ein missionstheoretischer Versuch. Erste Abteilung: Die Begründung der Sendung, Gotha: F.A. Perthes, 2nd edition 1897, 1-2, 4.
52. FN5252 An excellent discussion of this subject can be found in Klaus Schäfer, ‘ “Weltmission und Volksmission”: Geschichte, Bestandsaufnahme, Perspektiven’, lecture May 2005 (, accessed on 18 August 2010).
53. FN5353 Gerhard Hilbert, Volksmission und Innere Mission, Leipzig 1917, 4 (partly digitalized by Google).
54. FN5454 For example, Theodor Christlieb in a lecture, held in 1888, in defence of his establishment of the German evangelization league (Deutsche Evangelisationsverein) in 1884. For a discussion, see Martin Werth, Theologie der Evangelisation, Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag 2004, 15-30.
55. FN5555 H. Wittenberg, Die Lage der ländlichen Arbeiter in Neuvorpommern und auf Rügen, Leipzig: Reinhold Werther 1893, 21894. Interestingly, a recent study of missionary church planting in Germany, concludes that in Pomerania (esp. Mecklenburg-Vorpommern) evangelism is very difficult (sehr mühsam). This may be caused in part by the ‚mentality of the inhabitants’ (Sabine Schröder, Konfessionslose erreichen: Gemeindegründungen von freikirchlichen Initiativen seit der Wende 1989 in Ostdeutschland, Neukirchen: Neukirchener Verlag 2007, 190-191).
56. FN5656 Cf. Werth, 53-54.
57. FN5757 Hilbert, 5, 6, 9.
58. FN5858 Cf. for example the British secretary of the World Missionary Conference and editor of the International Review of Mission, J.H. Oldham. In his The World and the Gospel, published in the same year as Hilbert’s contribution (London: Christian Literature Society for India 1916), the distinction between ‘Europe’ or ‘Christendom’ on the one hand, and the ‘mission-field’ on the other, is still completely operational (138ff ). Text can be accessed on the website of the Internet Archive of the University of Toronto,
59. FN5959 Cf. Michael Herbst, Missionarische Gemeindeaufbau in der Volkskirche, Stuttgart: Calwer, 4th edition 1996 (first edition 1987).
60. FN6060 Whether the instrument of massive baptism still is the most sensitive or contextual instrument to express this acceptance in post-Christian Europe, is a matter of discussion. In today’s pluralistic societies churches are certainly not in the position to live up to the promise implied in baptizing as many children as possible, regardless the seriousness of their parents’ faith. They simply lack the authority, the infrastructure and the power.
61. FN6161 Cf. a.o. Thomas F. Foust et al. (eds.), A Scandalous Prophet: The Way of Mission after Newbigin, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 2002, 18-19.
62. FN6262 Rufus M. Jones, ‘Secular Civilization and the Christian Task’, in: International Missionary Council, The Christian Life and Message in Relation to Non-Christian Systems of Thought and Life, Report of The Jerusalem Meeting I, London 1928, 273.
63. FN6363 Basil Mathews, Road to the City of God, New York: Doubleday 1929, 211.
64. FN6464 E.g., W. Visser ’t Hooft, ‘Evangelism Among Europe’s Neo-pagans’, International Review of Mission 60 (1977), 352: the European pagan tradition ‘is far more deeply rooted in European history than is generally realized’. See also Alfred C. Krass, Evangelizing Neopagan North America, Scotdale: Herald Press 1982; Michael Cooper, ‘Contributing Factors in the Resurgence of Paganism in Western Society’, Sacred Tribes: Journal of Christian Mission to New Religious Movements 2/2 (2004).
65. FN6565 Hendrik Kraemer, The Christian Message in a Non-Christian World, New York: Harper & Brothers 1938, 16-17.
66. FN6666 Gerd-Rainer Horn, Western European Liberation Theology, 1924-1959: The First Wave, New York: Oxford University Press 2008, 235. He quotes Victor Bettencourt, L’apostolat rural: Programme d’action catholique, Paris 1937.
67. FN6767 Towards the Conversion of England: The Report of a Commission on Evangelism appointed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, Pursuant to a Resolution of the Church Assembly passed at the Summer Session, 1943, London: Press and Publications Board of the Church Assembly 1945.
68. FN6868 Lyon: Abeille 1943.
69. FN6969 Quoted in Horn, 230.
70. FN7070 E.g., J.A.B. Jongeneel and J.M. van Engelen, ‘Contemporary Currents in Missiology’, in: Verstraelen, 442.
71. FN7171 Bosch, 10, 365.
72. FN7272 Cf. Roman Bleistein sj, ‘Deutschland — Missionsland? Reflexen zur religiösen Situation’, Stimmen der Zeit 6 (1998), 399-412.
73. FN7373 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, edited by Eberhard Bethge, translated by Reginald Fuller and others, New York: The Macmillan Co., 2nd revised edition 1967, 139.
74. FN7474 Bonhoeffer, 169.
75. FN7575 Hendrik Kraemer, De kerk in beweging, The Hague: Boekencentrum 1947, 78. My translation.
76. FN7676 A brief history of the theology of the apostolate can be found in A. Noordegraaf, Vijf broden en twee vissen: Missionair gemeentezijn in een (post)moderne samenleving, Zoetermeer: Boekencentrum 1998, 52-95; Bert Hoedemaker, Met anderen tot Christus: Zending in een postmissionair tijdperk, Zoetermeer: Boekencentrum 2000, 30-37.
77. FN7777 J.C. Hoekendijk, The Church Inside Out, Philadelphia: Westminster 1966.
78. FN7878 Cf. Werner Ustorf, ‘The Philanthropy of God and Western Culture’, in: Lande and Ustorf, 115ff. See also many publications by the Dutch missiologist Bert Hoedemaker.
79. FN7979 See Stark, ‘Efforts’, and (a bit more critical) William Lyle Wagner, North American Protestant Missionaries in Western Europe: A Critical Appraisal, Bonn: Verlag für Kultur und Wissenschaft 1993.

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Affiliations: 1: VU University Amsterdam the Netherlands Theological University Kampen the Netherlands, Email:, URL:


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