ADVERTISING
 
Saturday, February 23   Sign in or Register
 
Evangelical Focus
 

 
ADVERTISING
 
 
FOLLOW US ON
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Google +
  • Instagram
  • Soundcloud
 

Newsletter
Newsletter, sign up to receive all our News by email.
 

POLL
Bible literacy
How often do you read the Bible?







SEE MORE POLLS
 

 
TOP 10 MOST VIEWED



Jim Memory
 

The stories we live by

Putting to one side the hermeneutical questions around the identification of the EU with Bablyon, what is clear is that the demonization of the “other” inspires hatred not love.

FEATURES AUTHOR Jim Memory 22 SEPTEMBER 2016 16:01 h GMT+1
bible, woman, quality, christian Photo: Ben White (Unsplash, CC)

For the last seven years I have been researching and lecturing on mission in Europe at Redcliffe College. In the months leading up to the referendum vote I was invited to help the UK Evangelical Alliance to prepare materials1 to help UK Christians think through the issues. In April I gave a public lecture at Redcliffe College called: In or Out? How should Christians approach the EU Referendum? (read written version here). And during May and June I delivered this material on ten further occasions at churches of many different denominations around the UK.



I tried to represent the Leave and Remain campaigns fairly, to pierce through the misrepresentation of facts (on both sides) and give a balanced consideration of the arguments for and against the United Kingdom’s membership of the EU from the perspective of Christian mission. In the end I just wanted to help Christians, and anyone else who cared to listen, to understand the issues and make an informed and prayerful decision.



What I learned though, particularly in the Q&A times after my presentation and in subsequent conversations, was that many Christians who said they were going to vote Leave had narratives that dominated their perspective.



They didn’t all use the same language but three distinct controlling narratives were repeated over and over again.



1. “We are a Christian country”. Many UK Christians continue to believe that Britain’s history sets it apart from the rest of Europe. Christianity, the Bible and the Reformation have shaped its identity and institutions.



Furthermore, its sovereignty and borders have remained intact for the best part of a thousand years. Yet alongside this there is a narrative about the EU. Many of the Christians I spoke to saw the EU as a threat to Christian Britain: “The EU is secularist. As a Christian country we should have nothing to do with it”.



 



2. “The EU is Babylon” David Hathaway2 is not the only Christian author to draw eschatological parallels between Babylon and the EU but he is probably the best known. It was clear to me that some Christians have incorporated his ideas into their thinking.



Several people I spoke to were convinced that the European Parliament Building in Strasbourghad been constructed according to the exact design of the Tower of Babel. Whereas the “We are a Christian Country” narrative emphasises Britain’s unique identity this parallel narrative draws on prophecies of Daniel and Revelation to portray the EU as a demonic “other”, a revived Roman empire that will pave the way for the Antichrist.



3. “The nation-state is a God-given institution”. A third narrative was put forward by others who observed that the Bible is supportive of nations but critical of centralised power. Michael Schluter3 argues this point in his writings: “In both Old and New Testaments, people are differentiated by culture, language and national identity; this is seen positively as God’s will, and thus we should not discard it lightly”. At the same time, the dangers of concentrating political and economic power in the hands of a king or controlling elite are made repeatedly in the Old Testament. This narrative argues that the EU fails on both counts, in that it wrests sovereignty from the nation-state and centralises power in Brussels.



 



CONTROLLING NARRATIVES



Evidently not all British Christians support these narratives nor were they the main reasons why the general British populace voted Leave. However my impression was that they were operating as controlling narratives for some Christians. What do I mean by that? Firstly, a controlling narrative is a dominant narrative, one which in some sense trumps all other considerations.



And secondly, it is a narrative that controls the other stories that we tell, frequently distorting our perspectives so that all other stories fit our controlling narrative, even to the extent of affecting our perspectives on mission in Europe. Let’s take each of the narratives in turn. I am not going to critique them per se but rather consider how when they operate as controlling narratives they distort our perspective.



1. “We are a Christian Country”. Evidently this Anglocentric view of history downplays the impact that Christianity, the Bible and the Reformation has had on the rest of Europe. Yet perhaps more significantly it ignores the reality of secularisation.



Results from the British Social Attitudes Survey4 across the last few years have consistently shown around half of Britons saying they have “no religion” as compared to 42% who say they are “Christian”. But this narrative also distorts our perspective on mission. It reinforces the old paradigm of Britain as a Christian heartland which “sends” missionaries but more importantly it undermines the mission challenge on our doorstep – Britain isn’t Christian: it needs the gospel. And furthermore it turns the arrival of migrants of other faiths into a threat rather than a tremendous opportunity.



2. “The EU is Babylon”. Very few British Christians seem to be aware that the European Coal and Steel Community, the forerunner of the EU, was the brainchild of Christian politicians seeking to build peace in Europe.5



Putting to one side the hermeneutical questions around the identification of the EU with Bablyon, or the absurd argument on the basis of the similarity of a contemporary building with a painter’s imagination, what is clear is that the demonization of the “other” inspires hatred not love. The identification of the EU with Europe in the UK is so strong that when the EU is demonized it has an impact on many fronts.



Firstly, it distances us Brits from our fellow Europeans. Even after leaving the EU we will still be Europeans: our histories and cultures are too interconnected for us not to be. But it also has a negative effect on our attitudes to mission in Europe (something which Rosemary Caudwell’s research echoes). Other Europeans are not objects of love but of derision and fear. Rather than reaching them we want to distance ourselves from them and keep them out.



3. “The nation-state is a God-given institution”. This narrative argues against the EU but also against the integrity of the United Kingdom, as a nation of nations. The argument that “centralised power in Brussels is bad but centralised power in Westminster is OK” will be received very differently by Christians in Gloucester and Christians in Glasgow.



Yet the theological reification of the nation-state is not only historically anachronistic - nation-states didn’t exist until the early modern period; the Bible talks more often than not about ethne (tribes or peoples). It is also turns into an absolute something which is temporary. As Revelation 7 reminds us, all the peoples of the earth will come and as one, bow before the Lamb who was slain. As Christians we are called to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to “all peoples” but to bring the eschatological kingdom into our present (“Here there is no Jew or Greek…but Christ is all, and is in all” (Colossians 3:11). At a time when nationalism is on the rise again across Europe it is a concern that nationalism is becoming a controlling narrative for some British Christians too (see Chris Ducker’s article for a more detailed treatment of this).



 



THE STORY THAT WE LIVE BY



Of course, there is some truth in these stories. British Christians should give thanks for the historical influence of Christianity on their country. There is a place for rebellion against the demonic in all human power structures, even the EU. And we should defend the modern Western nation-state which provides structures of value to all (democracy, rule of law, human rights, etc.). Yet these must never be our controlling narratives.



Our controlling narrative as European Christians, the one which must be at the centre so that it keeps all other narratives in check, was, is and always must be, the Lamb who was slain who sits upon the Throne. To Him alone we bow. His story alone must be the story we live by.



Jim Memory is church planter and lecturer.



This article first appeared in the September 2016 edition of Vista magazine.



 



Notes



1 The UK Evangelical Alliance “What kind of EU?” materials are still available on their website along with my article on the missiological perspectives: http:// www.eauk.org/current-affairs/politics/eu/achristian-mission-perspective-on-the-eureferendum.cfm



2 Hathaway (2016), Babylon in Europe, New Wine Press 3



3 Schluter (2016), “Brexit Unless…Three Fundamental Conditions for Staying in the EU”, Jubilee Centre, May 2016, http:// www.jubilee-centre.org/brexit-unless-threefundamental-conditions-staying-eu/



4 British Social Attitudes Survey (2016), “Change in religious affiliation among adults in Britain”, August 2016, http://www.natcen.ac.uk/ media/1236081/religious-affiliation-over-timebritish-social-attitudes.pdf



5 Jeff Fountain does an excellent job of telling this story in his book Deeply Rooted: The Forgotten Vision of Robert Schuman, Eastbourne: Seismos Press (2014)


 

 


0
COMMENTS

    If you want to comment, or

 



 
 
YOUR ARE AT: - - - The stories we live by
 
ADVERTISING
 
 
 
AUDIOS Audios
 
Julia Doxat-Purser: 25 years of EEA office in Brussels Julia Doxat-Purser: 25 years of EEA office in Brussels

An interview with the socio-political representative of the European Evangelical Alliance about how evangelical Christians work at the heart of the European Union.

 
Lars Dahle: Nominal Christianity, a mission field for the church Lars Dahle: Nominal Christianity, a mission field for the church

An interview with Lars Dahle, of the Steering Committee of the Lausanne Movement Global Consultation on Nominal Christianity held in Rome.

 
Michael Ramsden: Communicating the Gospel in today’s societies Michael Ramsden: Communicating the Gospel in today’s societies

RZIM International Director Michael Ramsden responds to questions about the secularisation of Europe, the role of Christians in public leadership and the new ‘culture of victimism’.

 
PICTURES Pictures
 
‘Small churches, big potential for transformation’ ‘Small churches, big potential for transformation’

Photos of the Spanish Evangelical Alliance’s annual gathering “Idea 2019”, in Murcia. Politicians and church leaders discussed about the role of minorities in society.

 
Bulgaria: Evangelicals ask government to protect religious minorities Bulgaria: Evangelicals ask government to protect religious minorities

Christians rallied in Sofia on November 18 to defend their rights. It is the second Sunday of peaceful demonstrations against a new religion draft law that could severely restrict religious freedom and rights of minority faith confessions.

 
Photos: #WalkForFreedom Photos: #WalkForFreedom

Abolitionists marched through 400 cities in 51 countries. Pictures from Valencia (Spain), October 20.

 
Photos: Reaching people with disabilities Photos: Reaching people with disabilities

Seminars, an arts exhibition, discussion and testimonies. The European Disability Network met in Tallinn.

 
VIDEO Video
 
Christians in Venezuela: Citizens and children of God Christians in Venezuela: Citizens and children of God

Prayer, truth, dialogue between the parties and justice are some of the actions of the Church in Venezuela.

 
10,000 signatures ask for action to release Nigerian Christian Leah Sharibu 10,000 signatures ask for action to release Nigerian Christian Leah Sharibu

After one year in captivity, “the least we can do is to stand with her, to protest and to pray until we see her released”, says Mervyn Thomas of Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

 
Lindsay Brown: 3 challenges for the church today Lindsay Brown: 3 challenges for the church today

In an interview, Lindsay Brown analyses three challenges for the church in Europe and elsewhere and how they can be turned into opportunities for the gospel.

 
Can science explain everything? Can science explain everything?

A debate about science and faith between Oxford Emeritus Professor of Mathematics John Lennox and Oxford Emeritus Professor in Chemistry Peter Atkins. Moderated by journalist Justin Brierley.

 
 
Follow us on Soundcloud
Follow us on YouTube
 
 
WE RECOMMEND
 
PARTNERS
 

 
AEE
EVANGELICAL FOCUS belongs to Areópago Protestante, linked to the Spanish Evangelical Alliance (AEE). AEE is member of the European
Evangelical Alliance and World Evangelical Alliance.
 

Opinions expressed are those of their respective contributors and do not necessarily represent the views of Evangelical Focus.