ADVERTISING
 
Sunday, August 19   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
New season
What kind of contents do you enjoy most?






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
 
Nominal Christianity, a mission field for the church 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.

 
Ruth Valerio: A lifestyle that cares about creation Ruth Valerio: A lifestyle that cares about creation

Are Christians called to make a difference in environmental care? What has creation care to do with "loving our neighbours"? An interview with the Global Advocacy and Influencing Director of Tearfund.

 
Kathy Bryan: Online sex trafficking in the USA Kathy Bryan: Online sex trafficking in the USA

“Prostitution is nobody’s dream,  it’s a very traumatic lifestyle”, says Kathy Bryan, director of the Elevate Academy. She mentors former victims.

 
Christians in politics? Christians in politics?

What is the role of Christians serving in politics? An interview with Auke Minnema, the new General Director of the European Christian Political Movement (ECPM).

 
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
 
Sharing Jesus with World Cup fans in Moscow Sharing Jesus with World Cup fans in Moscow

A team of Steiger mission is starting conversations about the gospel in the middst of the football celebration in Russia.

 
Analysing current issues in the light of the Bible Analysing current issues in the light of the Bible

At the 2018 Apologetics Forum in Comarruga (Spain), Michael Ramsden, Pablo Martinez, Ruth Valerio and José de Segovia analysed how society and the Bible approach the issues of personal identity, integrity, sexuality, pop culture, and environmental care.

 
European “Bridges to Inclusion” gathering 2018, in Riga European “Bridges to Inclusion” gathering 2018, in Riga

The network of Christian ministries working for the inclusion of people with disabilities, celebrated its tenth continental meeting in Latvia with the participation of 12 countries.

 

 
VIDEO Video
 
How the loss of universal values led to a loss of civility How the loss of universal values led to a loss of civility

Author Bruce Little: “We have moved from a sense of responsibility to ‘my personal rights’”.

 
Being a peacemaker Being a peacemaker

Ken Sande, Founder and President of Relational Wisdom 360, develops a practical systematic theology for pursuing peace and resolving the conflicts of real life. 

 
“No one should have to leave their values at the door” “No one should have to leave their values at the door”

Author Krish Kandiah talks with politician Tim Farron about the Christian faith, politics and secularism.

 
What are the essential characteristics of a godly leader? What are the essential characteristics of a godly leader?

Clinical Pastoral Counsellor Emoke Tapolyai reflect on three characteristics Christians who have been given leadership roles should develop.

 
Reaching non-Christian ‘Christians’ Reaching non-Christian ‘Christians’

How can we reach those who call themselves ‘Christians’ but have not experienced a conversion to Christ? Forty missiologists and mission practitioners came together for a Lausanne Movement global consultation in Rome.

 
 
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.