Yesterday I heard encouraging reports about the future of Christianity in the Netherlands, and indeed in all the secularizing lands of Europe. A team at the Free University of Amsterdam, led by Hijme Stoffels and Mechteld Jansen, have been studying Christian immigrants in the Netherlands. Most European countries have been very attentive to immigration lately, but primarily from deep anxiety about Muslim immigrant communities. However, the immigrant stream brings hundreds of thousands of Christians, as well. Many of the immigrants are zealous, pious, and eager to share their faith with the people of Europe. One of the organizations we heard about is GATE - The Gift of Africa to Europe. From the immigrants' perspective, they are engaging in "reverse mission."
The research team is faced with the question of what to call the effect of these Christian immigrants from all over the world on Dutch Christianity. They leaned toward "multiculturalization" as a term and concept. Still, they were not satisfied with it. The problem that emerged with this conceptualization is that it doesn't really capture the religious effects. Moreover, multiculturalization seems to me to be a temporary, transitional phenomenon. All churches now existing have multiple cultural roots; most have succeeded in blending them together into a new culture.
The ISSRC did not settle the question of how to think about Christian immigrants in European Christianity. We were left, though, considering the idea of "immigrant renewal." The advantage of this way of looking at the issue is that it puts the religious effect front and center. There are, to be sure, many other cultural effects of the immigrant churches – Mechteld Jansen began her talk on Indonesian Christian immigrants by handing out cloves, a wonderful reminder of one of the most distinctive smells of Indonesian life. But the main effect of mixing two streams of the same faith ought to be in the faith itself. If nothing else, immigrant zeal may enliven the learned practice of the culturally established church.
The old churches of Europe are in a very parlous state. They desperately need renewal. Hundreds of thousands of zealous Christian immigrants are arriving – perhaps just in time – to help renew the faith and practice of the old, if only the European churches will let them.
Immigrant renewal of existing institutions, even more than their introducing new cultures, could be the great silver lining of Europe's demographic globalization.