God’s Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe’s Religious Crisis

Philip Jenkins Oxford University Press, USA, Oxford May 11, 2007

This book is a cornucopia of facts, statistics, trends, and analyses surrounding the new religious melting pot of Europe. Jenkins, professor of history and religious studies, Penn State University, takes a sober look at the reality of the religious scene in Europe. His purpose is to answer whether Europe will become a future “Eurabia,” and he conditions the answer with a multitude of statistics on every side. The work questions common projections of Islamic takeover of modern Europe, countering by noting the secularizing influence of Europe on all religion that remains or invades. In short Europe marinates the practice of every faith within its borders with its own unique worldview. No religion remains impervious to its humanistic agenda.

       The work begins with shocking allegations regarding Muslim immigration and birthrates in the European Union. This is qualified by a population survey showing that of the 494 million citizens of the European Union fewer than 17 million are Muslims. Even with the admission of five other Eastern European nations (not including Turkey), there would be only 23.8 million Muslims among well over 500 million (p. 16). Nor are birthrates as high among Muslims as is often contended (p. 21).

Jenkins chronicles declining Judaism and Christianity in Europe, beset by scandals, disinterest, and atheistic secularism (as in the former Soviet Union nations)—a phenomenon he compares with the relatively robust Christian faith in the United States. But not all is lost. As recently as 2005, the World Christian Database records some 531 million professing Christians in greater Europe and Russia (p. 56). Moreover, the growth rate of evangelicals, charismatics, and Pentecostals (what he calls “The Church with All Its Lights On”) is nearly double not only the Muslim percentage of growth but in actual numbers, with at least 60 million adherents (pp. 74–75). Many of these “New Christians” are from the large diaspora of African and Latin American churches.

The book then discusses the historical assumptions of both Christians and Muslims and the tensions these create on European soil. At length Jenkins observes the internal struggles of the Islamic community, notably Sufis versus Wahhabis, radicalized (“Ultras”) versus secularized Muslim youth, the rights and place of women, and the clash between a secular state and Islamic beliefs. He concludes with two chapters, “Transforming Faith” (chap. 11) and “Europe’s Religions Tomorrow” (chap. 12). He wonders if Christians need to formulate a middle way that recognizes “some prophetic status for Mohammed while maintaining belief in the Christian scriptures and church” (p. 268). Yet he recognizes the immense barriers that continue to divide religions, not the least of which is Islamic resistance to religious freedom and Judeo-Christian faith.

Woven into the tapestry of God’s Continent is the theme that Europe’s engagement in godlessness is unsustainable in the long term. Citing works by George Weigel and Michael Novak, the author suggests that, with God jettisoned and tolerance embraced, Europe is poised to fall headlong into self-destruction. The ultimate downfall of a secular, hedonistic culture is guaranteed if for no other reason than the (selfish) lack of bearing children to populate subsequent generations. Subtle warnings to America abound.

The encroachment of Islam on Europe is not as daunting as many have supposed. The work points out that, with its fringe cults, Islam is as fractured as denominational Christianity. Many Muslims in the world are merely nominal and cultural in their identities. Jenkins reminds readers about the dangers of characterizing an entire group by a few individuals. All too often extremists such as Osama bin Laden and Abu Hamza are used as the default characterization for all its members. News-agency sensationalism highlights the radical, so that movements coalesce around these internationally spotlighted persons by virtue of media coverage.

Jenkins writes this book against the backdrop of his many other studies on religion, culture, and global Christianity. His works are thoroughly documented and profoundly informed. With ambitious listings of data and astute observations, God’s Continent is an excellent study for those seeking to understand European religious and cultural demographics, to learn about the Western propagation of Islam versus Christian faith, and especially to engage in ministry within a European setting. 

—David Showalter and J. Scott Horrell

July 1, 2010

Biblotheca Sacra

This review appeared in the Jul-Sep 2010 vol. 167 no. 3 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.

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