Europe’s role in the World by Sascha Schmiedl

It is unmistakable: We are again in a time of geopolitical upheaval. Old alliances have become fragile, balances of power are beginning to shift and the struggle for economic and military supremacy is reshuffling the cards.

I would like to give an example to illustrate the current turning point. This year is believed to be the year that India overtook China as the most populous country in the world. That cannot be determined exactly, but if it is true,  it is a truly historic year. Because China has been the undisputed number one for well over one hundred years.

In the midst of these changes, the question for many people arises: Where are we going? Are we among the winners of the current changes? Or are we amongst these who are downgrading in political und economic power as well as social welfare?

Here it makes much more sense to speak of the role of Europe (Russia excluded) than of individual states. Because the European nation states are too small to play a significant role in the global context. However, they are closely linked culturally and politically.

Moreover, the states of Europe also have a common history that also binds them together.

A key part of Europe’s history has been that they have long played a leading role in world politics. A little over a hundred years ago, Europe had reached the peak of its power. At that time it dominated almost the entire world. Legal systems and political structures were built everywhere on the European model. English became the world language. And Christianity, as the dominant religion on the European continent, spread throughout the world.

It was also the age of the missionary societies. At the first World Mission Conference in Edinburgh in 1912, people were optimistic that the “good news” would reach the whole world in the near future. But it was also a time when the gospel was often confused with specifically “European-Western” values. Devotion to Christ was not infrequently combined with devotion to the state as the guardian of the faith. This mixing was to become a heavy burden for future generations.

The emancipation of the Global South – what used to be called the “Third World” once – began in the second half of the 20th century when many countries became independent of their European colonial powers. For some in Europe, it was perceived as a bitter loss of world dominance. But overall, Western dominance remained. It was now led by the US, but the anti-communist nations of Europe were the strongest supporter of the US in this leadership role. The “West” was the dominant alliance in terms of technological development and science as well as economic power. The global institutions such as the UN were also initiated by the West and are based on the values of Western culture. The role of Europe had changed. It had lost its status as the dominant world continent, but it was still in the concert of the greats.

But in the current situation, the cards are being reshuffled. Asian countries such as China, India and the Gulf States are increasingly rushing onto the international stage and questioning the western world’s claim to leadership.

For many, this is associated with fears. What does it mean if we no longer play the role in the world that we once had? How will the countries of the Global South deal with the West, which has not always treated them well?

Stop and consider for a moment; isn’t this shift in the balance of power the cause of the global conflicts that are now growing everywhere? Isn’t it always about power and control? How will China deal with Europe once their economic influence continues to grow? How will China and India position themselves in the brutal conflict between Europe and Russia? 

All of these questions create uncertainty, and not without reason. The question that arises is how we should react? Should we respond with an aggressive foreign policy and rhetoric that makes it clear that we will not tolerate a change of power? Should we act constructively but with our own clear limits? Or should we just let things come to us and leave them entirely to God?

Whatever you decide, one thing seems clear to me. Western dominance is coming to an end. And even if it sounds strange: that’s actually not so bad!

Because there is little to explain why we do things better than other cultures. We are all human and good and wise human beings are born in all peoples and nations of the earth. The so-called “Western values” may still be a point of reference for the whole world on some issues, but they are by no means without alternatives on many other issues.

But now you may be saying, “Wait a minute, isn’t Europe and the western world more shaped by the gospel than the now emerging nations of the global south?” India is predominantly Hinduistic, Buddhism and Confucianism play a major role in China, and Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim country in absolute terms.

Well, that is correct, but the question arises as to how much of our actions are still shaped by the gospel message. The power of the gospel is barely visible and it is also to question to which degrees international policy of European nations is still shaped by the gospel message, if any. 

In contrary, faith in Jesus Christ is growing rapidly in the countries of the Global South, despite sometimes stiff resistance: In many Asian countries in particular, a Christian community has developed that is hardly influenced by the West at all. The great house church movement in China, for example, arose from the 1970s with practically no initiatives from the West. It is estimated that over a hundred million people belong to it.

Yes, God is still God of the world and not God of specific traditions and countries. As in Jesus’ time, the Spirit moves to where it is most needed. And the spirit is not tied to traditions or even old power structures.

We should not be surprised when Christians from the Global South show us how God works in the 21st century, where for many years it has been the other way around.

At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, John the Baptist aptly described what is happening again now:

Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his roads. Every ravine shall be filled in and every hill shall be levelled” (Luke 3:4-5).

The coming of Jesus ushered in a time when the centre of the proclamation of God moved from the temple in Jerusalem to the far lands and islands of the Roman Empire. The God of Israel became the God of all peoples. And the (spiritual-religious) balance of power was adjusted: not only Jews were filled with the spirit of God but also people from other nations.

But although the dramatic events that befell the Jewish people forty years later; the lost war against Rome; the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple led some to believe that God had turned his back on Israel, this was not the case.

The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Romans, defended the conviction that God had not turned away from the Jews. And indeed there were also many Jews who followed the new ways of God that Jesus had initiated in his ministry.

That should also encourage us in Europe.

Just as God did not turn away from the Jews in the early church, so he does not turn away from Europe now. At that time there were Jews who were open to the new that God wanted to do instead of clinging to the old ways of thinking. And I believe this is how God wants to work in Europe.

In doing so, the work of God frees us from our self-centredness and our prejudices that have arisen through centuries of dominance of the West. It helps us distinguish between God’s universal purposes for human beings and the specific expressions of our faith that have emerged in the western world.

If we understand this, then we can again be a prophetic voice in our western world. We can see where our society still believes to be the centre of the world from its own centuries of dominance thinking. And we can help  to recognise and appreciate other perspectives and values, so that in the end we can see what unites us:

God for us

God in us

God through us

Who expresses unity in cultural diversity

Published 15th June 2023 with permission. Translated from German. See Sascha’s dedicated site Radically Balanced for more content