Churches in Europe and the Challenge of Cultural Witness

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444). This special issue belongs to the section "Religions and Humanities/Philosophies".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (31 January 2023) | Viewed by 21586

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Special Issue Editors


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Guest Editor
Director of Studies, Center for Faith and Society, Institute for Ecumenical Studies, Fribourg University, Av. de l'Europe 20, CH-1700 Fribourg, Switzerland
Interests: public theology; church and society; Dietrich Bonhoeffer; peace and reconciliation studies; role of religion in sustainable development/SDGs

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Guest Editor
St. Mellitus College, Dial House, Riverside, Twickenham TW1 3DT, UK
Interests: christology; church and society; cultural witness; spirituality

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Guest Editor
Professor for Practical Theology, Theologisches Seminar, Kirchgasse 9, CH-8001 Zürich, Switzerland
Interests: church growth; church and society; new forms of church; liturgy

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Guest Editor
Professor for New Testament Studies, Universität Bern, Institute for New Testament Studies, Länggassstrasse 51, CH-3012 Bern, Switzerland
Interests: early church development; church and society; theology of Paul; early Christian identity discourses; social history of the New Testament

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Our time is characterized by a lack of a common vision for the future of European societies. As the COVID-19 pandemic slowly retreats, inspirations for a post-COVID world are found wanting. Brexit is one symptom of the waning cohesive powers of the union of values. Christianity, the (still) dominant religion in Europe, is on the retreat as Christian churches throughout Europe face a steady decline in membership, finances, and moral authority. The narrative of the role of Christian faith in shaping the past and present of European life and culture is in danger of being lost. While the 21st century will be a religious one, according to the Pew Research Center (2015), the predicted global increase in membership of near all major faith traditions, including Christianity, may well bypass Europe.

At the same time, God is far from dead in Europe. The pandemic has prompted numerous theological reflexions and practical engagements from Christian churches and theology throughout Europe, setting “trust against fear”, as the CPCE, representing near 50 million Protestants in Europe, proclaims. Even before COVID-19, the emergence of “public theology” sought to engage as a “cultural witness” by drawing out the relevance of church and theology for the public sphere while taking up public challenges into its theological reflexion and action.

Yet, the big questions remain: What is the role of the Christian churches and theology in Europe? How can we adequately conceive of a constructive interrelationship between Christian churches, culture, and society? Which “social imaginary” (Charles Taylor) can guide the church into the future in Europe? What resources (from biblical, historical, cultural, etc. studies) can be made fruitful? How can the churches find a way to communicate the heart of their animating vision, humbly yet persuasively, within a post-Christian, and even a post-truth society while learning the chastening lessons of past imperialistic hubris?

This Special Issue seeks to provoke debate on established theoretical concepts in the study of the Christian church and its role in European culture and society. At the same time, this Special Issue will provide a platform for the emergence of new conceptual approaches. It will also emphasize the link between theological thinking and practical engagement, including cultural witness, church planting, fresh expression of churches, new monasticism, etc.

We seek to invite contributions from a range of academic disciplines, including interdisciplinary work. We are looking for contributions that engage critically and constructively with the current transformations in the relationship between Christian churches, culture, and society in Europe. We seek both descriptive and normative perspectives on the churches’ contributions to the future of Europe.

To that end, contributions will be included that:

  • Analyse the role of Christian churches and theology in different European contexts;
  • Offer fresh thinking in theological approaches and practical engagement on the churches’ contribution to the future of Europe;
  • Use empirical case studies to formulate new concepts or theories;
  • Offer cross-national comparisons of the role of Christian churches in different settings;
  • Explore the interaction of Christian theology with new methods of communication;
  • Re-examine how the discipline of Christian apologetics might be re-imagined in a post-Christian and arguably ‘post-truth’ world;
  • Provide inter-denominational insights on the questions addressed;
  • Include the contribution of neglected groups such as women, youth, migrants, etc.;
  • Examine the role of Christian churches in contributing to polarisation or inclusion in Europe in the context of new challenges introduced by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Christine Schliesser
Dr. Graham Tomlin
Prof. Dr. Ralph Kunz
Prof. Dr. Benjamin Schliesser
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

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Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Religions is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1800 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • churches
  • European societies
  • cultural witness
  • public theology
  • Christianity
  • fresh expression of church
  • social imaginary

Published Papers (15 papers)

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Editorial

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3 pages, 185 KiB  
Editorial
Churches in Europe and the Challenge of Cultural Witness
by Christine Schliesser, Graham Tomlin, Ralph Kunz and Benjamin Schliesser
Religions 2023, 14(6), 781; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel14060781 - 13 Jun 2023
Viewed by 653
Abstract
It is a commonplace sentiment that the church in Europe is declining [...] Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Churches in Europe and the Challenge of Cultural Witness)

Research

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11 pages, 213 KiB  
Article
The Contribution of Christian Values to the Common Good
by Cardinal Reinhard Marx
Religions 2023, 14(5), 591; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel14050591 - 29 Apr 2023
Viewed by 1741
Abstract
How, in a democracy, in an open, plural society, can decisions be reached that are defensible in terms of a global common good? This question is also challenging Christian churches to search for an answer while witnessing Christian faith and the Gospel. The [...] Read more.
How, in a democracy, in an open, plural society, can decisions be reached that are defensible in terms of a global common good? This question is also challenging Christian churches to search for an answer while witnessing Christian faith and the Gospel. The main current and future tasks of the church will include enabling people to deal responsibly with freedom. Christianity continues to have major significance for Europe and the West. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Churches in Europe and the Challenge of Cultural Witness)
10 pages, 239 KiB  
Article
The Artist as the Church’s Mouthpiece: The Cultural Witness of Church Art and Its Patronage
by Sara Schumacher
Religions 2023, 14(5), 561; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel14050561 - 23 Apr 2023
Viewed by 1182
Abstract
This article explores how art installed within a church space contributes to the church’s cultural witness, drawing from the contemporary example of Alison Watt’s Still, installed in Old Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church in Edinburgh, Scotland. While the object’s capacity to proclaim is [...] Read more.
This article explores how art installed within a church space contributes to the church’s cultural witness, drawing from the contemporary example of Alison Watt’s Still, installed in Old Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church in Edinburgh, Scotland. While the object’s capacity to proclaim is present, this case study extends the exploration of art’s cultural witness to include imaginative participation in the Gospel narrative as well as its transformation of the space in which it is installed. Focus then turns to the Church’s patronage of the visual arts, arguing that this is another example of cultural witness. In this case, one finds a relationship between church and artist that is marked by trust, collaboration, and protection. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Churches in Europe and the Challenge of Cultural Witness)
11 pages, 258 KiB  
Article
Apocalyptic Apologetics and the Witness of the Church
by Graham Tomlin
Religions 2023, 14(4), 518; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel14040518 - 10 Apr 2023
Viewed by 1725
Abstract
The discipline of apologetics has always been somewhat controversial in Christian theology. In the early church, the Greek-speaking apologists were often opposed for their attempts to express the gospel in the terms of Greek thought. In more recent times, the critiques of Soren [...] Read more.
The discipline of apologetics has always been somewhat controversial in Christian theology. In the early church, the Greek-speaking apologists were often opposed for their attempts to express the gospel in the terms of Greek thought. In more recent times, the critiques of Soren Kierkegaard and Karl Barth, that it is an attempt to appeal to foundations that have nothing to do with the gospel, have cast a shadow over the discipline in recent years. This paper seeks to take those critiques seriously, yet argues that the discipline of apologetics is vital for the ongoing witness of the Church. It offers a new vision of apologetics based on the theological Apocalyptic genre. Rather than attempt to prove the existence of God or the truth of the Christian faith by rational means, Apologetics can be reconceived as an essentially narrative or descriptive discipline. The Apocalyptic genre thinks of the gospel as the result and announcement of the good news as a radical incursion of God into human life and history in the Incarnation and Resurrection. Apocalyptic Apologetics thus becomes an attempt to describe the world of history, politics, relationships and art (in fact, everything created) as lit up by the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. It becomes a wide-ranging and imaginative venture to redescribe the world in the light of the gospel. This approach re-establishes Apologetics as a crucial part of the Church’s witness while avoiding the critique that it smuggles in assumptions and foundations from outside the gospel itself. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Churches in Europe and the Challenge of Cultural Witness)
12 pages, 268 KiB  
Article
Public Theology as Cultural Witness: Christological Contours for “Times That Are A’Changin’”
by Christine Schliesser
Religions 2023, 14(4), 485; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel14040485 - 03 Apr 2023
Viewed by 1235
Abstract
Churches in Europe are being faced with a transformation that can be described as a seismic shift. In order to face the challenge of cultural witness in this context, this contribution proposes a Christologically contoured public theology. This will be spelt out in [...] Read more.
Churches in Europe are being faced with a transformation that can be described as a seismic shift. In order to face the challenge of cultural witness in this context, this contribution proposes a Christologically contoured public theology. This will be spelt out in four consecutive steps. After a brief introduction on the paradigm of public theology, the second part tackles the question of addressees. Is the witness of public theology directed at the church or at the world? Making use of the insights of German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, this contribution argues for going beyond the binary and understanding the one Christ-reality as the frame of reference for public theology and cultural witness. The third part seeks to uncover the transformative power of Christology for public witness by making use of the traditional dogmatic figure of the munus triplex for the task of witnessing to the “public Christ” (Michael Welker). In the final part, three theses sketch out the implications of public witness in “times that are a-changin’.” (1) Public witness needs religious literacy and bilinguality. (2) For public witness, diaspora existence and missional existence are sisters. (3) Public witness is ecumenical, practical, and spiritual. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Churches in Europe and the Challenge of Cultural Witness)
18 pages, 306 KiB  
Article
On Changing the Subject: ‘Secularity’, ‘Religion’, and the Idea of the Human
by Carmody Grey and Oliver Dürr
Religions 2023, 14(4), 466; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel14040466 - 01 Apr 2023
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 1556
Abstract
The ‘religion/secular’ frame should be retired as a way of characterizing contemporary northern European cultures. The concepts of ‘secularity’ and ‘religion’ are both falsifying and question begging. They invisibly and unhelpfully predetermine the conversation about who and where we are now. Further, they [...] Read more.
The ‘religion/secular’ frame should be retired as a way of characterizing contemporary northern European cultures. The concepts of ‘secularity’ and ‘religion’ are both falsifying and question begging. They invisibly and unhelpfully predetermine the conversation about who and where we are now. Further, they are terms which increasingly lack salience in these cultures. If we seek to locate and articulate, in order to reflectively engage, the horizons within which contemporary northern Europeans generally live, the goods that orient people’s lives, the ideas and values that move and motivate them, we need to talk not about ‘religion’ and the lack of it, but about the idea of the human. Within the concept of the human is nested today the sense of orientation, meaning, goodness and importance that notions of ‘religion’ used to express. This is the conceptual territory on which arguments about ‘what really matters’ are now conducted. If one wishes to have salience in contemporary culture, one needs to speak to this. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Churches in Europe and the Challenge of Cultural Witness)
12 pages, 264 KiB  
Article
Participating in Cultural Witness
by Andrew P. Davison
Religions 2023, 14(4), 440; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel14040440 - 24 Mar 2023
Viewed by 1004
Abstract
The creation of a Centre for Cultural Witness at Lambeth Palace, to serve the Church of England within an ecumenical partnership that already stretches across Europe, offers an opportune time to reflect upon the place—even the meaning—of “culture” in witness of the church. [...] Read more.
The creation of a Centre for Cultural Witness at Lambeth Palace, to serve the Church of England within an ecumenical partnership that already stretches across Europe, offers an opportune time to reflect upon the place—even the meaning—of “culture” in witness of the church. The analysis presented here identifies three senses in which that term might be applied to witness: as that from which the witness comes, that through which it comes, and that to which it comes. At least in theory, a strong cultural emphasis might (or might not) be placed on each of these dimensions independently. However, while this may prove to be a useful distinction, it risks perpetuating an assumption that churches, and Christians, stand outside the culture of those they address, speaking as if from beyond it. In the second half of this paper, I work, instead, from the recognition that the Christian speaks from a position of a shared creaturehood, shared humanity, and—in myriad ways—a shared culture. Approached that way, the mission of the church can fruitfully be seen as witness to a theologically specific understanding of that which is shared. I conclude with the suggestion that this can be ably resourced from the broad tradition of a Platonic “Christian humanism”. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Churches in Europe and the Challenge of Cultural Witness)
13 pages, 272 KiB  
Article
Openness, Commitment, and Confidence in Interreligious Dialogue: A Cultural Analysis of a Western Debate
by Benno van den Toren
Religions 2023, 14(4), 439; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel14040439 - 24 Mar 2023
Viewed by 1306
Abstract
In Western theological reflection, the relationship between openness and commitment in interreligious dialogue is often construed as a relationship between two ends of a seesaw or two arms of a balance; raising one end lowers the other, and one cannot therefore be simultaneously [...] Read more.
In Western theological reflection, the relationship between openness and commitment in interreligious dialogue is often construed as a relationship between two ends of a seesaw or two arms of a balance; raising one end lowers the other, and one cannot therefore be simultaneously fully committed and open. In critical conversation with the work of Catherine Cornille and Marianne Moyaert, this paper argues that this perspective is related to a specific understanding of the “subject position” of the religious subject in late-modernity which is characterized by the subject–object divide. This divide characterizes many modern and postmodern epistemologies of religion, so that both commitment and openness are primarily rooted in the capacities of the religious subject. However, the Christian faith understands faith as a response to the divine initiative of God in Christ, and therefore understands commitment as grounded in confidence in this decisive divine salvific event. From this standpoint, both full confidence and openness are reconcilable and can even strengthen each other rather than being considered incompatible and in competition. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Churches in Europe and the Challenge of Cultural Witness)
12 pages, 547 KiB  
Article
A New Way of Life: The Challenge of Cultural Witness in the Early Jesus Movement
by Benjamin Schliesser
Religions 2023, 14(3), 419; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel14030419 - 20 Mar 2023
Viewed by 1175
Abstract
This article portrays innovative and distinct features of the Christ groups of the first decades with the underlying premise that the lived reality of the early Christian communities has the potential to inspire present-day churches in Europe when they face the challenge of [...] Read more.
This article portrays innovative and distinct features of the Christ groups of the first decades with the underlying premise that the lived reality of the early Christian communities has the potential to inspire present-day churches in Europe when they face the challenge of cultural witness. People were drawn to Christ groups because they were different from the surrounding culture. Christianity would not have survived if it did not offer a counter-cultural ethical stance; a new social imaginary; alternative membership options; a flexible organizational structure; a holistic worldview; and a creative, innovative communication style—in one phrase: a new way of life. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Churches in Europe and the Challenge of Cultural Witness)
15 pages, 264 KiB  
Article
The Munus Propheticum of the Church: On a Controversial Reformed Heritage
by Ralph Kunz
Religions 2023, 14(3), 417; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel14030417 - 19 Mar 2023
Viewed by 958
Abstract
To what extent can the Reformed heritage of the prophetic office sharpen the perception of the cultural witness of the church in secular Europe? The so-called munus propheticum as a heritage of the Swiss Reformation is the focus of this paper. In a [...] Read more.
To what extent can the Reformed heritage of the prophetic office sharpen the perception of the cultural witness of the church in secular Europe? The so-called munus propheticum as a heritage of the Swiss Reformation is the focus of this paper. In a first attempt, the Reformation origin of guardianship will be traced. A look at the debate on Swiss refugee policy during the war years shows how controversial church involvement was at that time. Using the example of the prophetic office, the sensitivity and fragility of the church’s witness in secular society can be better understood and used for the theological discussion on the function of the public church. In a concluding reflection, arguments for and against its use are examined. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Churches in Europe and the Challenge of Cultural Witness)
14 pages, 314 KiB  
Article
On the Threshold of Mystery: Tomáš Halík on Cultural Witness in an Age of Uncertainty and Change
by Alister E. McGrath
Religions 2023, 14(3), 399; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel14030399 - 16 Mar 2023
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1422
Abstract
Tomáš Halík (born 1 June 1948) has established himself as one of the most thoughtful commentators on public cultural witness in a time of change and uncertainty, especially in central Europe. As an academic at Charles University (founded 1348) and a Catholic priest [...] Read more.
Tomáš Halík (born 1 June 1948) has established himself as one of the most thoughtful commentators on public cultural witness in a time of change and uncertainty, especially in central Europe. As an academic at Charles University (founded 1348) and a Catholic priest in the “Academic Parish of Prague”, Halík played an important role during and following the collapse of Marxism in Czechoslovakia in the “Velvet Revolution” of November—December 1989, even being mentioned as a possible successor to Czech President Václav Havel, while at the same time offering reflections on religious engagement with a complex and changing secular culture. This article engages some leading themes of Halík’s approach to cultural witness, focusing especially on cultural quests for false certainties, the need for churches to create liminal spaces enabling seekers to grasp what lies at the heart of the Christian faith, the dangers of romanticizing a lost past of faith which encourages disengagement with the present, and the need to understand faith in terms of a constant movement of thought rather than a fixed system of ideas. The article considers how these ideas can find wider application in engaging the challenges of cultural witness, particularly in a European context, and what can be learned from them. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Churches in Europe and the Challenge of Cultural Witness)
18 pages, 402 KiB  
Article
Toward Integrity and Integration of the Church(es) Relating to the State in the Secularized Cultural Context of Estonian Society
by Meego Remmel
Religions 2023, 14(3), 398; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel14030398 - 15 Mar 2023
Viewed by 1323
Abstract
Classical paradigms of the church-state relations may be reflected in how the church has tried to work and live out her integrity in different cultural-political contexts. The churches in Estonia have envisioned Christian integrity in relation to the state differently in different times [...] Read more.
Classical paradigms of the church-state relations may be reflected in how the church has tried to work and live out her integrity in different cultural-political contexts. The churches in Estonia have envisioned Christian integrity in relation to the state differently in different times and stages of societal and cultural development. One could distinguish the following four types of relationships: the conflict, the harmony, the two kingdoms, and the social servanthood. This article will focus on the characteristics of these relationship paradigms along with some personal, communal, and ecumenical examples in the sense of integrity of Estonian church-life from the last century to the present day when social servanthood seems to be most relevant. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Churches in Europe and the Challenge of Cultural Witness)
10 pages, 240 KiB  
Article
Renewing Christian Witness in Europe—A Proposal
by Christophe Chalamet
Religions 2023, 14(3), 391; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel14030391 - 14 Mar 2023
Viewed by 784
Abstract
The transmission of the Christian faith is severely broken in many western European countries. This does not bode well for the future of Christianity in these regions. In the face of this situation, Christians might be tempted either to “retreat” from the world [...] Read more.
The transmission of the Christian faith is severely broken in many western European countries. This does not bode well for the future of Christianity in these regions. In the face of this situation, Christians might be tempted either to “retreat” from the world and foster sectarian communities or to more or less completely “merge” with contemporary society. Both of these options are erroneous and amount to a distortion of what a genuine Christian witness might look like in the coming decades. The present essay attempts to draw some of the contours of what such a Christian witness may look like. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Churches in Europe and the Challenge of Cultural Witness)
15 pages, 237 KiB  
Article
Inclusive Heritage: Implications for the Church of England
by Renie Chow Choy
Religions 2023, 14(3), 360; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel14030360 - 09 Mar 2023
Viewed by 1516
Abstract
The Church of England’s historic buildings represent the single largest group of heritage sites in the UK, playing a key public-facing role in the church’s ‘cultural witness’. However, they are complex historic environments implicated in the recent focus on ‘contested heritage’ and imperial [...] Read more.
The Church of England’s historic buildings represent the single largest group of heritage sites in the UK, playing a key public-facing role in the church’s ‘cultural witness’. However, they are complex historic environments implicated in the recent focus on ‘contested heritage’ and imperial legacies. The wider heritage sector’s answer to the adversarial nature of this debate has been to turn contested histories into dialogical opportunities; participatory and collaborative approaches to interpretation and curation have become an important feature of much recent secular heritage work. Yet, the CofE has not yet articulated or embraced the value of similar initiatives for its own collections, with guidance at the institutional level aimed primarily at conservation and protection. This paper initiates a discussion about how engagement with sensitive memories enhances the importance of CofE’s cultural heritage. It offers a preliminary report of a research project led by the author titled ‘Inclusive Interpretations of Christian Heritage’, carried out between 2021 and 2022 at iconic churches in central London. After discussing the theoretical context, project rationale, and method, the paper discusses the connections which Christians from ethnic minority or immigrant backgrounds have to ecclesiastical spaces usually associated with national history. The perspectives of previously unrepresented groups can supplement expert assessments concerning a site’s significance, revealing important areas in which the CofE’s cultural assets hold meaning beyond national or aesthetic importance. The paper argues that widening community engagement represents a crucial task for accentuating the social and civic importance of the CofE’s cultural heritage. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Churches in Europe and the Challenge of Cultural Witness)
13 pages, 282 KiB  
Article
What Kind of Theology Does the Church of the Future Need? Reflections in a European Context
by Ulrich H. J. Körtner
Religions 2023, 14(3), 329; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel14030329 - 01 Mar 2023
Viewed by 1019
Abstract
While Christianity is growing worldwide, especially in various forms of charismatic and Pentecostal churches, membership in the Protestant churches and in the Catholic Church are declining throughout Europe. A theology for the church of the future, particularly a theology for pastoral ministry, needs [...] Read more.
While Christianity is growing worldwide, especially in various forms of charismatic and Pentecostal churches, membership in the Protestant churches and in the Catholic Church are declining throughout Europe. A theology for the church of the future, particularly a theology for pastoral ministry, needs an understanding of the church that is at once relevant to practical pastoral ministry and congregational work as well as awareness of the processes of change and upheaval. This paper argues that there is a need for a contemporary theology of diaspora. At the center of this paper is the question of how God can be spoken of in a theologically responsible way under present conditions without dissolving all theology into anthropology and ethics. The crisis of faith in modern Western secular societies is essentially a crisis of the language of faith. Theology in crisis and a theology for times of crisis—both have the task of waiting: waiting for God’s new entry into the world, for his coming, and for him to speak to us in a new way by making the language of the biblical tradition speak and appeal to us anew. Such a theology for times of crisis is precisely not resigned, but highly expectant, as can be learned from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Churches in Europe and the Challenge of Cultural Witness)
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