As I read the preamble of The Gospel Coalition’s foundation documents for the first time, I couldn’t help but think that what the Council described from a North American perspective as a challenge to the gospel is an even greater concern for Europe: “We have become deeply concerned about some movements within traditional evangelicalism that seem to be diminishing the church’s life and leading us away from our historic beliefs and practices.”
The church in Germany is not in a good state. Officially more than 60 percent of all Germans are Christians, with roughly 30 percent (or 24 million) being—-mostly nominally—-members of the Roman Catholic Church and another 30 percent in the membership of the Protestant state churches (mainly Lutheran). Sadly, Germany is not only the land of the Reformation, it is also the home of liberal theology, which has caused most of the Lutheran state churches to move far away from sound doctrine and practice.
The corruption of the state churches led in the middle of the 19th century to the formation of non-state church congregations and denominations. But these account, according to official statistics, for no more than roughly 330,000 members (less than 0.5 percent of all Germans). And even these churches are seeing troubling liberalization tendencies. While a fair number of churches are committed to sound doctrine, a growing number of evangelical churches question the complete trustworthiness of Scripture and deny biblical teaching on gender roles in the home and the church. In some of these already small evangelical circles the erosion of sound doctrine is going even further. Even the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement is coming under attack.
So reading about the concerns in the TGC preamble resonated with me. But it was not primarily the expressed concern that caught my attention. I was moved by the resolve of Christian leaders to act for the renewal of the church and the glory of God and their call to unite with them: “Our desire is to serve the church we love by inviting all our brothers and sisters to join us in an effort to renew the contemporary church in the ancient gospel of Christ so that we truly speak and live for him in a way that clearly communicates to our age.”
But what can a pastor do to promote gospel growth beyond the boundaries of the local church he serves? This was a question I asked myself as I returned to my home country Germany to serve a local church as pastor. I knew of a number of ministers who sensed the gospel was being side-lined in far too many churches of various denominations. Some of them felt very much alone in their desire and effort to promote gospel-centered ministry, and many of them saw a lack of good German-language resources.
In early 2009 one friend wrote about The Gospel Coalition: “At least once a week I think: Don’t we need something like this in Germany, too?” I knew there was only one answer.
We started to brainstorm how to get something going. As we planned our first meeting, God provided unexpected help in the person of John Piper, who had agreed to speak at a conference in Germany and was willing to then join our group for a dinner, where he shared some of his experiences with The Gospel Coalition.
Not surprisingly, with Piper as dinner guest, nearly everyone we hoped would join our first brainstorming meeting came. The dinner with Piper was inspirational, and yet we all agreed that the greatest joy and encouragement for all of us was to meet each other and discover that we all had very similar hopes and desires.
Over the course of the next couple years we met a number of times, talked theology, and ended up writing a confessional statement heavily influenced by The Gospel Coalition but adapted to fit the German context and our joined convictions.
In late 2010 we formalized our group and adopted our confessional statement. We chose the name Evangelium21, evangelium being the German word for gospel and 21 indicating that we want to promote the same old gospel in the 21st century. Following the example of The Gospel Coalition we decided to be very slow to include new people into the core group in order to maintain the vision and the atmosphere of close friendship. Yet we created a website and invited those who would like to join the effort to sign the confessional statement and thus to become a member of the Evangelium21 network.
In the summer of 2011, we then went public with a first conference, co-hosted with 9Marks. Matt Schmucker, 9Marks vice president, joined us as the main speaker and gave us further inspiration and guidance. It was a small beginning with 280 registered participants and nearly 400 people in attendance for the evening sessions, yet it was a hugely encouraging time.
The conference received some coverage in Christian magazines. Other like-minded people got in touch with us, so the movement is slowly growing. Our second conference will be held May 13 to 15, 2012, and we are delighted that D. A. Carson and John Piper agreed to come to Germany and serve as the main speakers. We will focus on the doctrine of the Word of God. It is our hope that this conference will further raise our profile and help us gain greater influence to promote gospel-centered thinking.
Not all is moving forward as hoped. It was our great hope to be able to write and translate good material that could promote gospel-centered ministry. Yet since we are all busy with full-time occupations, there is little time. God has graciously provided some donors, and we are hoping to be able to hire someone on an hourly basis to help write and translate good material for our website.
One of the greatest joys for us is linking arms with several other groups that often operate in small theological niches or local areas. By going public we have been able to get connected with individuals and groups we otherwise would not have known about. We don’t know what will come out of our small efforts. This is in God’s hands, so we are praying that he might be pleased to use this small effort to bring gospel growth to German-speaking Europe.
In a completely unexpected positive side effect, we have gotten in touch with a small group in French-speaking Europe that is hoping to form a similar gospel partnership, possibly even using the same name in French, Evangile21.
The Gospel Coalition is a huge blessing for North America. Yet many parts of the world are in even greater need of encouragement and help in recovering the biblical gospel. Realizing this, we are very grateful for the wonderful resources The Gospel Coalition has been making available through the internet to foster a truly global gospel coalition. In this way TGC is fulfilling its goal “to generate a unified effort among all peoples—-an effort that is zealous to honor Christ and multiply his disciples, joining in a true coalition for Jesus.”