I’m not a skilled gardener. I know little about plants, flowers, soil types, or gardening techniques. During the time of COVID confinement earlier this year, my kids and I planted a variety of seeds and have since harvested a sad handful of each type of vegetable. Just yesterday my son pulled a single red tomato from the plant, and we wondered if the other tiny green ones would ever become red. Because of my lack of horticultural knowledge or talent, I find great encouragement in the passages of Scripture that speak of God’s effectiveness and expertise as a gardener.
One such passage, the parable of the sower (found multiple places – Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8), is a familiar one to most of us. We relate to the images of God as the sower and of His Word, the seed, falling on different types of heart-soils. As a missionary, I occasionally think about this parable as I talk to a friend about Jesus and pray that the good news takes root in the soil of her heart. The image of soil can also be a helpful one when we speak of missions in a certain context, be it a city, a people-group, a country, or even a continent.
Just as one word cannot capture the spiritual landscape of the United States, no one adjective can describe the soil of Europe. Even within Western Europe, where I’ve lived for several years, many spiritual distinctions exist among different countries and cultures. In general, however, Europe is considered to be “post-Christendom.” Christianity has a rich history here, but Europe as a culture has moved beyond the Christian worldview into secular humanism. The spiritual soil possesses almost none of the cultural receptors to Christianity that one might find in many parts of America; Biblical Christianity and the God of the Bible are viewed at best as relics that some people still find useful and at worst as tools of oppression wielded throughout European history. Many Europeans have no concept of church other than the large building in the center of town that often attracts more tourists than worshippers…