First, some background material:
But now in Christ Jesus, you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached [the gospel of] peace to you were far off and peace to those who were near.
EPHESIANS 2:13–17 (ESV)
We launched the Ephesians 2 Gospel Project (E2GP) through my work with Mission ONE in January 2021. The key idea of the Ephesians 2 Gospel Project is this: There is a social and horizontal dimension to the gospel of Christ because there is a social and horizontal dimension to the atonement of Christ (Eph 2:13–17). Our short-term goal is a book. Our desired long-term impact is God’s people drawn into and embodying Christ’s peacemaking work through the gospel.
E2GP is a two-year research project which includes:
- listening to and learning from the Global Church, including Mission ONE ministry partners,
- grappling with relevant questions about the gospel, the atonement of Christ, the global mission of the church, and why the church has sometimes been complicit with conflict and violence,
- reading relevant literature (books and articles) on history, theology, missiology, the social sciences,
- writing a book (to be co-authored with Kristin Caynor), which is the catalyst for developing other resources for learning and practice,
- facilitating a fellowship of Christian scholars and practitioners around the world to study and embody the gospel of peace as a solution to collective-identity conflict in the church in their own nations and contexts.
Since last January, Kristin Caynor has been contributing as a research assistant to the Ephesians 2 Gospel Project. Kristin grew up on the mission field; she and her parents serve with a mission organization similar to Mission ONE. Kristin is a qualified researcher. She has a lot of cross-cultural ministry experience, has a passion for helping marginalized peoples in the global church, and is a Ph.D. candidate at Trinity College Bristol/University of Aberdeen. (Check it out: Kristin’s recent lecture on the Ephesians 2 Gospel Project is for the Centre for the Study of Bible and Violence; it is outstanding. You can view the video here.)
About Germany and the Ephesians 2 Gospel Project
I am the son of German immigrant parents. My father was a soldier in Hitler’s army; he was a prisoner of war in Poland for four years. He became mentally ill in my teenage years. I took on a shadow of shame from my father and family.
Concerning WW2 Germany, the juxtaposition of two truths (below) should cause us to shudder.
- WW2 Germany and Europe was the location of a massive violence and bloodshed. A central part of this conflict was the Holocaust (or Shoah). It was a deliberate, sustained, unspeakable evil. It was murder on the largest scale committed against the Jews on behalf of the supposed superiority of the German (Aryan) race.
- At the time of Hitler’s rule, Germany’s people identified as 97% Christian.
Here’s how Holocaust scholar Robert Ericksen describes this statistic of Germany’s people identifying as 97% Christian.
“When Adolf Hitler came to power, 97 percent of the German population considered itself Christian, with about two-thirds being Protestant and one-third Catholic. Less than 1 percent of Germans were Jewish in 1933, and only a slightly larger percentage registered as pagans or nonbelievers. It is true that the entire 97 percent registered as Christian did not attend church regularly or maintain a vibrant Christian identity. However, all of them agreed to pay the church tax, money they could have saved by the simple act of leaving their church. Furthermore, they received religious education in all German schools, and, of course, many of these 97 percent of the population were fervent Christians active in their faith. Germany in the 1930s almost certainly represented church attendance and a sense of Christian commitment and identity similar to that in America today, for example.”
ROBERT P. ERICKSEN, COMPLICITY IN THE HOLOCAUST: CHURCHES AND UNIVERSITIES IN NAZI GERMANY (NEW YORK: CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2012), 9.
In Germany: Centuries of accrued Christian influence from the church, a population that identifies as 97% Christian … and yet, the Holocaust. How does this add up? How can this be?
Missionaries and missions scholars sometimes speak of the “redemptive lift” that comes to a community when the gospel of Jesus is embraced. I believe this.
But what happened in WW2 Germany? Widespread systemic evil and violence occurred in the society, despite the broad sustained influence of Christianity. Could it be that in the rise of Hitler’s Germany, somehow Christianity was complicit with a redemptive fall?
- Was there a dimension of the gospel de-emphasized, tragically ignored?
- Was there a cosmic, systemic dimension of sin ignored?
- Were there forces—social, systemic, cosmic—against which the German peoples’ Christian faith had little or no defense?
- Did the church in Germany ignore, abuse, or conceal the gospel text of Ephesiasn 2?
- Is the gospel of peace (Eph 2:13–17; 6:15) about individual, vertical, personal peace-with-God—or something more social, horizontal, and corporate?
We hope to address these questions, among many others, in the Ephesians 2 Gospel Project through a journey together in the Global Church.
What can we learn from the tragic failure of the church in WW2 Germany? How might these lessons apply to nations today that are dealing with collective identity conflict or tribal conflict? What lessons can we learn about the kind of gospel we are preaching and living?
More on the Ephesians 2 Gospel Project will appear here in forthcoming posts from our ongoing research.
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