“Jesus story shaped European story”: Jeff Fountain explains ignored origins of modern Europe

By Chris Eyte |
Europe history rooted in the Bible
The roots of modern Europe are found in the teachings of the Bible, Fountain argues. | Youtube Screenshot / EPinUK

Jeff Fountain, a journalist by trade, is the founder and director of the The Schuman Centre for European Studies. Originally from New Zealand and now living in Holland, he led Youth With A Mission (YWAM) in Europe for 20 years. He also helped create Hope for Europe, an umbrella initiative for evangelical groups on the continent.

In a three-part series by Christian Daily International, Fountain shares his perspectives for evangelicals on the spiritual landscape driving Europe, both past, present and future.

In this second of three articles, the former YWAM leader explains why Evangelicals need Bible-reading glasses to understand Europe. 

The gospel’s deep influence within the formation and politics of modern Europe needs to be better understood and reclaimed by evangelicals.

That is the view of Jeff Fountain, director of the Schuman Centre for European Studies, who emphasizes that the “Jesus story has shaped the European story.” According to Fountain, European history is prejudiced towards nationalistic points of view. Yet historically, it is the gospel of Jesus Christ, which actually led to the creation of modern Europe. 

“It is the coming of the story of Jesus brought by Paul to the Greeks and Romans, and then brought by Patrick to the Irish, and brought by Boniface to the Germans, and so on,” said Fountain. “The people hearing the gospel in the first millennium basically embraced a Christian understanding and worldview of one good Creator, a forgiving God and a human being created in his image.”   

Human rights rooted in Christian understanding

That is why, in Fountain’s perspective, the gospel value that every human being has dignity should be recognised as forming the background to the European Convention on Human Rights, the international treaty between nations within the Council of Europe, adopted on September 3, 1953.

“Human rights are totally rooted in a Christian understanding,” said Fountain. “Without that, there would not have been any concept of human rights because you cannot draw human rights from a godless understanding, a materialistic evolution where only the fittest survive. 

“There's no basis for equality there. There's no basis for the rights of the poor. And so, we've got to recognize that the whole of Europe, the character of Europe, the culture, the values, the story of Europe has been shaped by the gospel.”

Fountain concedes some “very dark chapters” in the history of the Church in Europe at times, “being a very bad representative of its founder.” He sees a paradox in Europe as a continent “most shaped by the gospel story” at the same time as it rejects the gospel in postmodern society.

This is seen in the sequences of some historical events: “We get to the Enlightenment, we get to the autonomy of man separated from the creator, and out of this comes deism and then agnosticism, and then atheism.”

Freedom under God or freedom from God?

Amsterdam, where Fountain has lived for many years, represents this paradox of “the contrast between the dark and light.”

“It’s a city of a thousand contradictions, we often say. And that comes from the tension between two different kinds of freedom. Freedom under God or freedom from God, freedom to do what you ought to do or freedom to do what you want to do.”

That same tension is felt throughout Europe too, Fountain opines, “but even so ‘we cannot really understand Europe without understanding something about Christianity and the Bible.’ That is a direct quote from evolution biologist Richard Dawkins.”

“That's why we need to tell the story. That's why we need to also insist that actually the lack of biblical knowledge is undermining our European culture. It undermines British culture, it undermines Dutch culture. And just on that basis alone, we should be having Bible courses in our schools and universities, not as evangelistic tools, but to explain: Where did these ideas come from? Where did these values come from? Where did these expressions come from?”

European literature, for example, draws heavily from the Bible, “and so we need to tell that story,” according to Fountain.  

Sitting in a 3D cinema without 3D glasses

“The problem is that it's like we're sitting in a 3D cinema theater waiting for the film to start. The manager comes in and says, ‘We hope you enjoy the movie. Unfortunately, somebody stole all the 3D glasses, but enjoy the movie.’”

In Fountain’s view, European leaders in education, politics, and media “don’t have the glasses on.” They are biblically illiterate, he believes, adding: “They are spiritually tone deaf, and therefore are giving two-dimensional education and politics and so forth.”

This leads to a proper challenge for the body of Christ “to be able to put the glasses back on to help interpret history again.”

That means looking at the development of the European Union in a “whole different light.” Fountain points out this does not mean he says the EU is “just a wonderful blessing.”

“There's a battle going on for the soul of Europe. It's a tug of war, and we have abdicated in that battle. We, as evangelical Christians, have too often stood on the sideline.”

“We are captive to a theology that is too small”

As highlighted in the earlier part of the article series, Fountain has spoken of the difficulty in finding evangelicals thinking about Europe. His surprise is finding that people who did think biblically about Europe came “from a part of the church that I was always led to have suspicions about, and that was the Catholic church.”

Fountain did a research paper interviewing 20 evangelical leaders from different countries, mainly from Western Europe, about evangelical attitudes towards European integration. He also examined the curricular of the International Council for Evangelical Theological Education.

“I could hardly find anything in that area [about Europe]. Now, I think what that says to me is that we evangelicals are very quick to say ‘Jesus is Lord of all’ but very slow to even teach that to our potential pastors.

“We don’t teach it to our theological seminaries, therefore I don’t think we really believe it. We’re still captive to a theology that’s too small and that’s a Lutheran theology of justification by faith, which is necessary. But we miss out on the Calvinistic emphasis of the sovereignty of God over every area of life.”

Full engagement rather than fear

Fountain, in his questioning of evangelical leaders, also saw that the idea of Europe being “the beast” had become less popular with younger people, despite “a boost” from literature such as the Tim La Haye’s Left Behind series about the End Times. “But among the young, [these ideas] are not so popular anymore. They don’t have so much traction.” 

There are signs of more engagement: Fountain highlights an upcoming meeting in early May between Christian academics presenting papers at an academic event called Blueprints of Hope in Utrecht, Holland, showing how the Church engaged in Europe at the end of the First World War, with the formation of the League of Nations.

“People like William Temple, the Archbishop of Canterbury, were part of this whole process of thinking through what would lead to a just, peaceful Europe. A Europe that would reflect some of the four freedoms that U.S. President Roosevelt talked about.”

Summarizing the war aims of the U.S. entering the Second World War in his ‘Annual Message to Congress (State of the Union Address)’ on January 6, 1941, Roosevelt spoke about the freedom of speech, the freedom of worship, the freedom from want, and the freedom from fear.

Even so, Fountain pinpoints this lack of attention by some evangelicals as being the reason why they currently miss full engagement in the “European situation.” 

“There’s lots of very good things happening in evangelical circles but we still have some serious blind spots.”