The Failure of Secularism & The Hope of Evangelism feat. Raphael Anzenberger

Read Time: 5 minutes
By: City Gospel Movements

Raphael Anzenberger is an evangelist, speaker, and author with a passion to raise up the next generation of leaders. He is also an adjunct professor of International Studies at Columbia International University, the Director of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) in France for the French-speaking world, the President of France Evangelization, and the CEO of Global Evangelist Forum. He was named the Billy Graham Lausanne Scholar for 2018. He is married with four kids and lives in the town of Nice, France. 

Listen now or read show notes below!

You are someone with a heart for evangelism who is from FRance and Currently living in France. Can You Tell us what life is like in your world?

I think that living in France right now is the best time in the past 50 years when it comes to gospel engagement. We are now coming to what is called in sociology “the second phase of secularization.” We have been all the way down the road of secularism and found that there’s actually nothing there, and so today–more than ever–people are asking the big questions. This means that we now get to see tremendous fruit across Europe. People listening to this podcast episode might be surprised to hear that in France we are currently opening one new church every 10 days—and that’s a net figure counting those that we’re closing! Spain is opening a new church every three days. So that just gives you an idea of the strength of the evangelical movements across Europe. 

Of course, depending on where you are (Scandinavia, the United Kingdom, Germany, Netherlands), they’re still struggling with nominal Christians leaving the church. In a sense, the state church and the nominal Christian faith is basically gone. What you’re left with is a militant minority–either Catholic, Orthodox, Evangelical, or Protestant.

The good thing is we are seeing more and more interaction between those militant minorities coming together, not only to think about how we can speak about one voice to ethical issues like euthanasia and the question of the sanctity of life, but also issues pertaining to missiology. We’re asking, “How do we evangelize together? How do we make Christ known in unity?”

So it’s a new day; it’s a new world; it’s a new Europe. You add on top of that the fact that we have this migration wave coming from East Africa and the Middle East. Just taking my church in Nice, it’s a congregation of about 150 congregates. In the middle of that 150 people, you’ve got 50 Iranians who’ve just showed up overnight–and they’re coming to Christ. Overall, it’s just a new day for Europe, and it’s fascinating to see how the Holy Spirit is empowering his Church to think creatively about missions and cultural engagement in this new age. 

Can you expand on walking down the path of secularization and realizing there’s nothing there? How do you determine this has really happened?

I have a good description of secularism. Think about it as a parasite. The only reason why secularism is functioning is because it’s feeding on religion–mostly state or national religions. Once the religion is collapsing, there is nothing to feed on and the parasite dies.

If you take the story of France back in the Enlightenment, there was a struggle among the political leaders of how to build a future for France and Europe knowing there was conflict between Catholics and Protestants and that Europe was at war. It’s not possible to build a society on religion because it’s too complex. Out of that rose the idea of deism. Deism says there is a God who is the first architect and the first mover. There are many different theological persuasions, but leaders thought, “Let’s not put those forefront in order to build a society.”

Then you move into the 19th and 20th century. The idea of God as a first mover is becoming even more exotic with thinkers like Niche, Freud, and Marx. So when you come to the end of the 1900s, the idea of God is so foreign that it becomes a new idea for new people who want transcendence. I’ve seen that actually with no ideas of God and just in the pure immanent frame, as Charles Teller would say, is just very difficult. There is some cross-pressure when you live in this bubble where people will tell you that there’s nothing outside of the immanent frame. The young people who are born in this context are not mad people. 

Now, there are some who have lifted their eyes, and they’re starting to say, “I think there is more to life than what is told in movies and what is told in school. I think there is a bigger secret that nobody wants to talk about.” That’s where religion has an opportunity to come back on the scene and say, “Yeah, let us tell you the story that we forgot” not because we don’t want to hear it, but because we forgot about it. That’s the big difference. When I’m talking with young people who are ages 30 and under, it’s not that they don’t want to talk about God, but rather that they have forgotten to talk about God, or they don’t know how to talk about God when they don’t have any definition from which to start. 

Is it that they forgot to talk about God or the generation ahead of them forgot to talk about God?

The generation before them didn’t want to talk about God so that’s why they became an Alzheimer on that category. But then the sons and daughters who were raised in this don’t have any prior ideas about religion. For instance, there was an interesting survey done in 2010 in France and across Europe. We were asking kids who were 12-13 years old, “If I say the word ‘religion,’ what comes to your mind?” And across the spectrum in France, they said, “Islam.” That’s the thing that came to their mind when you say the word ‘religion.’

The second question was, “Is this something positive or negative?” to which they would say it’s something positive. The next question was, “Why do you say ‘positive’?”, to which they would say, “At least a Muslim believes in something, and they do something about it. They own it and it’s not just something high in the sky. They do Ramadan, they stick to their conviction, and as a generation raised in a pluralist context, we applaud the fact that they can be militant and abide to their belief.”

That was a complete shock. Sociology didn’t see that coming, but the fact is the new generation are not relativists. They don’t believe that things are equal in themselves. 

Relativism might be a problem in the States, but it’s not a problem in Europe because we understand that we can’t all be right about the same thing at the same time. Still, they’re a pluralistic generation in a sense that they understand that today, there’s no domination of any single narrative. We live in a mosaic of different narratives and religious and non-religious people will have their place in this marketplace of ideas. It’s a free place to travel and discover and explore. They want to know what you are talking about and why you are believing those things and what difference that makes in your life. These are great opportunities for evangelists to thrive. 

Knowing what you know now about this way of thinking and the things Current generations are feeling, how do you engage in this culture with the Gospel? 

The particularity of that new generation is that they want to see truth embodied in reality. That means we have to go beyond, as Dallas Willard would say, the “pure ideas,” and sometimes for the generation before them, God was a pure idea. They would think, “I believe in God, but there’s reality. I need to wake up Monday morning and pay bills.” It’s almost functional atheism, almost like, “I’m a Christian, but I function like an atheist.” So this new generation will not buy into this because they don’t have time for pure ideas. 

They are busy living in a world of crisis. Europe is in crisis. You have migration waves, you have unemployment, you have a rise of nationalism, so in a sense it’s Brexit every day. Are we in or out? What do we choose? Whatever you propose needs to be embedded in reality.

The only credible hermeneutic of the Gospel for the 21st century is a church that believes in the Gospel. That’s very much what we are aiming at. As evangelicals in France we are aiming to plant a church for every 10,000 people, so that means moving from 2,000 existing churches to 6,000 thriving churches because it’s only when evangelicals can have access to a local church that you have both unity and diversity in the community. This is the idea of the 50 Iranians under the same roof as 20 other nationalities and multiple generations who are worshipping the same God under the same roof. That just blows my mind!

It’s heavily divided in Europe and you think the only solution is being pro-Europe or being a nationalist. Then you walk into a building like this on Sunday morning and you see faith, hope, love, unity, diversity, and community (which is basically the project of European fathers). In the church you see loving fellowship. It doesn’t take the young people too long to figure out that there’s power in the message of this proclaiming, and it is embodied in the living community. That’s where the hermeneutic of the gospel stays and lays. Let’s invest in our churches so they can be beautiful pictures of what it means to be reconciled in God and through God. Be a friend in Jesus and for Jesus to whole nations. 

How has France Embodied the gospel in a whole-hearted way? How are you trying to catalyze This whole-hearted living in the 2,000 existing churches, but also in the newly planted churcheS?

Part of it is recovering for those churches the idea that if you want to be a hermeneutic of the gospel, you need to be in a place where you’re seen. You have to remember that in France for centuries, evangelicals were persecuted, so the idea of being visible was not there; it was a luxury. You had to hide because of your faith. So we are moving from a ghetto mentality or a persecuted minority mentality to a place where we become visible. It’s a huge cultural trajectory for us to be visible, and it’s incredible in a sense.

Today, when we think about church plants and talk about the centers of influence in the city, we have to wrestle with how should live together and embody the church in that very same place. We are also exploring new ways to be the church, not just as a building, but as a community. This is not just on Sunday mornings, but also as an everyday community living with one another for the sake of God and the world. It requires us to play around with this missional theology and explore what it means in terms of gospel and cultural engagement. Then the forms of the church become vehicles to accelerate this cultural engagement. 

My good friend Tim and his team are planting a church in the heart of the city of Leon, and if you walk into their church, it looks like a shared workspace. Three-quarters of the people working at the desks are non-Christians. You have graphic designers and gamers–it’s a very interesting crowd–but they start every morning and finish every evening with prayer. They start at 7am with a prayer meeting and end at 6:30pm with a prayer meeting. The beauty of it is that those who come to this place to work will stay an extra half hour at 6:30 to listen to how we finish the day as a church.

During the prayer times, we ask “Where was God today? What did He show you? If today was to be done over again, what would be different?” We sort of look back. This new generation is always looking forward with a mentality of progress. They don’t know how to look back or mourn things they should have done differently. So in this community, they listen to that question of “Where was God today?” and they are fascinated by the question and want to share! And at the end, we pray for them, by name, and that’s the first time that they think, “I am someone. Someone is praying to God, who I can’t see, but it doesn’t mean because I can’t see Him that He’s not there. And this God knows me by my name.” Talk about a huge Copernical Revolution for them. 

This way of work life is moving from the immanent to the transcendent. It’s there, and it’s in community reading the word of God. You think about how you live your life with God. This is very powerful.

On Sunday they do happy hour because it’s downtown Leon, so there are a lot of happy hours going around. So they call the church service ‘Happy Hour’ since it’s from 5:00-7:00. They move the desks around, and the co-working space becomes a chapel. They sit up to 70-80 people (it’s cram-packed), and they worship God with all the kids. It’s just a holy mess in a sense; it’s beautiful and chaotic, but it’s in the everyday context. That’s the beauty of it. The people who were there on Monday, Tuesday, and Friday come back on Sunday with their spouse, friend, or partner, and they start journeying together. They are starting to act like a Christian without being a Christian and without being caught up in these social habits, and they’re realizing, “God is for me and knows me by my name. He has a plan for me and He loves me.” That’s where as we continue to proclaim the gospel and walk with them, they’re born from above right there. 

Would you say that model is something that is necessary for the evangelistic church to move forward?

Absolutely. It goes even further than this. When we planted a church seven years ago, we thought, “Let’s plant a church with the non-Christians.” It was a crazy idea, but it totally worked. They gave us the best ideas in terms of location, business plan, how to finance it–even how to decorate it. Then you have your non-Christian neighbor who helped you plant a church and brings his whole family plus the students in the same class as his son and the teacher, and he shares the gospel for you and says they need to come to church. As an evangelist, you look at this and think, “Am I living in the real world or am I the only one to see the beauty in this?” 

It’s a generation that knows what they’re here for. I have American missionaries who come to France undercover, and I’m like, “Are you serious? You think they don’t know what you’re doing? Come on. You don’t need to do that anymore. You just say, ‘The reason I’m here is because you need to know the One who has changed my life.’” As Europeans we can understand that. Consider that yes, you have something to offer them, but they also have something to offer you. That’s the beauty of it! That’s how Jesus is in the gospel; it’s not monologue. You see Him being impacted and challenged by the non-Christians, and it’s a dialogue. That doesn’t mean that we’re relativistic in the whole story. We know what the gospel is, but we welcome the fact that we want to journey with the ones who are struggling and seeking. 

How do you teach evangelists differently Now than when you first started? 

It started ten years ago we started the Global Evangelist Forum by redefining what is an evangelist. There’s a lot of confusion out there. There’s a lot of confusion because there is some image in people’s minds. So when you think about evangelists, you think about Luis Palau or Billy Graham. You think about the platform male, more mature, evangelist.

If we go back to scripture, look at Phillip the evangelist. He’s the only one called an evangelist. You can see that yes, he was doing mass evangelism in Samaria, but he was also doing one-on-one conversation with the Ethiopian eunuch and leading him to Christ all the way to the baptism. The beauty of it is that if you look at Phillip, there is a diversity of expression in the ministry of the evangelist and a capacity to give this passion to the next generation. 

First, we clarified what is an evangelist using scripture to make our case. We clarified that it is both male and female, not just male. Actually, the best evangelists in France right now are female evangelists. I have girls in our program who are in their 20s who for their holidays, go to Indonesia to help rescue girls who are being sex trafficked, and they’re full-time engineers! I have another one who moved to Africa because she saw the Arab Spring. She moved there as a single girl and is now pioneering evangelists across the North African peninsula. I’m a big fan. It’s very clear that it’s male and female. So first is clarifying what an evangelist is. 

Second, is welcoming the different kinds and expressions of evangelists. We recognize there are different kinds of evangelists such as those who are good with social media who we call “internet evangelists.”

Third, is to recreate the link that has been broken for 2,000 years of church history between the ministry of the evangelists and the evangelical church. The evangelists were not always well-received within the church, and they had to reinvent themselves. So we see this tension between evangelistic ministries and local churches and how we come together. Part of the question is: how do we reconcile evangelistic ministries with local churches so we have gospel engagement within the city? Part of the challenge is to say to pastors, “Evangelists are not all affiliated with Luis Palau Association. They are also in your church. They’re male and female, so what are you doing for them?”

The book Rediscovering the Ministry of the Evangelist was written for pastors as a guide on how to spot evangelists within your congregation and how to train and release them. Studies have shown time and time again that there’s a direct correlation between your capacity as a church to recognize the evangelists in your midst and revivalism/evangelistic impact. It’s a 1:1 correlation.

In older churches we’ve been helping in this journey, once they release the evangelists that Jesus gave them, the missional and evangelistic impact has been correlated to the same degree. It’s not rocket science. Are you longing for your church to be evangelistically-driven? Then recognize those who Jesus has already given you sitting in your pews. They often wouldn’t even call themselves evangelists, and it’s up to us to clarify the lines, welcome the diversity, and release the gifting in the local church. 

Stephanie: It’s interesting because I come out of the tech world and oftentimes you find the top thinkers who create the next big thing and companies work to keep those thinkers in their organization. Companies don’t want to lose those thinkers if they choose to go out and do their own thing.

What if churches did the same thing with evangelists? What if churches worked to keep the evangelists inside their community to be a catalyst in and around that same community? If we don’t help raise evangelists up and show them the opportunity inside the church, then we’ve missed the opportunity to infuse others with the idea that they, too, can share their faith. 

What are your thoughts on the process of raising up evangelists?

We often say when we go out and organize those forums that it’s beautiful when we see colleagues and pastors engaging with the challenge of raising up evangelists and seeing the impact of it done well. Of course it’s always the same thing. When you have an evangelist, they’re constantly pushing, “I always have something to say about everything. We should be more evangelistic. Why is it that we still have an empty church? Why is everybody not sharing their faith?” We know that, but it’s because the evangelists were given to the church to be particularly concerned about evangelism, just like theologians who are concerned that people read their Bibles better. Evangelists were given to the church to make sure that we share our faith more effectively. 

In a sense, the Global Evangelist Forum and this network of evangelists is here to help local churches and evangelist  understand who they are and how they can serve the church better by being who they are called to be in the midst of God’s people. It’s a discussion that Billy Graham had back in the 1980s at the Amsterdam conference. In this generation, we are starting again because for every generation we need to recover the ministry of the evangelist. John Calvin would say, “We’ll always need the pastors, theologians, and elders, but the evangelists are an exceptional gift.” We need them every day, especially today in a post-secular society where you really want them to help the local church make sense of how you can be a hermeneutic of the gospel for a generation that is looking for Him. 

What are you dreaming about When you think of the next 5-10 years? 

Part of the work Ravi Zacharias International Ministries is doing is to go to places where the church is not yet. One particular place is the fashion industry. That’s been on my heart for quite a while. It’s interesting because we see more and more evangelical leaders who are involved in the fashion industry, and they are praying for the fashion industry. God is the first designer; it started with a sacrifice. Think about it, human beings are the only ones who wear clothes. Animals don’t spend hours in the morning wondering what they want to wear that day. That is a luxury of human beings.

Why is it that we love clothes? Why do we love design? Why do we love fashion? Why do we feel the need to cover our body? Talk about a conversation for today. I’m really excited to see more and more evangelists in the fashion industry (either as models, helping with design, or on the business side) thinking about how we can rediscover the beauty of the image of God in the fashion industry and how we can go in a different way to not abuse people in this sector. If you look into the industry you will find a lot of abuse and slavery, and it’s really sad. 

I’m thinking of Tatiana Hoffman who started an agency called There is Hope. The idea started one day when she was walking the street. She saw the homeless people, and she saw in them the image of God. She saw in them models. She approached them and said, “Do you want to be a model?” That’s an interesting conversation. Now she has five models who are coming from the streets and two of them walked for the Bethany Williams collection at the London Fashion Industry in early 2019. Bethany Williams received the Queen Elizabeth II award. Two of Tatiana’s models who walked were paid the same amount of money as the models who are on the first page of Vogue magazine. There is hope. 

For those who are interested in the program and investing in that field, let’s just recover the image of God in the world of fashion. God has something to say, and He’s the best and greatest designer. He is the one who covers our shame, fear, and guilt by covering it with the blood that will wash away every single sin. That’s good news for those who are struggling with sin and are struggling with identity or gender issues. God still has something to say. That one particular segment where I’m praying for the rise of forces to help us proclaim the beauty of the gospel in this place where it’s so needed. 

If people want to get a hold of you and see what you’re doing, how would they do that?

There is the RZIM website (or for French). I’m also on Twitter and Facebook, and I’d be happy to answer any questions you have.


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