The French Reconnection
At dusk on a chilly October day, I get on the metro train at Oberkampf, a trendy street on the east side of Paris. A mustached man in his 40s sits in front of me, sets his briefcase down, pulls out a yellow brochure from his jacket, and begins to read it.
"Scientific Proof" says the arguably apt title in French. I know what's insidean argument that humans' meticulous design points to the existence of a loving God; and that he wants us to live in union with him for eternity. If the reader wants to know more, he can fill out a contact form and send it to Jews for Jesus.
I wait for the commuter to do something stereotypically French, like crumple the pamphlet and cuss. But he studies it for about five minutes, which allows for a slow and thorough read. He sighs, and for a while appears to be deep in thought. He then folds the brochure and puts it in his pocket.
I don't pretend to know this man's religious background, but to me his curiosity represents a renewed openness to the gospel in France.
At the beginning of the 21st century, the postmodern French have deconstructed deconstructionism, seen through the utopia of socialism, and realized that wine and other sensual delights only go so far in filling what French philosopher Blaise Pascal described as the "God-shaped void." According to France Mission, an opinion poll conducted in March 2003 showed that 32 percent of those who call themselves Christians have recently returned to the faith. In 1994, only 13 percent said so.
You see this trend in the writings of French intellectuals and philosophers who are products of the 1960s sexual revolution when "it was forbidden to forbid," says Mark Farmer, former pastor of a Baptist church across from the Louvre. The most articulate plea for France to re-examine its Judeo-Christian roots came recently in Jean-Claude Guillebaud's critically acclaimed Re-founding the World: The Western Testament.
"What's this? A French intellectual starting his book with a quote from Psalm 1?" Farmer recalls his reaction to first paging through the volume. "And he's got a chapter on the apostle Paul? He starts the book by saying that the 20th century has been a century of disillusion. Marxism, evolution, socialism, hedonism, wars have all failed us. He says it's easy to be pessimistic, but there are some things that we appreciate about our civilization. For example, the notion of right and wrong that transcends any culturewhere does that come from? He stops short of saying that he himself has become a Christian, but he's led the horses to the water."
The sales of another bookthe Bibleare at a historic high, according to the French Bible Society. In 2003which Christians promoted as the Year of the BibleFBS's publishing house sold an unprecedented 100,000 Bibles and 50,000 New Testaments, says Christian Bonnet, the group's secretary general. At the time of our conversation, the Bible with life application notes for seekers, La Bible Expliquée, had just sold a record 80,000 copies in one month. In the last 15 years, Bonnet says, secular bookstores, "which never wanted to sell Bibles before," and major supermarket chains began selling Bibles.
The search for God in the most secular country of Europe is so universally felt that even a business journalthe equivalent of Forbes or Fortunewas compelled to publish a special issue in July and August of 2003 whose cover exclaimed, "God, the Stocks Are Rising!" Its 72 pages describe the surge of interest in religion and its effect on the business world, says Paris-based International Teams missionary Steve Thrall. The contents page announces that "after a materialistic 20th century, religions are coming back in force. In France, this rise in spirituality is pushing out secularism in both schools and business."