Twenty years after the demonstrations that brought down the Berlin Wall, many say East Germany is spiritually moribund. The former Soviet state is today a majority-atheist society with little memory of Christianity, let alone the Reformation.
But some formerly liberal church leaders have a newfound interest in evangelism.
"We have rediscovered that mission belongs to the very nature of the church," said Michael Herbst, co-director of the Institute for the Study of Evangelism and Community Development at the University of Greifswald, in a recent speech.
The Nazi and Soviet regimes that ruled East Germany tried to de-Christianize the cradle of the Reformation. After months of bloodless demonstrations, East Germany opened its borders on November 9, 1989.
Uwe Siemon-Netto, director of the Center for Lutheran Theology and Public Life, says the German Protestant church recognized the fall of the Berlin Wall as a miracle. "Then," he said, "it flipped back and returned to its goofy liberal ways."
To many East Germans, the social gospel preached from many Protestant pulpits sounded very much like a successor to Nazi and Soviet propaganda, Siemon-Netto said. It failed to draw people.
Today, Herbst estimates that more than 70 percent of East Germans—compared with 30 percent of West Germans—know virtually nothing about Christianity.
Ulrich Parzany succeeded Billy Graham as the main speaker at ProChrist evangelistic meetings, held about every three years since reunification. Parzany says he was standing in front of a Berlin church as some young adults passed by. Referring to the giant crucifix over the entrance, one of them asked, "Who is that guy hanging up there?"
A similar encounter with students convinced Wolfgang Huber, chairman ...