In its story of May 16, 2015, the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel carried a story tiled (on its cover at least) “Are Evangelicals Winning the World?” [That is my translation. The German wording is “Are Evangelicals conquering”¦” I substituted the less martial-sounding English “winning”. To the best of my knowledge, there is a remarkable scarcity of Evangelical suicide bombers.] The story states that Evangelical congregations are generally growing in Germany. But it concentrates on two congregations: one in Stuttgart, in western Germany, the other in a suburb of Dresden, in the former DDR (the defunct Communist German Democratic Republic.) The second location is particularly startling.
The Stuttgart congregation is described as the first American-style mega-church. It is also clearly Pentecostal or charismatic. On Sunday morning some 2,000 people attend services, close their eyes and raise their hands in ecstatic prayer, “speak in tongues” (meaningless babble to outsiders), and watch their preacher perform miracles of healing. The Dresden congregation is located in a suburban area that has been called the Saxon “Bible belt”, in yet another echo of America. Both regions have a long history of Pietism, the German phenomenon closest to American Evangelicalism (but without the miracles). Whether this Pietist heritage (going back some three-hundred years) provides some links with what is happening now is an open question. But the Dresden case raises a more proximate question: how relevant is its more recent history under Communism? The Austrian sociologist Paul Zulehner has called the former DDR one of three European countries in which atheism has become a sort of state religion (the other two are the Czech Republic and Estonia). Is this wild eruption of supernaturalism a delayed reaction to the period when the Communist regime made propaganda for “scientific atheism”? Immediately after the fall of that regime there was a popular revival of the much more sedate form of Protestantism of the Landeskirchen, the old post-Reformation state churches; that revival did not last very long after these churches lost their appeal as one of the few institutions at least relatively free from the control of the party.
According to some data, there are now about 1.3 million members of congregations united in something called the German Evangelical Alliance (the German word is “evangelisch”). T