Is Christianity dead in the water? Is today’s church merely a nostalgia-filled relic? Norway’s Olav Fykse Tveit is general secretary of the Geneva-based World Council of Churches; Lois Wilson is a past president of that body, as well as a former Canadian senator. We met in a coffee shop to discuss those questions:

The great cathedrals of Europe are mostly museums; churches across Toronto are sold off as condo sites; those still open are largely empty. Is the church finished?

Tveit: There is an increasing number of Christians around the world but the growth is mainly happening in the global south. If you look at Europe and North America, churches are not in good shape. Many people have a deep understanding of life as something “given,” but they have lost the language to say that this is a gift from God, and they have lost the institutional relationship to the church.

Wilson: I have 12 grandchildren, and they don’t want to be part of religious institutions, thank you. But they have questions about the meaning of their lives. What’s this all about? The trouble is that, in North America, the culture has moved along and the church has not kept up; it’s become irrelevant. I deplore the inward religious self-examination that’s become popular; faith is linked to yoga and walking in the woods; it’s not linked to where people are struggling, suffering and dying. That’s what it’s got to relate to if it’s going to matter.

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