The birthplace of the Enlightenment.
Here, one must be competent (or at least conversant) in philosophy in order to graduate from High School. Thinking and debating are national pastimes. In response to the Gilets Jaunes—the Yellow Jackets—President Emanuel Macron wrote a letter to all the people of France inviting them to participate in a three-month “major national debate.”  All the mayors’ offices are being required to host local meetings/debates hear out the concerns and listen to the ideas of the people.
Though many French people found fault with this plan, it does show that the reflex of a modern French thinker like Macron is to invite debate.
The French can argue and debate and disagree while remaining connected to one another in deep, faithful friendship. They do not see opposing ideas or even differing ideals as obstacles to relationship. In fact, quite the contrary. Debate among friends keeps things interesting.
This characteristic is also present in the church, a trait that can shock USAmericans. During an organized round table between visitors from our home church in the States (a church of 4000, avg. age 50) and members of our church plant here in Lyon (a church of 30, avg. age 22), we asked each group “What could you learn from the other church?” and “What could you offer to the other?” In complete sincerity, our French friends said, “We could offer you criticism.” In fact, the French view careful, thoughtful critique as a gift.
This openness to debate goes back to the Enlightenment, also called “the Age of Reason,”, when great thinkers began to question everything that had previously been taken for granted and “embraced the notion that humanity could be improved through rational change.” The Enlightenment paved the way for what Adam Seligman termed “modernity’s wager,” which is the belief that “all life can be lived well without need for God’s agency.”
The much-needed criticism of the religious and political structures of the time led many French people to throw the baby Jesus out with the Church bath water. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, USAmerican church responded with a pull towards conservativism and fundamentalism that led to a resistance to intellectualism. Mark Noll, in his book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, laments this resistance, which in many ways persists today. Rather than embracing research and discovery as core components of the Christian experience, many USAmerican Christians view intellectual pursuits as superfluous at best and antithetical at worst.
Looking past the ethnocentrism of the title (not ALL evangelicals suffer from this problem, so perhaps Noll should have titled his book “The Scandal of the American Evangelical Mind), this book enable me to see one of the strengths of the French and gave me a deeper appreciation for the Body of Christ and our need for one another.
Noll observes, “Unlike Europe-where Christian communities were often aristocratic, elitist, and traditional, and where churches were increasingly alienated from the common people, in America, Christian churches were populist, democratic, and libertarian, and the churches were strongly identified with the common people.”
While the Enlightenment triggered the French Revolution, it was later Napoleon who declared French to be the national language of France, a move that aimed to elevate the common people (who spoke hundreds of different local dialects) to the level of royalty—who spoke French. From that point forward, when one corrected another’s French it was seen as grace, a hand up; in other words, criticism was a gift.
And while I love the accessibility of USAmerican Christianity, I know that its anti-intellectualism has had a felt negative impact on our evangelisation efforts in France. People like Donald Trump and George W. Bush are the most broadly recognized USAmerican evangelicals, and my French brothers and sisters shudder to be associated with un-intellectual their ilk. Most evangelicals in France are passionate about environmental issues, embrace socialism as a compassionate and fair economic system, and love intellectual pursuits.
Case in point, one of our members recently suggested that the church host some evenings of debate around the current events, including the Gilets Jaunes, global warming, and refugees and immigrants. The goal is not to teach people what they should think about these things, but to think together about how we as the body of Christ can and should participate in these issues as citizens of God’s kingdom on earth. Intellectualism is embraced, and faith and human discovery inform each other as companions. This is a gift that French believers can offer to the world.
As Roxbury and Robinson write of millennials who are leaving the Church in the US and elsewhere, “They are fed up with churches talking about themselves in a world facing such massive challenges.” Christians who believe that the God is the King of this world are not afraid to talk about the need for intellect, discovery, and advancement. Indeed, they should be leading the way.
 “Letter from M. Emmanuel Macron to the French people,” elysee.fr, accessed February 21, 2019, https://www.elysee.fr/emmanuel-macron/2019/01/13/letter-to-the-french-people-from-emmanuel-macron.en.
 “Macron’s Open Letter on a ‘grand Debate’ Comes under Fire from Rivals, Yellow Vests,” France 24, January 14, 2019, https://www.france24.com/en/20190114-french-dubious-response-macron-open-letter-national-debate-yellow-vests.
 History com Editors, “Enlightenment,” HISTORY, accessed February 21, 2019, https://www.history.com/topics/british-history/enlightenment.
 Alan J. Roxbury and Martin Robinson, Practices for the Refounding of God’s People: The Missionological Challenge of the West (New York, NY: Church Publishing, 2018).
 Mark A Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2008).
 Noll, 68.
 Roxbury and Robinson, Practices for the Refounding of God’s People: The Missionological Challenge of the West, 8.