Saturday, February 09, 2008

The Future Lies in the Past

The Future Lies in the Past
Why evangelicals are connecting with the early church as they move into the 21st century.
Chris Armstrong posted 2/08/2008 10:01AM

Today's ancient-future Christians have begun recovering buried veins of treasure—in exegesis, theology, spirituality, praxis, and ecclesiology—from the deepest deposits of our shared tradition. Today we live in a world more complex than ever before: more broken families, more disparity between rich and poor, a more confusing variety of life choices, and fewer accepted standards by which to sort it all out. We live in the ruins of modernity and have witnessed the failure of so many social silver bullets and "sure things" that we now distrust advertisers, politicians, and religious leaders alike. We viscerally feel the deceitfulness and woundedness of the human heart, and we know it does not yield to any one-size-fits-all solution, religious or otherwise.

It should not surprise us, then, that some of the ancient-future Christians, having recovered older truths and practices, are indulging a tendency to wield them as a stick to beat aspects of the traditional way of doing church.

They know intuitively that the individualism, consumerism, rationalism, and worldly definitions of success and happiness that have crept into some churches fail to touch hearts and mend relationships—human or divine.

And so, rejecting both rigid propositional definitions of the faith and the pragmatic promises of the church-growth movement, these Christians are seeking a way of living the faith that can be for them an anchor and a bulwark against the culture. At the same time, they seem to have learned the lessons of postmodernity, and thus are moving beyond the "golden age" approach of earlier attempts. Instead, they have begun to mix critique with appreciation and even reverence as they return to the historical sources. And it will take a great deal of wisdom to learn both the strengths and the limits of each phase of the history in which they hungrily seek answers.

From Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, and living, practicing monks and nuns, they must learn both the strengths and the limits of the historical ascetic disciplines.

From Tom Oden, D. H. Williams, and living, practicing Eastern Orthodox and Catholic brothers and sisters, they must learn both the strengths and the limits of engagement with the whole tradition of the whole church—one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.

From "missional" pioneers such as Lesslie Newbigin and George Hunsberger, and from such diverse sources as the Anabaptists and the Anglicans, they must learn the crucial power of the church. And they must understand it not as a pragmatic set of programs and organizations to be manipulated by managers into a cash machine for the needs of modern Westerners, but as the powerful, untamable, Spirit-driven, Mysterious Body of which Paul spoke.

This is the road to maturity. That more and more evangelicals have set out upon it is reason for hope for the future of gospel Christianity. That they are receiving good guidance on this road from wise teachers is reason to believe that Christ is guiding the process. And that they are meeting and learning from fellow Christians in the other two great confessions, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox, is reason to rejoice in the power of love.

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