Thursday, February 21, 2008

I'm trying to take it easy today, while regrouping with homeschooling and catching up on laundry....

Another Godspell mom told me that her little daughter said with surprise, during the second weekend of performances, "Man, nobody does laundry around here anymore!"

Yeah, it's one of those tradeoffs we theater moms have to make. (But in ten or twenty years, I doubt I'll wish I'd stayed home doing laundry!)

But in an effort to rest, I let myself finish reading this article at Christianity Today, which I started weeks ago. It's kinda long, so I will excerpt freely. The first page really caught my attention:

Last spring, something was stirring under the white steeple of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College.

A motley group of young and clean-cut, goateed and pierced, white-haired and bespectacled filled the center's Barrows Auditorium. They joined their voices to sing of "the saints who nobly fought of old" and "mystic communion with those whose rest is won." A speaker walked an attentive crowd through prayers from the 5th-century Gelasian Sacramentary, recommending its forms as templates for worship in today's Protestant churches. Another speaker highlighted the pastoral strengths of the medieval fourfold hermeneutic. Yet another gleefully passed on the news that Liberty University had observed the liturgical season of Lent. The t-word—that old Protestant nemesis, tradition—echoed through the halls.

Just what was going on in this veritable shrine to pragmatic evangelistic methods and no-nonsense, back-to-the-Bible Protestant conservatism? Had Catholics taken over?

No, this was the 2007 Wheaton Theology Conference, whose theme was "The Ancient Faith for the Church's Future." Here, the words spoken 15 years ago by Drew University theologian and CT senior editor Thomas Oden rang true: "The sons and daughters of modernity are rediscovering the neglected beauty of classical Christian teaching. It is a moment of joy, of beholding anew what had been nearly forgotten, of hugging a lost child."

The conference's Call for Papers likewise rejoiced: "One of the most promising developments among evangelical Protestants is the recent 'discovery' of the rich biblical, spiritual, and theological treasures to be found within the early church." In particular, it said, evangelicals are beginning to "reach back behind the European Enlightenment for patterns and models of how to faithfully read Scripture, worship, and engage a religiously diverse culture."

Baylor University's D. H. Williams, author of Evangelicals and Tradition, testified at the conference to the recent upsurge of evangelical interest in patristics (the study of the church fathers in the first seven centuries of the church): "Who would have thought, a decade ago, that one of the most vibrant and serious fields of Christian study at the beginning of the 21st century would be the ancient church fathers? There has been an opening of new avenues, especially among free-church Protestants, by the almost overnight popularity of bishops and monks, martyrs and apologists, philosophers and historians who first fashioned a Christian culture 1,500 years ago."

This conference was certainly not the first of its kind; in fact, many evangelicals had been looking to the early church for guidance for years. But in some ways, the conference represented a coming of age for a worship renewal movement begun some 30 years before.

If only the man behind the conference, the elder statesman of "ancient-future faith," could have been there to watch the excitement of young and old conferees alike. But Robert Webber of Northern Seminary (and formerly of Wheaton) could not be present. He was in the late stages of cancer. His chair at the conference banquet table was vacant, as colleagues stood to honor his influence on them personally and on the whole church. Weeks after the conference, evangelical Christianity lost its premier ambassador for reengagement with history.


I went to Wheaton College, and Bob Webber is the man who introduced me to liturgy. A couple times a year in chapel, we had a liturgical service which he led and which, in all honesty, I found pretty boring. But still, I give him credit for defining the term for me. The article goes on to quote a few other people I know, like Joel Scandrett and Mark Galli, and have met, like Thomas Howard, Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom. Oh, what fun it is to name-drop! (I know that a portion of my readers are acquainted with these folks as well.)

And what good news it is to us, as Anglican church planters with a heart for community, to hear that:

Many 20- and 30-something evangelicals are uneasy and alienated in mall-like church environments; high-energy, entertainment-oriented worship; and boomer-era ministry strategies and structures modeled on the business world. Increasingly, they are asking just how these culturally camouflaged churches can help them rise above the values of the consumerist world around them.

...So what to do? Easy, says this youth movement: Stop endlessly debating and advertising Christianity, and just embody it. Live it faithfully in community with others—especially others beyond the white suburban world of many megachurch ministries. Embrace symbols and sacraments. Dialogue with the "other two" historic confessions: Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Recognize that "the road to the church's future is through its past." And break out the candles and incense. Pray using the lectio divina. Tap all the riches of Christian tradition you can find.

...Like Webber, journalist Colleen Carroll Campbell has surveyed this youth movement that's dissatisfied with culturally co-opted Christianity and wants a more historically rooted form of the faith. Her results, featured in her 2004 book, The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy, show that these young people recognize the anti-Christian nature of the culture in which they grew up. They have been "reared in a media culture that relentlessly lobbies for their attention and panders to their whims," and thus "find it refreshing when religious leaders demand sacrifice, service, and renunciation of consumerism." They feel not restricted but "strangely liberated" by the focus on objective morality and obedience in these churches. To them, this is finally a form of religion that stands over and against individualism and relativism. And they are "captivated by groups that stress stability, commitment, and integration—the very values they found wanting in their splintered, mobile families and fragmented, impersonal communities."

1 comment:

Kerry - A Ten O'Clock Scholar said...

I thought that was an interesting article, too. I read something that seemed to take this question or observation further: http://adamantius.net/?p=764

I've yet to read the articles linked, but they look good.

Kerry ps. So glad you are home