Saturday, May 31, 2008

Right On!

The 2/08 issue of Christianity Today, , features an article by Chris Armstrong on the modern Church seeking to gain from ancient Christian sources what is lacking in modern day Evangelical Spirituality. The 4/08 issue contained letters of reply. One reply, written by Nic Gibson of Panama City, articulated my present appreciation of ancient Christianity along with my concerns that the Evangelical heritage is being rejected outright without any knowledge of its historical context or its current vital contribution to the contemporary Church.

Pastor Gibson begins his comments with the statement that he has found the writings of past Christians more nourishing than contemporary spiritual literature. Then he continues with this statement: "While in seminary, however, I grew uneasy as I saw the ancients and their practices become trendier, and more students' infatuation with them become unmeasured. I was concerned by the "scorn" being heaped upon "modernist" evangelical leaders by inexperienced students with scant knowledge of other leaders' times or even of the Reformation itself." After briefly describing his encounter with Evangelical writers such as Carl Henry, Stott and Packer, who Gibson labels pastor-scholars, Gibson concludes: "In not knowing even the history of modern American evangelicalism, I fear that many in my generation are simply recycling the pragmatic instincts of the boomer generation they so wish to be unlike, while being unaware of the lessons evangelical leaders learned before 1977 or so."

Pastor Gibson has indeed expressed my concerns exactly. As I read his letter, I said within myself, "Right On!" He is someone who values what Tom Oden would call the Classical Christian Consensus, one who understands and profits from historical Church teaching, one who appreciates the spiritual writings of those outside the Evangelical tradition. Also, he is able to discern the shallow spirituality of much contemporary Evangelicalism. Yet he does not wish to abandon the Evangelical tradition. He understands the historical context from which the Evangelical tradition arose and knows that if the Evangelical Church turns back to its own roots, it will again play a vital role it once did in the Western world.

My seminary education introduced me to the early Church Fathers and broadened my mind to gain spiritually from writers from all branches of the Church. One rationale for this blog's title is to encourage discussion and lively debate with brothers and sisters of other traditions. However, reading the criticisms of the Evangelical tradition from those Evangelicals who engage in ecumenical dialogue with Catholics, Anglicans, Orthodox and Mainliners and those criticisms by former Evangelicals has caused me to become increasingly concerned. Evangelical theology, its history and heroes, its political activism, are being spoken of with disdain by those within the Evangelical fold who are either ignorant of or purposefully disregarding Evangelicalism's historical roots, or its connection with earlier Church tradition. Once my jaw dropped almost till it popped when I heard one of my fellow seminarians exclaim that he wished the Protestant Reformation never occurred. The Church's recognition of the importance of the individual's relationship with God is blamed for the rampant individualism within the Church today. These critics fail to identify the real culprit for this individualism: the invasion of Western secular culture into the church itself.

Last Summer, I made plans to address this issue. I wrote a draft article that has never been quite ready to be published. This article expresses Pastor Gibson's concerns and more. Instead of publishing one article, I feel led to write a series on this subject entitled "Evangelicalism and its Critics" or "Evangelicalism and its Enemies." Throughout these articles, I will express in detail what I have not been able to express in words previously. Whether these articles appear next Summer or next Fall, I hope they clearly articulate what I consider to be a disturbing trend while at the same time effectively defending the Church tradition that nurtured me.


Anonymous said...

John, very good article. As always, you continue to teach me new things.


Your disciple JRS

Mr. Guthrie said...

JRS, thanks for the comment. Is this James? If it is, I never knew your middle initial is "R." If this is James, I still do not know when I shall be in MoTown. Did Jacob win the contest? By the way, you have taught me as well.