Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Washington Post: Don't Sell Me Something at Church; Put Me in Touch with the Mystery of God

Last weekend, the Washington Post's Jacqueline Salmon highlighted the Ancient-Future trend among evangelicals in her story "Feeling Renewed by Ancient Traditions." The story was subtitled: "Evangelicals Putting New Twist on Lent, Confession and Communion."

Salmon quoted patristics scholar Dan Williams, one of the theological editors of the Call for an Ancient Evangelical Future, "Evangelicalism is coming to point where the early church has become the newest staple of its diet." This is, in Williams's words "a sea change."

Part of the reason for the article was the cover story by Bethel Seminary's Chris Armstrong in the February 08 Christianity Today, "The Future Lies in the Past," which traced the 30-year
history of this movement from some of Bob Webber's earliest agitations to the present.

I spoke with Salmon while she was reporting the story and recommended that she talk to Chris and to John Witvliet at Calvin. (Dan Williams had referred her to me, and she already had Chris and John on her list, I discovered. Way to go, Dan!) Here are the key comments from Chris and John.

According to Chris, the young adults who are attracted to things Ancient Future are

still in love with their Bible. They're still in love with their God. They still see the Bible as their primary authority .... But their experience is one of churches that look too much like the rest of the world -- a little bit too much like malls or rock concerts.

John's quotable comments help to set straight those who worry that Ancient Future is all about surface elements like incense, candles, and calendar. It is about the inner person and the mystery of God:

I definitely sense a hunger for acknowledgment of life's mysteries and of the mystery and beauty of God .... There's a hunger for deeper engagement -- "Don't just sell me a product at church, but really put me in touch with the mystery and beauty of God."

When the church not only feels like the mall, but acts like the marketplace, we feel like consumers. But God seeks worshipers--not consumers--and so John W. has really put his finger on it: "Don't see me a product at church... put me in touch with the mystery and beauty of God."

Thanks to John, Chris, and Dan for steering the Post's Salmon down the right path.

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