Also, Christianity Today’s cover story last February reported on one direction people are exploring as evangelicalism experiences a sea change: The Future Lies in the Past
What the writer calls an identity crisis, I think of as a “sea change” or a natural pendulum swing, and I imagine it will change again, the pendulum will swing back again. However, here we are. He describes the malaise well:
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.
At one time I was interested in church environments that de-emphasized their essential churchiness. I thought the church experience would be improved by stripping away the things that make Sunday worship services such a departure from normal life. Worship should be a normal part of life, so why does it have so many odd trappings?, I wondered. Surely it was time to cart these off to the attic. For example, when the pastor at our church back in California dispensed with wearing a robe and stole over his business suit, it seemed like a step in the right direction, in my eyes.
From the point of view of basic hospitality, I thought it might help visitors to feel less out of place if churchy stuff was minimized. But now I think that one can go too far in that direction and that someone who has acted on the impulse to visit a church might actually prefer to find a distinctive experience, unlike what they find in other venues. If I visited Europe, I know how disappointed I would be to find that it had Americanized itself in an attempt to make me feel at home.
I truly came to feel that if I’m going to do something as strange and radical as go to church, then I want it to be churchy. I want it to mark, in no uncertain terms, that we are stepping out of the stream for an hour or two and into something else, something God-haunted and beautiful.
The linked article focuses mostly on an evangelical “roots” movement. In this roots movement, what I wanted for the sake of beauty, they want for the sake of connection to the past–which I also understand.
Before I started digging into Christian history for myself, the Christian history I encountered was abridged to jump straight from the New Testament to our day, something like this: New Testament Church–>snip 1950 years–>Billy Graham–>Jesus People Movement–>now. A slightly more history-aware stream abridged it this way: New Testament Church–>snip 1850 years–>Stone-Campbell revival in the 1800’s–>now.
I can remember so clearly the day I read about Martin Luther on the internet, someone I had previously fuzzily confused with Martin Luther King (my education was not very good, obviously) and realized that Martin Luther, pounding his 95 theses to the door of a church in Germany in 1595, belonged to me, he was in fact essential to my Christian heritage as a Protestant. Why hadn’t someone told me about him? Church history was simply not important in my tradition, that’s why.
I remember my first reading of Pilgrim’s Progress and how stunned I was to realize a man from another age had imaginatively confronted theological issues that troubled and fascinated me 400 years later. Imagine the richness of finding these people and the riches of their thought down through the centuries, and of seeing oneself as standing in a line of Christians whose faith stood and worked and grappled and served –whether imaginatively or gently or courageously–as best they knew how in the time in which they lived, as need called for and their gifts allowed. That is a good thing.