My friend Bob Webber has been a future thinker for a lifetime. When I was a college student he often troubled me while he also deeply challenged me. (With life experience I have learned that this combination is often a great gift to the church.) He has done that for nearly forty years now. Bob may be making his greatest contribution to the church over the past five years or so. Not only are his books on the "Ancient-Future" aspects of Christianity stimulating, and much needed calls for awakening to a sagging and crippled evangelicalism, but his recent work on "An Ancient Evangelical Future" (see www.ancientfutureworship.com) is extremely important, at least to my mind. I resolved not to sign such documents a few years ago but this one was so important that I felt I could not resist.
There will be an Ancient Future Evangelical Conference (December 7-9, 2006) at Northern Semninary in Lombard, Illinois. I plan to be present. I hope some of you who read this blog will plan to join me. Information is available at www.ancientfutureworship.com. Speakers, besides Bob Webber, include Brian McLaren, Martin Marty, Lauren Winner, Frederica Mathewes-Green and Aaron Flores. It promises to be a very insightful and stimulating three-day event.
While I am it I urge you to pray for Bob Webber. His health has become a serious concern in recent months. I pray that God will spare his life for the sake of the church and for all of us who love him. I pray that he might be allowed to continue to provoke us all to deeper love for Christ and to true good works. His life has deeply impacted my own and I thank God for this new call to an ancient-future faith. Evangelicalism needs this call much more than most of us realize.
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You are probably familiar with Touchstone magazine. Their current issue addresses this work. Maybe you could address some of their concerns. http://touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=19-09-022-o
Some of these concerns from the contributors at Touchstone:
“If one radically edits the past before appropriating it, then it is no longer the past that one is appropriating, but a version of the present.”
“I wish I didn’t have the feeling, reading this document, that I was reading about the roll-out of a self-consciously “retro” new-model car, a sort of ecclesiastical PT Cruiser, which thinks itself “ancient” because it can play Gregorian chant on its sumptuous audio system.”
“At the end of the day, the “Ancient/Future” Evangelicalism is a natural extension of American Evangelicalism’s besetting sins of faddishness and consumerism. That’s the reason it is fanned (as so many Evangelical winds of doctrine are) by publishing houses. This project comes to us just as Evangelicalism is in the throes of an infatuation with the so-called emerging church, which is also fueled by publishing houses (the sellers of youth ministry curricula) and which is also enamored simultaneously with postmodern cynicism, egalitarianism, doctrinal flexibility, and ancient-seeming worship…The emerging worshipers and the ancient futurists want to borrow some of the trappings of a time when Christianity was countercultural (dark rooms and candles simulating catacombs, for instance) while embracing primary aspects of contemporary cultural libertarianism (including feminism and pluralism)…The roots of Halloween, we’re told, date back to a time when villagers sought to ward off evil spirits, witches, and ghosts by mocking them with mimicry. A bloodthirsty demon would retreat, it was thought, when he saw someone dressed in ghoulish costume. When reading documents such as A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future, it is hard not to wonder whether this is not what’s going on among these Evangelicals: keeping the ancient Christian witness at bay by mocking it with mimicry.”
“If real antagonism exists between Evangelicalism and ecclesial Christianity, then why do born-again Protestants who desire historically grounded expression of the faith remain Evangelical? Why not simply join one of the other communions that guard ancient Christianity? One suspects that the reason has something to do with the advantages of being rootless. Without an Evangelical identity, a born-again Protestant would have to choose one of those other traditions, join it, and reject the others. With an Evangelical identity, he can take the best from all Christian expressions without having to come under the discipline and restraint of a particular church’s ministry, authority, and tradition. If this is so, then the Evangelical future called for in this statement is more modern than ancient, because it is more voluntary than received, more liberated than restrained, more tolerant than exclusive. Without becoming part of a historic Christian communion, Evangelicalism’s ancient future will yield merely the trappings of antiquity minus its churchly substance.”
“Throughout the Call, Protestants are blithely encouraged to leapfrog over 1,500 years of church history to recover some exceedingly vague and romantic model of the early Church. Although American Evangelicals are excoriated for their lack of historical consciousness (an argument one could certainly make), the statement’s own case is, in fact, strikingly ahistorical in its fanciful and selective invocation of the Church of the ancient Fathers.”
Wow, the Touchstone crew sure comes across like they have something up their… I’m struck with how a group that is committed to orthodoxy and ecumenism could be so narrow in their concerns. But, hey, that’s just me. Anyway, I’ll be at this conference, John, along with Shane. I hope to see you there!
The Touchstone editors, some of whom are my friends, reveal their own worldview very clearly by these kinds of reactions. They seem to believe the Protestant Reformation was a mistake and that evangelicals are not really “catholic” Christians. They have assured me that they want serious evangelical contributions to Touchstone but their words reveal why they will never gain such contributors from those of us who are convinced and convictional Protestant evangelicals.
I understand that Touchstone’s readership is predominantly Protestant. I wonder if this reaction to a helpful “reformist” document will secure their influence in that world long-term. I have loved this magazine, and financially supported it, but this reaction cools my affection profoundly. I felt the same response to their attacks on the TNIV translation committee, a truly weak polemical approach rooted in a deeply-held position.
You can’t have it both ways, or so it seems to me. You either do believe in “mere Christianity” (as the magazine boldly proclaims to believe) or you do not. Evangelicals are not really “mere Christians” according these kinds of editiorial responses. They are seen as outside the “real” church; i.e., Orthodox and Roman Catholic. It makes me begin to feel that their goal, all along, was to recruit evangelicals to Orthodoxy and Catholicism. Sorry guys, but this is not respectful, true ecumenism. I am becoming less and less a fan of Touchstone when I read this kind of cynical and hyper-critical reaction. I have a deep respect for my Orthodox and Catholic brothers and sisters, and live it out in my day-to-day life where theory meets real people, but when they do not reciprocate (as this reaction demonstrates a spirit that does not) the dialogue turns sour and fruitless.
Re: “They have assured me that they want serious evangelical contributions to Touchstone but their words reveal why they will never gain such contributors from those of us who are convinced and convictional Protestant evangelicals.”
The background of the contributors to Touchstone’s:
Back and Forth to the Future:
A Critical Symposium on A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future
5 Evangelicals and 1 Roman Catholic:
Wilfred M. McClay – Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.
Russell D. Moore- Dean of the School of Theology and Senior Vice President for Academic Administration at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
S. M. Hutchens – Generic Evangelical (Ph.D in Theology from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago)
D. G. Hart – Orthodox Presbyterian Church
Gillis Harp – Orthodox Presbyterian Church
David Mills – Roman Catholic
Sorry Joseph, my friend, but these names listed here represent what many of us honestly see as “sectarian” evangelical voices, not “mere Christian” voices, which was my whole point. Two writers are OPC and one is PCA and at least two or three of these evangelicals are strong critics of Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy as well as a great deal of modern evnagelicalism. I do not think the Touchstone editors actually realize it (I am saying this in good faith since if they do realise it I fear they are being a bit disingenuous) but these simply are not the voices of a moderate Protestant evangelicalism but rather the voices of significant critics of our churches and missions who do not like much of what the mainstream is or does.
You would be much better served to invite Timothy George, J. I. Packer, Chuck Colson, Richard Mouw, Luder Whitlock, Tom Oden, Gabriel Fackre, John Hesselink, Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, John Franke, Cornelius Plantinga and Donald Bloesch to comment if you want to hear more of the voice of mainstream evangelicalism in examining such a document and important new movement.
What I long for is the kind of catholocity represented in Lewis’ use of the term “mere Christian” not the kind of sectarian criticism that attacks the work of a man like Bob Webber, who taught men like me what catholicism can look like. The very reason I got into Touchstone originally was its attempt to present a vital “mere Christianity.” I have urged several editors to be careful about these more recent approaches but my voice has not been heard it seems. That is OK if that is their decided editorial choice but when you equate translation issues related to the TNIV with compromise in a major area of faith (ethics and authority) I believe that you are not practicing “mere Christianity.” And when you criticze the ancient-future vision of a Bob Webber, and many of us who worked with him in this project, you are also missing a most important discussion and why it matters for renewing the church in America do deeply. My personal grief is that a fine magazine is now going to lose an audience it could have served more deeply had it not taken this more narrow approach. This is not a new criticsm, and it is not mine alone for sure, but one that has been given for several years now. The voices of those who represent a broader evangelical catholcity were once regularly present in Touchstone but they are less and less present in recent years. I write this out of love for Jim, the other editors that I know, and for the vision that God has given to you all. I am weary of this strident tone and honestly pray someone will hear my concern and give it further thought.
Touchstone has shown me real Christian kindness so this is not a personal agenda but rather a genuine concern about current editorial direction and the catholic vision that all of us share who love Christ as “mere Christians.”
In reading the list of names again I see that Wilfred McClay is PCUSA, not PCA, so I need to correct that error. But there is no way that S. M. Hutchens is a “generic evangelical” based upon his writing over all these years. His work does not reflect anything close to a “generic” evangelical. So, my one correction needs to be noted here but my point, I believe, stands the same.
Re: “What I long for is the kind of catholocity represented in Lewis’ use of the term “mere Christian”
What did C.S. Lewis mean by “mere Christianity?”
If anything, he never meant his “mere Christianity” to be an alternative to the Church.
C.S. Lewis: “It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted. But it is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals. The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in.”
A hall is a place of transition, a passageway leading to doorways.
Mr. Armstrong, you seem disturbed that the editors of Touchstone have started stepping out of the hall and into doorways whilst you would prefer to wander the hall. That’s your preference.
The doorways seem to be be leading them to the classic Christian catholicity of the Vincentian variety:
“All possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense ‘Catholic,’ which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally. This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent.” (St. Vincent of Lerins)
Given a choice between a transitory (by CSL’s own definition) Lewisian catholicity and the catholicity of the Church as described by St. Vincent of Lerins, many Evangelicals are leaving rootlessness and becoming rooted.
With God’s help they will be spared from “merely the trappings of antiquity minus its churchly substance” advocated by Webber and his followers.
With God’s help, may they be spared from “merely the trappings of antiquity minus its church substance.”
It’s always possible that seekers of “Ancient” Catholicity may step back out of the rooms and back into the hall to join with Mr. Armstrong and company, but if, led by the Holy Spirit they continue onward, they will to their great joy and wonderment, find that the Church is much bigger inside than it looks from the outside.
In the words of G.K. Chesterton:
“At the last moment of all, the convert often feels as if he were looking through a leper’s window. He is looking through a little crack or crooked hole that seems to grow smaller as he stares at it; but is is an opening that looks towards the Altar. Only, when he has entered the Church, he finds that the Church is much larger than it is outside.”
Wandering the hallways or staring through a crack (at the Holy Altar), either one is indicative of the same status: On the Outside.
Some of my favorite illustrative Narnianisms:
“The further up and further in you go, the bigger everything gets. The inside is larger than the outside.”
“[Narnia is] like an onion: except that as you continue to go in and in, each circle is larger than the last.”
Bless you Joseph! I appreciate so much your concern and respect your insights far more than you know. I do not think we will likely agree on this on this side of the eternal kingdom. It seems apparent that we do have a very different view of catholcity. I do not believe one needs to find their home in one of the two great confessional churches to be faithful either to Christ or to the “mere Christianity” that Lewis so eloquently wrote about. (Of course we can not live in the great hallway. I understand this and thus I live in a Reformed and Protestant room in the great house. But it seems to me that the editors are less and less happy with people like me living in that room and thus they desire to move us into their room at times.)
C. S. Lewis was, regardless of what is written or argued, a Protestant, not a Catholic. As a Protestant I do not believe that what St. Vincent wrote is the last word on this matter. Indeed, I think that what he wrote is subject to many very different interpretations both then and now. It is a historically conditioned and much debated statement to say the least. And I do not think the two churches, in Rome or Constantinople, can rightly claim to be the only place where this real catholicity is rightly expressed. I do long for unity, and pray for it. I work towards it in my own life, sometimes at great cost. I do not, however, feel constrained to move to Rome or Constantinople to properly and faithfully pursue this unity as prayed for in John 17. My concern is that we all “see through a glass dimly” for now thus it is best to applaud evangelicals like Bob Webber who have this kind of commitment to unity, but who still believe, like me, that we should remain evangelicals. I believe this new effort will do so much to help evangelicals be better catholics, not tacky and confused evangelicals. Many of us do love Christ and his church even though we do not believe Touchstone has this balance and perspective quite right.
What we can and must do is seek Christ and ask for the light to obey him. I am sure the editors are doing this too. My only desire is that they not limit their profitable ministry to these types of serious evangelicals.
John, I’m not sure I understand what you mean when you say we can and must seek Christ and ask for the light to obey him. I have heard this before but am not sure evangelicalism gives direction in how to do this. I believe the ancient faith holds the key for spiritual formation and communion with Christ. I always heard statements like this in Evangelicalism but was never told how to do it.
Evangelicalism, at least as modern pop-religion, does not do a good job of telling us how to seek and find Christ in genuine spiritual formation. This is an area where the ancient church has much to teach us if we will humbly listen. However, early Protestants did not reject such an emphasis, as do many modern American evangelicals.
Back to the Future; On Ancient-Future Christianity
I’ve been sorry to hear that Bob Webber is ill. May the Lord deliver him… he’s definitely helped a great number of people appreciate liturgical worship. I seriously doubt that Touchstone would have the readership they do had the Lord not used his book “Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail” and his other writing to spark renewed interest in the Book of Common Prayer.