Friday, January 31, 2014

Worthen: The Canterbury Trail (7)

Chapter 7 of Molly Worthen's, Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism

Reviews of previous chapters include:

Chapter 1 (Birth of Neo-Evangelicalism)
Chapter 2 (Evangelicals on the Edges)
Chapter 3 (The Strivings of Christianity Today)
Chapter 4 (Mennonites and Nazarenes in the 50s)
Chapter 5 (The Drive to Accreditation)
Chapter 6 (The Church Growth Movement)

Now chapter 7, "Renewing the Church Universal."

I'll try to be brief. The chapter starts with a little on Vatican 2, which brought extensive reforms to the Roman Catholic Church. The most important was the acknowledgement that the rest of us Christians are not going to hell. We are "separated brothers." The mass could now be said in English. Exaggerations of papal authority were pealed back. This is what was said about the Bible: Scripture teaches "solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation" (150). Sounds good to me!

There is a little mention of the rise of the megachurch, with the Crystal Cathedral and Willow Creek mentioned, the application of modern business principles to church.

The chapter mentions the surprising attraction of Anglicanism, Catholicism, and the Orthodox church beginning in the 60s and 70s, what Robert Webber called the "Canterbury Trail." Some were drawn to catholic spirituality (e.g., Richard Foster's, Celebration of Discipline). Some liked the historical groundedness of liturgical worship.

Protestantism and evangelicalism seemed to have a certain "rudderlessness." Worthen mentions conversions in this period. Robert Webber became Anglican. Thomas Howard, brother of Elisabeth Elliott, became Catholic having been a Wheaton grad and Gordon professor.

Even today, we see a steady trickle of students who are attracted to Anglicanism and the Orthodox church. One reason, I think, is that once you begin to read the books of the Bible on their own terms, you begin to realize how large a role tradition plays in how we put the Bible together. Conservative evangelicalism pretends that it is just following the Bible alone, but it is simply a strongly asserted (and enforced) tradition of how to interpret and glue the Bible together. When students realize this fact, they often look for a way of organizing Scripture that has more historical depth.

The final section is perhaps the first time since the Introduction that I really see the thesis of the book developing. This section is about the "evangelical" response to the ecumenical movement. The first Lausanne conference seems to capture the picture well. They produce a statement alright, but underneath are all sorts of contradictory currents.

For example, you have a Peter Wagner of Fuller arguing that the conference's emphasis on social justice was a mistake. You had resistance to the way people like Billy Graham were reaching out to broader Christianity. "Church growth types" had one emphasis. The charismatics had another. There was an "undercurrent of recalcitrance" (169).

Worthen sums it up in this way: "they did not solve the underlying problem" (171). This, for her, is the conflict between a particular way of reading the Bible and the modern forces of human reason and modern pluralism.

Afternote: Any group can have a coherent identity if everyone is on the same page. It doesn't matter if that page makes any sense or not (cf. the Mormons). When you're in such a group, you can be deceived into thinking you have some divine right behind your position because everyone around you seems to agree. The problem is if the group starts to run over people who don't agree.

The kind of movement I would like to see develop is a "Consensus Movement." This would be Christians who affirm the basic "law of love" and "rule of faith." Within that framework, individual Christian groups are free to have their own emphases and can just agree to disagree. The common Chrisitanity of the first five centuries provides the most stable fixed point for Christian belief, and the "law of love" has Jesus and the New Testament's clear endorsement for Christian ethics.


Rick said...

"The common Chrisitanity of the first five centuries provides the most stable fixed point for Christian belief"

I think much of the tension is found in determining the "fixed point for Christian" practice, based on that belief. How important are liturgical practices if those were stressed in the early church?

Mark Kennedy said...

IN essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.

Bob W said...

I remember when Pete Wagner criticized social advancement. In fact he discussed it quite at length with me and others. His point was that he grew up in a missionary world and church environment where social advancement was "all" that was attempted in the name of the Good News. Conversion for both McGavren and Wagner's parents' churches and missionary work had been completely left out of the picture. Therefore they sought to swing the pendulum back the other way to an emphasize (like John Wesley had) conversion. However as I've pointed out in my books with numerous quotes by McGavren and Wagner, that they believe that social advancement was an equal partner. However they felt it was over emphasized in their parents church and so Wagner and McGavren sought to stress the conversion area side.

It helps to understand how religious organizations polarize on one of three segments of this issue: emphasizing pre-conversion social advancement, conversion and/or resulting discipleship. I tried to address that in my book Spiritual Waypoints stressing that it's the entire journey not the beginning middle or end that is critical.

It is important when looking at history to look at cycles of history and how each generation tends to try and curb the excesses of their parents culture, even Church cultures.