I was talking to some old friends the other night and explaining why I had decided to practice my faith in the Lutheran tradition. As we were conversing, it struck me how many of us here at Internet Monk, post-evangelicals in spirit, have taken refuge in historic traditions.
Michael Spencer, the original Internet Monk and our muse, did not ultimately find a settled home in a church or denomination. Having moved on from his Baptist roots, in his later years he preached in a Presbyterian church, loved to attend Anglican worship, maintained a love for Lutheran theology, and deeply appreciated Roman Catholic resources for spiritual formation.
His wife became a Roman Catholic and his daughter and son-in-law worship as Anglicans.
Gail and I became Lutherans. One of our daughters and her family participate in a mainline United Methodist congregation, and one of my sons joined a traditional Lutheran congregation.
When I first met Damaris and her family, we were attending a non-denominational evangelical “community” church together. Now they are members of the Catholic church. Jeff has made clear his attraction to Rome as well. We’ve had Martha from Ireland writing for us about church history and the Roman Catholic perspective for some time now, and I think she’s winning converts!
More recently, our friend Mule has been challenging us from an Orthodox perspective.
We have contributors like Lisa, Craig, Adam, and Dan who continue in evangelical churches, but they are thoughtful and, when appropriate, critical in their writings about the evangelical path.
Over at The Christian Pundit, Rebecca VanDoodewaard has written a piece I’ve seen widely shared across the web called, “Young Evangelicals Are Getting High.” In it she asserts, “Young Christians are going over to Catholicism and high Anglicanism/Lutheranism in droves, despite growing up in low Protestant churches that told them about Jesus. It’s a trend that is growing, and it looks like it might go that way for a while: people who grew up in stereotypical, casual evangelicalism are running back past their parents’ church to something that looks like it was dug out of Europe a couple hundred years ago at least.”
She suggests that casual evangelicalism feels outdated and passé to many of them, like the church of the 1950’s felt to the Baby Boomers of my generation who created the church growth movement and the contemporary forms of evangelicalism. In another memorable line she says that young people are looking to historic traditions because today’s churches seem stuck in trying to be “fun babysitters” when what people really want is “dutiful mothers.”
VanDoodewaard cites another piece in her article, one by Andrea Palpant Dilley warning churches to proceed with caution when trying to be culturally relevant to the young:
Consider the changes that people go through between age 22 and 32. Consider that some of us in time renew our appreciation for the strengths of a traditional church: historically informed hierarchy that claims accountability at multiple levels, historically informed teaching that leans on theological complexity, and liturgically informed worship that takes a high view of the sacraments and draws on hymns from centuries past.
Some of us want to walk into a cathedral space that reminds us of the small place we inhabit in the great arc of salvation history. We want to meet the Unmoved Mover in an unmoved sanctuary.
So as you change — or as change is imposed upon you — keep your historic identity and your ecclesial soul. Fight the urge for perpetual reinvention, and don’t watch the roll book for young adults.
We’re sometimes fickle. When we come, if we come, meet us where we are. Be present to our doubts and fears and frustrations. Walk with us in the perplexing challenge of postmodern faith.
Even so, your church (and your denomination) might die. My generation and those following might take it apart, brick by brick, absence by absence.
But the next generation might rebuild it. They might unearth the altar, the chalice and the vestments and find them not medieval but enduring. They might uncover the Book of Common Prayer and find it anything but common.
I don’t have statistical evidence to prove that, as Rebecca VanDoodewaard says, young people are returning to historic traditions in droves. If our roster of authors and families here at Internet Monk is any indication, many of us who are Baby Boomers may be. I think that most of us here would say that the older we get, the less stomach we have for the shallow pandering to culture that characterizes so much of contemporary American evangelicalism. Our journey has been a long and winding road through decades of experimenting and fads.
If some of those in younger generations are feeling that way now and doing something about it, perhaps they won’t have to endure some of wilderness experiences many of us had.