October 23, 2017

Ancient-Future Faith (3): The Church in a Postmodern World

agape_feast_04During my seminary education, I never felt we really addressed the question: “What does it mean to be a member of the church” Later, when I turned to the early Christian tradition and began, for the first time, to understand what it meant to be a member of the body of Christ, it was like removing blinders that had covered my eyes.

I learned from the early Fathers that the church is intrinsically connected with Christ and his victory over the power of evil. The church is therefore to be regarded as a kind of continuation of the presence of Jesus in the world. Jesus is not only seated at the right hand of the Father, but is visibly and tangibly present in and to the world through the church. This is an incarnational understanding of the church. It is a unique community of people in the world, a community like no other community because it is the presence of the divine in and to the world. This concept of the church has specific relevance to the world of postmodernism.

. . . What this means for the church is that Christians must recover the primacy of being a Christian community. . . .

. . . the church is the primary presence of God’s activity in the world. As we pay attention to what it means to be the church we create an alternative community to the society of the world. This new community, the embodied experience of God’s kingdom, will draw people into itself and nurture them in the faith. In this sense the church and its life in the world will become the new apologetic. People come to the faith not because they see the logic of the argument but because they have experienced a welcoming God in a hospitable and loving community.

Ancient-Future Faith, pp. 70-72

Robert Webber thought that the church in the U.S., particularly evangelical churches, had inherited two major problems which he attributed to Enlightenment or “modernist” thinking:

(1) The problem of pragmatism, which led denominations and congregations to either follow business models so that the church might become “successful” (i.e. an efficient and effective organization), or to follow political models which seek to assert their will in society over against other subcultures.

(2) The problem of individualism, which has led to an a-historical stance. As a result: “the church has been unknowingly shaped by social, political, and philosophical forces: democracy and capitalism have given rise to the rugged individualism expressed in the fierce concern for independence among many of our autonomous churches; denominationalism has reflected the social divisions of society; the industrial movement has produced wealth and, with it, the church has become a landed institution, a corporation wielding economic power through heavy investments; and Enlightenment rationalism has robbed the church of its mystical self-concept, so that it is now regarded as little more than a human organization made up of individuals” (p. 76).

Webber advocated a restored ecclesiology: a renewed theological understanding of the nature and practices of the church as described in the N.T. and writings of the post-apostolic era.

  • He saw the church as “the sign of Christus Victor, the community of people where the victory of Christ over evil becomes present in and to this world” (p. 77).
  • As the people of God, “the church is the continuation of the presence of Jesus Christ in the world and a sign of God’s presence in history” (p. 78)
  • The church is an embodiment and foretaste of the new creation.
  • As the fellowship of faith, the divine presence takes “form in a new fabric of human relationships” (p. 79) in which people share a common life and do not live according to the divisions and boundaries that normally separate people in the world.
  • The church is the body of Christ, “an essential continuation of the life of Jesus in the world” (p. 81). In contrast to “the body of death” — the humanity that stands in solidarity with Adam, the church represents “the body of life,” a community that represents the beginning of the recapitulation of all creation. The church is “a new society that acts as the sign of redemption to the world” (p. 81).

These are heady and idealistic descriptions. In Ancient-Future Faith, Robert Webber is less interested in giving practical counsel to congregations than he is about reminding us all of the big picture, the calling of the church in the world.

In some of his other books, he goes into more detail about renewing the church’s worship (Ancient-Future Worship), her experience of a common life in the gospel through the practice of the Christian Year (Ancient-Future Time), and her approaches to evangelism and spiritual formation (Ancient-Future Evangelism).

This book, on the other hand, outlines the theology behind the practices, and seeks to show its renewed relevance in a postmodern context.

Webber concludes his meditations on the nature of the church by saying:

In a postmodern world the rational arguments for the existence of God are cold and lifeless. But a community of people who allow themselves to be interpreted by God’s saving event in Jesus Christ and become formed as a true and living example of a local and universal oneness will speak volumes to the world about the saving Christ who dwells within them.

. . . This approach to the church as a “metaphysical presence” is the strongest kind of apologetic to the reality of God in a postmodern world. (p. 90f)

* * *

P.S. As a complement to this post, I recommend reading Chris Smith’s piece: Why I Stopped Going to Church.

Comments

  1. Robert F says:

    “In a postmodern world the rational arguments for the existence of God are cold and lifeless. But a community of people who allow themselves to be interpreted by God’s saving event in Jesus Christ and become formed as a true and living example of a local and universal oneness will speak volumes to the world about the saving Christ who dwells within them.”

    But, the Church has never, in all its history, been faithful enough to its calling to speak these volumes to the world; and now, it’s more fractured and broken than ever, and no more faithful. The resurrected Christ more than ever is hidden in the Church under the form of the Deus absconditus.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > But, the Church has never, in all its history, been faithful enough to its calling to speak
      > these volumes to the world; and now

      But yet much of the world has heard. Depending on how you count there are hundreds of millions, if not billions, which have accepted some rendition of Christ’s message.

      > it’s more fractured and broken than ever, and no more faithful

      I am not sure this is true. There are a couple ugly gnarled, and very loud, sects which are fogging the view of many. But these ugly sects do not define The Church, nor do they even represent a majority of her children.

      > The resurrected Christ more than ever is hidden in the Church under the form of the Deus absconditus.

      Is it? Was The Church ever really readily apparent to The World? It may have been more culturally prominent or politically integrated [at least in The West], but it is not hard to find texts from any era critical of The Church or simply denying her a bunch of dudes who like to wear robes. Yet when the pope speaks there are throngs of people who gather to listen, whether that is in Brazil or Rome. There are plenty of people interested in hearing an interesting person when they speak, from the perspective of The Church.

      From my perspective “the rational arguments for the existence of God are cold and lifeless” is spot on. Next to nobody cares, and most of the people most interested in those arguments are not interested for honest reasons. I still do not accept this as a fundamentally “postmodern” thing, but whatever, its just a label, use it if you like it. The author’s point, at least as far as I have read so far, still stands [without the scaffolding provided by the label].

      And he is correct, much of his message about the church as a body, a fellowship, and a continuene is congruent with post-postmodernism and the attitudes of Millennials, there is an opportunity here – one which the detestation of a [IMNSHO rather silly and unpractical] philosophy shouldn’t be permitted to interfere with.

      There are very few people who can be described like “less interested in giving practical counsel to congregations than he is about reminding us all of the big picture” and which I, in pretty short order, do not develop a robust urge to punch in the face. Big Picturism gives me hives; but Mr. Webber may make it on that short-list. If you just read “–beep–” every time he drops a “postmodern” it may be easier to take in what he says – there is real substance here.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        There are very few people who can be described like “less interested in giving practical counsel to congregations than he is about reminding us all of the big picture” and which I, in pretty short order, do not develop a robust urge to punch in the face. Big Picturism gives me hives…

        Marxism-Leninism was also well into Big Picturism, to the point they could commit any atrocity against individuals in the name of the Big Picture, the collective “The People(TM)”. When you go completely into Big Picturism, “One death is a tragedy; a million deaths is only a statistic.” And if the Big Picture is Righteous enough, its end can justify any means.

      • Robert F says:

        Adam, perhaps you are right on a number of points. I tend to take a pessimistic view of things, and I’m always in need of a little (or more) correction of that tendency.

        One thing I’m wary of: the quick spread of Christianity around the world in the last 50 to 75 years has resulted in many forms of Christian faith that I have come to view as regressive and even reactionary, in many places seeming to have an cultish aura, and anchored in a prosperity gospel that has very little to do with what Webber is talking about. In these places among these forms of faith, the movement seems to be in a direction diametrically opposed to A-FF.

    • I tend to agree, which is a main reason I am Lutheran rather than Episcopalian like Webber. However, that does not negate his portrait of the ideal nor deny that sometimes resurrection life breaks through before our eyes. In fact, as with Jesus and Paul, it most often shines brightest in and through our sufferings, especially when those sufferings involve laying down our lives for others. As Paul said, death works in us so that life may come to you.

  2. What do you think if I told you from the very beginning of my Christian life I have never gone to church?
    And that is being a stranger in a strange land. The larger than large majority of people one associates with today are modern in ethos.
    And I don’t think one in a hundred could identify a postmodern ethos. Which reflects directly with “Church in a Postmodern World”.
    Postmodernism holds that one’s philosophy of life is ultimately determined by the community or group which most influences one’s life. And all those moderns who “go to church” don’t embrace dying to self or being a servant. Postmodernism is to a great extent an attack on metanarratives. Grand stories about the world, “overarching explanations of reality based on central organizing ‘truths’.” For postmodernists these truths are actually myths, fictional stories that embody the central core of a cultures values and beliefs, and in this sense are religious. To them, in medieval times the metanarrative was ecclesiastical or divine authority. In modern times the metanarrative promoted the power of individual. To them metanarratives need to be deconstructed, that is exposed for what they really are- myths that give authority to those who wrote them. Power structures built upon oppression of others and upon the earth. The neo orthodoxy of Barth and Brunner and Bonhoeffer was a transition from the modern with a distrust of authority and the religion aspect of Christianity.
    Postmodernists have distrust of Christianity on several layers. That it is intolerant- not hearing others in a pluralist society. That its communicators lean toward rational and volitional and as a result don’t seem honest or convincing. That it promotes a metanarrative that lifts some and disempowers others. Communicating the Gospel in the transitions we are experiencing does involve a shift from individual to community ethos. But we must be aware of how the modern individualism did involve the exclusive, lack of involving more than just the rational and volitional, and was often desensitized to oppression.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > The larger than large majority of people one associates with today are modern in ethos.

      Possibly this a a generational issue; but I strongly disagree. It was true of my circles when that circle was Evangelical. But outside of that – I think most of the people I associate with are very much not Modernist.

      * They are interested in “authenticity” [a word used so often it almost becomes “blahblah”]. Modernism is correlated to a strong sense of The Self, Postmodernism is suspicious of The Self.
      * Modernism, in The West, was accompanied by an Optimism – ala The Worlds Fair, featuring very self-oriented spaces/places and solutions – a type of Optimism which Millennials do not express [and which many now aging Baby Boomers have also grown skeptical of].
      * Modernism contains a strong current of Futurism, and it birthed numerous Revolutionary movements – movements such as Marxism. The current culture is very suspicious of Revolutionary movements; to the point where such movements are completely marginalized and blatantly ignored in mainstream media.

      What better defined Modernism that Ezra Pounds declaration of “Make it new!”. That is not what I hear on the street.

      Webber is correct that Evangelicalsm, and much of Protestantism possibly, is a strong-hold of Modernism – but elsewhere these attitudes are conspicuously not as strong [regardless if you want to call those other spaces Postmodern, or not].

      • Robert F says:

        ” Modernism is correlated to a strong sense of The Self, Postmodernism is suspicious of The Self.”

        How is it possible to be suspicious of the self, without first being suspicious of community? Historically, it was community that was deconstructed by skepticism first, and later the self was deconstructed by the hermeneutics of suspicion.

        I know and work with many young people, and they are equally suspicious of communities and selves that they have not chosen; those they have chosen seem to exist in a weird sort of second naivete (to borrow a literary term, which is apropos since we have been discussing deconstructionism as part of the wider discussion involving postmodernism) that often veers over into credulity. Anyway, that’s my experience.

  3. Rev. Dennis FitzPatrick says:

    Wonderful work. Will continue working on this. Now, how do I communicate this to the people in the pew, the 2 Bible classes, etc.

    • “Ve-wy, ve-wy carefully.”

    • IMHO this is one of those things that has to be lived and modelled. I am not sure that most people even want to hear these arguments and musings.

      In our fellowship we practice the church calendar, and use the lectionary. This gives us a focus or a framework to walk through the life of Christ every year. We have a community emphasis, monthly potluck meals after the service. Underneath it all we believe that even our worship service is a form of spiritual formation.
      We are moving toward teaching the spiritual disciplines.

      Don’t kid yourself, it is a huge stretch because it is counter cultural…

      Webber wrote a lot. You do not want to stop with this one. It is only a part of his message. He devoted his life to worship and promoting it. His magnum opus is a set of 8 volumes on worship. Wikipedia has a good entry on him.

  4. As it was then, and as it is now…”faith comes by hearing and the Word of God.”

    Do we have the guts to speak God’s law..and His gospel?

    Or will we cave in to affirmation theology?

    • Steve, are you sure you’re not a Baptist?

      • That…is about the last thing I would ever be.

        I can’t remember ever hearing a Baptist preach God’s law the way it is supposed to be preached (not to make better – but to kill ). And I can’t ever remember hearing a Baptist hand over Christ with NO strings attached.

        And I know I’ve never met a Baptist who is willing to hand over the pure gospel in Baptism by giving it to an undeserving infant. And the Lord’s Supper is merely symbolic for them, as well.

        No thanks.

        • Well, of course that is what a Baptist mole would say. Not that there is anything wrong with being a Baptist. After all Jesus was a Baptist, probably still is. I understand once a Baptist, always a Baptist. Just wondering.

          • Do you know where the term “Baptist” came from?

            It was derived from Anabaptist…which means against baptism. Against infant baptism…to be more precise.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            One of my writing partners (the burned-out preacher) is Anabaptist, and they are DEFINITELY separate from the Baptists these days.

          • Maybe so. I don’t doubt you.

            But that is where the term ‘Baptist’ originated. ‘Against infant baptism’.

          • Actually, Anabaptist means “re-baptize, ” though it is true that they practiced believer’s baptism alone and rejected baptizing infants.

          • Read your Bible. John the Baptist was the founder 1500 years before those other Johnny-Come-Latelies and baptized Jesus. I rest my case.

          • The prefix ‘ana’ means ‘against’…or opposed to.

            • I won’t be a jerk about this, but “ana” is the Greek prefix meaning “up” or “again,” not “against.” That would be “anti.”

              And please, let’s stop this rabbit trail about Baptists. It has nothing to do with today’s post.

              So it is written. So let it be. The Moderator.

          • Because they (the Anabaptists) said God was not active in Baptism, but the person’s seriousness and decision was all important, they were against baptizing babies.
            Therefore, anyone who had been Baptized as a baby needed to be re-baptized…so that they then could assert their decision…their “free-will”.

            And Charles, we are speaking about those who reject(ed) God’s power in Baptism. Jesus did not.

            It may be a work of the devil that those who reject God’s active power to give His Spirit and to save in Baptism…are now called Baptists.

            I once heard a radio preacher explaining to his audience the differences in denominational beliefs. He said that Baptists are called Baptists because of their emphasis on baptism. I about drove my car off the road in laughter at his enormous ignorance.

          • Mike,

            I give in to your definition. You are correct.

            a general understanding (too) was that they, the Anabaptists were (are) against infant Baptism.

            And, if you read the comments you will see that I wasn’t the one who brought up ‘Baptists’.

            I was merely answering a charge. May we answer charges against us?

            • As long as an appropriate measure of self-control is exercised. I trust all of you to recognize when it’s time to get back on topic. But I will be here in case you don’t.

          • Thanks for bending over backwards for me, Mike.

            I’m always amazed at the graciousness you show me, while being so rough on the others.

            • Steve, whatever differences we may have at times, I believe you have good intentions and a heart for the gospel, which I can’t help but appreciate.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Steve, are you sure you’re not a Baptist?

        He does exhibit a lot of behaviors associated with Baptists and Fundagelicals, primarily the sermonizing and turning everything into Correct Theology no matter what the subject, like some blend of Calvinist Ideologist and Jesus-Juke Evangelical filtering EVERYTHING through the Correct Theological filter.

        Or maybe he’s just in his Cage Phase. Usually that’s associated with More-Calvinist-than-Calvin types, but I’ve seen it in Trad Catholics and ORTHODOXY ORTHODOXY ORTHODOXY types all over the Web.

        • Just trying to keep that liberating gospel Word from being watered down by those who wish to turn everything into a project of the self.

          We (Lutherans) come by that honestly. I think.

        • Rick Ro. says:

          Not that Steve Martin needs anyone defending him, but as I know you (HUG) take issue with his many of his posts, I’ll just say that while Steve’s comments often sound “sermon-like,” they’re often pretty short AND they’re usually point to the right thing: “In Christ Alone.” Frankly, I like that reminder!

  5. cermak_rd says:

    I see a conflating of two concepts. Individualism which takes as its tenet that the individual is the basic building block of society (rather than families, clans, etc). This concept is at the heart of the US project, itself. And rugged individualism–the pull yourself up by your bootstraps after you’ve fashioned them yourself out of the contents of your own pockets.

    I see no way of removing the first strand of individualism from a people who govern themselves in the civil sphere with individual rights. I have never known anyone who died to themselves as a result of being Christian. I have seen them defer their own pleasure in order to serve others, but that’s altruism and in many cases it can be its own reward.

  6. David Cornwell says:

    A few points of observation, some of which may or may not be applicable to anyone else’s understanding:

    1. Definition of terms:

    Maybe this is just me, but I keep seeing terms used in different ways. Examples are : “modernism,” “postmodern,” and at times some others. Terms are used according to the context from which we have individually used them, or from other contexts related to our theological tradition. Language is important or we just keep on confusing issues and each other.

    David Fitch’s book, “The Great Giveaway” is about the same issues being discussed here for several days. Fitch is from an evangelical C&MA background, so brings a rich denominational tradition with him. One of the things I like about it is his early definition of terms, so one can know exactly how they are used throughout his writing. In the Introduction, before the body of his work really begins, he defines or clarifies the most important words he will be using. Among them are “evangelical,” postmodern,” “modernity,” “modernism,” “liberalism,” “capitalism,” “post-Christian,” and “postliberal.” While these are not necessarily definitions in the sense of a dictionary, they are a discussion of how the words will be used in the body of his book. I find this tremendously helpful.

    2. Chris Smith: I find anything he writes being a tremendous help. However do not let the title of “Why I Stopped Going to Church” mislead you. He is “deeply committed to the Englewood Christian Church community.” Chris is one of the most articulate young leaders I know about. He reads everything, is deeply insightful, and loves to talk. His ideas resonate, because they are more than “ideas” but stepping stones into the work of community and church. Look for much more from Chris Smith in the future.

    3. “In this sense the church and its life in the world will become the new apologetic. People come to the faith not because they see the logic of the argument but because they have experienced a welcoming God in a hospitable and loving community.” –Webber

    Karl Barth was deeply suspicious of apologetics in the sense they have been used in the Church. However used as Webber describes above is what he really advocated, and in the future will take on new importance if the Church is to make any appeal to today’s generations.

    Note: If anything above seems jumbled, do not be surprised, partly because my thoughts can be a jumble, and partly because of “cut and paste.” Miss Keeney, my old HS grammar teacher is watching from above.

  7. Dana Ames says:

    The quoted section reminds me a lot of Newbiggin’s “The Gospel in a Pluralist Society,” which I also read about the same time. N’s ultimate conclusion was basically that Christian witness will have to consist of the Church as a body walking the walk, rather than simply talking the talk.

    Dana

    • Dana Ames says:

      I also have to say that although Dallas Willard of blessed memory blew the roof of my theological house with “Divine Conspiracy,” he did not give me much to think about with regard to what the Church is, and is for; it was what I as an individual was going to trust and therefore act upon. This is not surprising, given his Baptist upbringing and long association with the Vineyard, though even so he could not be neatly pigeonholed; he was very good friends with Richard Foster.

      Dana

  8. I find this kind of talk very wooly and vague. First of all, talk of “the Church” obscures the issue of which churches we are talking about. Episcopalians for example point to a “liturgical” tradition consisting of themselves plus other mainlines, Catholics, and perhaps Orthodox–who however group themselves in a very different way, focusing on apostolic succession and canonicity. The rhetoric of a common Christian tradition breaks down as anything specific is suggested. (The Nicene Creed, for instance, raises the issue of the filioque.)

    There is no Golden Age capable of representing tradition, nor any collection of them capable of winning pan-Christian assent. Pentecostalism points to biblical precedents of glossalalia, fath healing, and exorcism, while the Baptists do the same for believer baptism, and the Mormons and JW’s for their respective Restorations of primitive Christianity. Mainline Protestants seem to like the *idea* of the Church Fathers (or selected Church Fathers, such as Augustine)–mainly as a way of distinguishing themselves from Fundamentalists and Evangelicals, whom the liberals tend to despise as ignoramuses–but this has little effect on ordinary church life. Whether the Middle Ages should be viewed as a high point of Christian civilization, or as the Dark Ages, is another difficult issue about which agreement seems impossible.

    For that matter, modernity (of which “post-modernity” is a phase or variation) has numerous aspects, not all of which are bad. To suggest that the cure for it consists of the (re-) imposition of some old-new authority, does not seem very plausible or inviting. To begin with, it is arbitrary–why Christ rather than Buddha, or one version of Christ rather than another? (How does the Ancient Future Christ feel about homosexuality, or women’s ordination?)

    Which brings me to “Christus victor.” The name is fairly recent. The idea behind it, insofar as it can be articulated rationally (it is often described in purely symbolic terms), seems to be that Christ has defeated / will defeat death and hell, or some such. It would be hard to point to any Christian group, past or future, that does *not* see Christ as victorious. But its new popularity (as an explicit notion) suggests that it is also a reaction to other, competing soteriological articulations, especially certain Protestant ones (e.g. ransom theory) which again, the mainlines despise for social as well as theological reasons. It is difficult to build a common tradition around a reaction. I feel the “Ancient Future” discourse attempts to paper over these fundamental disagreements through appeals to heady symbolism.

    It is like the phrase “Cosmic Christ,” which someone brought up on the other page. Again, few Christians would object to describing Christ as Lord of the Cosmos, but the phrase is often used (e.g. by Matthew Fox) to suggest a de-emphasis on sin.

    • David Cornwell says:

      So since you do not like this conversation, how would you fix it? Or what is your point?

      • I would abandon as unhelpful the concept and language of “Ancient Future Faith.”

        • Robert F says:

          It is a rather clumsy term, and needlessly esoteric sounding.

        • Drew, I fail to see why this language is unhelpful. Whether or not one accepts all the presuppositions about “classic Christianity,” the basic idea of A-F is that the way forward involves not leaving the past behind but learning from it and incorporating what the Spirit has taught the church over the centuries. This was one of Michael Spencer’s regular points: that one key to the future health of the church involves renewing our appreciation for the past. In the context of contemporary evangelicalism, which tries to reinvent the wheel at every turn, I can’t see anything but wisdom in that perspective.

          • Would that apply, I wonder, to gnosticism? There is, obviously, no agreement on what the Spirit may or may not have taught over the centuries. What is wisdom for the Pentecostal is foolishness for the Anglican. A-F tries to be the umbrella for a big-tent Christianity, but it is really just one more variant opinion.

            • Once again, Drew, I suggest looking up Oden. He makes a much more persuasive case for a broad evangelical consensus among the various Christian traditions. As I’ve said before, I’m a proponent of this, illustrated best by C.S. Lewis’s illustration of the Great Hall and the rooms in Mere Christianity. There is a common hall in which we all can meet, though we settle down in our various rooms.

          • I’d second Chap. Mike’s recommendation of Thomas C. Oden and add to them those of Roger E. Olson. Both of these theologians make great cases of a “Great Tradition” that is almost universal for Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants alike. Oden’s Ancient Christian Commentary on the Scriptures series is excellent, and Olson’s The Story of Christian Theology may be the most important single work I purchased during my graduate studies.

    • Robert F says:

      “For that matter, modernity (of which “post-modernity” is a phase or variation) has numerous aspects, not all of which are bad. To suggest that the cure for it consists of the (re-) imposition of some old-new authority, does not seem very plausible or inviting.”

      Drew, who, exactly, is talking about this in the discussion here? This discussion has centered on how the church should be the church in a world which has undergone certain wide-ranging changes that some have labelled postmodernism (I think the label is a mystification; I see the changes as an extension and intensification of modernism rather than a new so-called paradigm, but I do see the changes they see), but there has been no hint of imposing anything, as far as I can tell.

      Webber was trying to outline a way for the church to more effectively witness and faithfully exist in a world where some of the more radical themes of modernism have metastasized ( that’s what I think has happened, and what others call postmodernism), and he was saying that a resourcement in the traditions and practices of the church of the first millennium was that way. You may agree or disagree with that (I myself do a little of both, but where is the imposition you talk about?

      • Robert Webber, from the article above: “In a postmodern world the rational arguments for the existence of God are cold and lifeless. But a community of people who allow themselves to be interpreted by God’s saving event in Jesus Christ and become formed as a true and living example of a local and universal oneness…”

        My point is that the rhetoric of “Ancient Future Faith” uses murky symbolism to falsely suggest unity among the various branches and eras of Christianity. There is no such thing as “the Church” (at least without appealing to the mystical), there are only individual churches with their diverse traditions and theologies. Nor is there any way of elevating certain traditions or eras as superior to, or more central to Christianity then, the others.

        • Robert F says:

          I disagree with you. I think there is a church, and I think that the unity of the church is a gift of God hidden under the multiplicity of churches, analogous to the way God cloaks his glory in the brokenness and humiliation of Jesus Christ. You may call that mystical if you like, and I will call it theological.

          • Fair enough, but as soon as you try to specify whether it is liturgical, or articulate its soteriology, then you reveal your narrow, non-mystical denominational affiliation. Language like “the Church” (or “community,” or “tradition”) ends up meaning either nothing, or something narrow and unrepresentative.

          • Not if I see my understanding and practices, and the understanding and practices of the church body I inhabit, as provisional, partial and not exhaustive. It requires epistemological modesty, but there are actually many of us occupying this position in many of the church traditions. Narrowness is a relative thing, and what is impossibly narrow to human beings may be a broad way to God. The broken narrowness of Christ on his cross was enough to represent, and embrace, the whole world (I know, I know: there he goes with that mystical stuff again, you might be saying to yourself, and to that I say: guilty, as charged).

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            > I think there is a church

            I have no issue with an appeal to the Mystical, a religion that cannot appeal to the mystical is defunct. The entire premise of the value of The Scripture is a mystical premise.

            That “mystical” is anathema I believe is a feature of full-grown Modernism – so this circles back around to the author’s premise. Full-grown Modernism finds itself labeled Postmodernism because, having abandoned all axioms, it can not longer answer questions, only reformulate and return them – like an intellectual boomerang. And providing The Answers was Modernism’s great promise; at which is has failed, nearly catastrophically.

    • Drew, Webber offers a popularized and generalized approach to the Ancient-Future discussion. For a more comprehensive overview of the “paleo-orthodox” perspective that seeks to set forth an evangelical consensus among the traditions, I would suggest that you check out Thomas Oden’s Classic Christianity: A Systematic Theology.

  9. geoff downs says:

    the fact that the protestant/ evangelical (church) has to keep coming back to the question of who they are and what the church is and to constantly rehash this crap that has been settled once and for all by the catholics and orthodox is that the protestant churches are invalid and have no foundation other than the whim of evey jamoke who reads the bible a little and makes up their own religion

  10. geoff downs says:

    I mean really think about it it all makes no sense never ending debate about what is true

  11. geoff downs says:

    what is truth … i feel like pilate .. is truth whatever i want it to be …. if that is the case am i not my own god choosing what i want

  12. geoff downs says:

    this is a serious question that troubles me very much.. if i choose wrongly does damnation await me… and others

    • I feel for you, geoff. I’ve been there myself, the same question weighing heavily on my mind. I may be there some time again, but for the present I’ve reached a place in my faith where I no longer worry about God’s love for me being dependent on my competence in choosing rightly, or the purity of my heart in choosing. I’m not competent enough, I’m not pure enough, I’m not smart enough to get it right and keep it right. All I can do is do what I can do, and for the rest lean into the grace of God as I find it in Jesus Christ. I’m saying a prayer for you right now, geoff, that you will be relieved of your heavy burden.

    • I have spent far too many nights, at various times in my past, worry about just this thing.

      After a significant amount of self-torture, it seems to me that one is left with two options:

      FIgure out some way to feel you are certain about which set of claims are correct.

      (Some people can maintain that confidence, but I am not among them. If you can find it one of the two Catholic traditions, I’ll not step in your way. In my case, I find “tradition” helpful, but not really a silver bullet that vanquishes the problems of interpretation, history, or doubt.)

      or

      Do the best you can to understand, and trust that God is not actually looking for any excuse possible to destroy you.

      I’m using such pointed language, because eventually someone asked me point blank what exactly I was afraid of. I realized that if I was going to state it bluntly, that is the fear I’d have confessed. Anyway, the way you phrased this post reminds me of the moment I forced myself to write to name the fear, and say: So is that my picture of God?

      Now of course I say this with my inveterate self–skepticism, but don’t think that is actually the picture of God presented to us by Christ. And in any case, given the likelihood that everyone is mucking something up, or that my confidence in a set of claims (even if very strong) could still be wrong, one is forced to rely on a certain wideness to grace. Do I know grace to be wide? Not absolutely. This is, after all, far outside my prerogative. But I do rely on it to be. There’s not really any other option.

      Being the intellectual sort, I’d like to think the way out of fear is knowledge. Actually, I think it is trust. Or, if we want to be bolder: love.

    • I’ve made this comment in the past, and I’ll make it again: I’m pretty sure salvation isn’t dependent on a person’s view of God being exactly, precisely correct. All I know for sure is that I’m NOT 100% right, and I think God/Jesus/The Holy Spirit are too mysterious and incomprehensible for anyone to be even 60% right. Instead, I look to Jesus and thank Him for His salvation work, and try to follow his commands to love God and love others as best I can.

  13. Mule Chewing Briars says:

    In my old Presbyterian church, they asked a question of all those seeking entrance into the church:

    “Do you have no other hope in life or in death other than Christ Jesus as He is presented in the Gospels?”

    That appears to cover it .