In Search of Ancient Roots image

In Search of Ancient Roots

Some leave evangelicalism in search of something older, and either swim the Tiber or head for Constantinople. Others leave evangelicalism in search of something newer, and experiment with less dogmatic, less historically tethered forms of Christian worship. But when they do, what are they actually leaving behind? What exactly is the "evangelicalism" they are abandoning? That's the powerful question that opens Kenneth Stewart's excellent new book, In Search of Ancient Roots: The Christian Past and the Evangelical Identity Crisis. His initial response is worth quoting:

The person departing from this stream of Christianity for Roman Catholicism or Orthodoxy is convinced that he or she is leaving a movement that is frivolous and “lite” and embracing instead another that, because it is rooted in Christian antiquity, is substantive. The one leaving this expression of the faith for an emergent, postmodern expression of Christianity believes that he or she is jettisoning a stream that is compromised by an undue stress on the rational defence of Christian dogma and on the importance of numerical indicators of success. Such seekers believe they are gaining a movement characterised by community, consensus building, and room for mystery.

But are these views of gains and losses rooted in a sober assessment of things? We can admit that evangelical Christianity is not monochromative; some forms of it are very “lite,” and numerous expressions of it do have features that are off-putting and even extreme. Even so, such ways of calculating the reasons for which evangelical Christianity deserves to be jettisoned are problematic for at least two reasons.

First, those departing (especially from sectarian expressions of evangelical Christianity) are very prone to attribute the perceived defects of their own somewhat raw and imbalanced evangelical past to the whole of the evangelical movement ... Second ... the evangelical movement does not, in fact, conceive of itself as utterly cut off from Christian antiquity; nor does it understand itself to be merely a child of the Enlightenment.

Stewart makes a great case for these two objections, especially the second, in the main body of the book. As he concludes, he asks three questions (which are close to my heart, as they overlap closely with my current writing project):

First, in ways consistent with your evangelical Protestantism, what connects your congregation and denomination to Christian antiquity?

Second, in ways consistent with your evangelical Protestantism, what unites your congregation and denomination to the “one holy catholic” church?

Third, in ways consistent with your evangelical Protestantism, do those welcomed into your church family understand that they are being welcomed into the church of all ages and the global church of Jesus Christ?

Good questions to conclude a good book. You can get it here.

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