Monday, March 30, 2009

The Future Lies in the Past

Why evangelicals are connecting with the early church as they move into the 21st century.

Last spring, something was stirring under the white steeple of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. Just what was going on in this veritable shrine to pragmatic evangelistic methods and no-nonsense, back-to the-Bible Protestant conservatism?

This was the 2007 Wheaton Theology Conference, whose theme was "The Ancient Faith for the Church's Future." Here, the words spoken 15 years ago by Drew University theologian and CT senior editor Thomas Oden rang true: "The sons and daughters of modernity are rediscovering the neglected beauty of classical Christian teaching. It is a moment of joy, of beholding anew what had been nearly forgotten..." The conference's Call for Papers likewise rejoiced: "One of the most promising developments among evangelical Protestants is the recent 'discovery' of the rich biblical, spiritual, and theological treasures to be found within the early church." In particular, it said, evangelicals are beginning to "reach back behind the European Enlightenment for patterns and models of how to faithfully read Scripture, worship, and engage a religiously diverse culture."

"Who would have thought, a decade ago, that one of the most vibrant and serious fields of Christian study at the beginning of the 21st century would be the ancient church fathers? There has been an opening of new avenues, especially among free-church Protestants, by the almost overnight popularity of bishops and monks, martyrs and apologists, philosophers and historians who first fashioned a Christian culture 1,500 years ago."

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