Moving Forward by Looking Back

Summary: An Evolving Faith

Moving Forward by Looking Back
Wednesday, January 1, 2020
News Year’s Day

It seems appropriate to begin the new year by sharing new visions for the future of Christianity. For our faith to evolve, we need to look at the old and original in order to build something new and novel. My friend Shane Claiborne is a young Evangelical leading this kind of hopeful and faith-filled renewal that builds on the past. Shane and many others are nurturing a “new monastic” movement, learning from the best of Christianity’s history and traditions in order to find modern and relevant ways to follow Jesus and embody the Reign of God on earth today. In Shane’s words:

There was a time in the 1980s and 90s, when the response to the hypocrisies in the church was to start new, creative expressions of church—what many came to call “the emerging church movement.” My community in Philly, The Simple Way, was one of the fruits of that era. . . .

Many new movements have been born amid the remnants of the past. Fresh life can come from the compost of Christendom. I think we are poised for another great awakening. . . .

God is restoring all things. Institutions like the church are broken, just like people, and they too are being healed and redeemed. My friend Chris Haw put it this way. It’s the difference between being in a canoe and a rowboat. In a canoe, you look forward as you row, but in a rowboat, you look back as you move forward. Our way forward is behind us. . . .

Rather than throw out the traditions, I want to know and study them, find the treasures and spit out the bones.

The church needs discontentment. It is a gift to the Reign of God, but we have to use our discontentment to engage rather than to disengage. We need to be a part of repairing what’s broken rather than jumping ship. One of the pastors in my neighborhood said, “I like to think about the church like Noah’s Ark. That old boat must have stunk bad inside, but if you tried to get out, you’d drown.”

Just as we critique the worst of the church, we should also celebrate her at her best. We need to mine the fields of church history and find the treasures, the gems. We need to celebrate the best that each tradition can bring—I want the fire of the Pentecostals, the love of Scripture of the Lutherans, the political imagination of the Anabaptists, the roots of the Orthodox, the mystery of the Catholics, and the zeal of the Evangelicals.

One of the most promising things that has come out of the emerging church has been folks looking back and reclaiming the best of their traditions, seeing that it is not an either/or but a both/and—God is doing something ancient and something new. Phyllis Tickle [1934–2015] called it “hyphenated denominations”—Presby-mergence, Bapti-mergence, Luther-mergence—because what they are doing is renewing and building on what was.

Reference:
Adapted from Shane Claiborne, “Loving the Church Back to Life,” “The Future of Christianity,” Oneing, vol. 7, no. 2 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2019), 58, 59-61.

Image credit: Healing of a Bleeding Woman (detail), Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter, Rome, Italy.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Jesus was about love first and foremost, in word and deed. Jesus began with love for God, but inseparably linked that love with love for neighbor, with the understanding that neighbor includes the other, the outsider, the outcast, the last, the least, the lost, the disgraced, the dispossessed, and the enemy. —Brian McLaren
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