Introducing Medieval Wisdom: An Exploration with C S Lewis – part 3

broken-churchState of the church today

The American church today is in turmoil. We have tried, by turns, rational apologetic, pop-culture inflected consumerist church programs, ecstatic charismatic experience, and postmodern experimentation. None of these has proved lasting.

The rationalism of modern apologetics has collapsed as the questions of the unchurched have turned away from doctrine and the agonies of the churched have centered on spirituality and practice rather than belief.

The beguiling concerts and spectacles of the church growth technicians have fallen short of their promise, revealing the dismally shallow spirituality behind the curtain.[1]

The experientialism of the charismatic movement has faltered in the quest to build lasting, faithful, discipled churches as worshippers have bounced from one high to the next.

The postmodernism of some “emerging” Christians has not yet found a positive program for reform to go with its often strident critique of current church culture.

Could it be that God is driving us out of these failed experiments and into the wilderness, traveling as pilgrims toward a more solid faith and a more faithful church?

Or turning to a direr metaphor: could it be that the contemporary church lingers in a twilight between vitality and morbidity, on a kind of spiritual life-support? And if so, then what is our prognosis?

I believe there is hope, for we are on the list for a life-giving transplant. It had better come soon, to be sure. But when it does, it promises to revive and strengthen us in ways unimaginable to us. This transplant, like most others, will involve the surgical implantation into the patient of living organs taken from a dead donor.

What living organs? The life-giving beliefs and practices of our own spiritual heritage. Which donor? Our mother: the Church in her first two thousand years. This is not traditionalism, which as Jaroslav Pelikan famously quipped is “the dead faith of the living.” To transplant a dead organ will only kill the patient. Rather, it is tradition: “the living faith of the dead.” Weak on our sickbeds, we await a transfusion of that life.

So far, surgeons such as D. H. Williams, Robert Louis Wilken, and Thomas Oden have found vital organs in the doctrinal formulations of the church’s first six centuries, and they have rushed them to evangelical hospitals. And individually, though not yet as ecclesia, a few here and there are beginning to receive these, and new life is rushing into them.

Other medics such as Richard Foster, Eugene Peterson, and the late Dallas Willard have turned to organs of spiritual practice. They provide from any and every Christian tradition a piecemeal infusion of intentional spirituality that, while still largely unformed and understudied, now sustains some. From the rich medieval tradition of spirituality in particular, these good doctors are leading modern Christians to rediscover ascetic practices, grow under spiritual directors, go on retreats at monasteries, meditate after the manner of the lectio divina.

Yet, many Protestants, in particular, still believe that they can be faithful to their Reformation heritage only by rejecting the medieval heritage. They perceive it as not just catholic, but Roman Catholic—or in its Eastern forms Eastern Orthodox—and thus hyper-sacramental, semi-Pelagian, institutional, nominal. For these folks, as for the Hollywood of Pulp Fiction, to “get medieval” is to do violence. It is to do violence both to the Reformation doctrinal heritage of salvation by faith and to the revivalist spiritual heritage of direct, unmediated access to God in Christ.

These alarmists do not know how badly they misconstrue the continental Reformation (and to a lesser degree American revivalism) and, especially, the medieval traditions from which they insist on cutting themselves off. The True Church did not disappear as God lost control after Constantine, to reappear only with Martin Luther, John Wesley, and Billy Graham.

[1] See the recent admission of Willow Creek leadership that they have failed in the area of discipleship.

One response to “Introducing Medieval Wisdom: An Exploration with C S Lewis – part 3

  1. Reblogged this on Sacred Foundations, Inc. and commented:
    Part 3 Introducing Medieval Wisdom.

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