Tag Archives: ecclesiology

Jesus is coming. Look busy?

New EWP Talk: A Sacred Church

The “faith and work movement” in America is in danger of deepening the sacred-secular divide . . . by approaching and understanding church in some secularizing ways. If we want to find the sacred in the world – including in our workplaces – we must first find it in our churches. And when we do, our work can be revolutionized.

That is the burden of this short TED-style talk I recently presented at a meeting of faculty members teaching in the Oikonomia Network of seminaries. The talk draws from a still-popular book called For the Life of the World, based on a series of talks on the mission of the church by the late Alexander Schmemann of St. Vladimir’s Seminary (Eastern Orthodox) in New York.

Doctrinalist, pietist, culturalist. How does your church lean?

English: Darlington Reformed Presbyterian Chur...

Darlington Reformed Presbyterian Church (PCA), Darlington, PA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An interesting counterpart to Avery Dulles‘s “five models of church” (institution, mystical communion, servant, herald, sacrament) is the triad of church emphases laid out by Tim Keller in his paper “What’s So Great about the PCA?” (For those who don’t know, PCA = Presbyterian Church in America). Lots could be said about this article or this denomination, but I’m most interested in these qualities that Keller borrows from George Marsden and describes as facets of Presbyterianism in America, and indeed facets of the PCA, resulting in significant infradenomenational tensions:

The doctrinalist impulse puts the emphasis on the corporate and the objective. The stress is on ministry done through church courts—Session, Presbytery, and General Assembly‐‐ and on people being brought to Christ through objective ordinances and processes like baptism and catechism. Continue reading

“Chaplaincy” role(s) for pastors? For congregations?


Friend John Armstrong posted an interesting discussion I’d like to pass on to readers:

Last week my friend Mark Galli wrote a post on the need for more pastors who loved and shepherded their congregations as chaplains. I attend a funeral on Saturday and saw this happen in the most amazing way I’ve ever witnessed. I wish I had a DVD of what I saw. Every pastor in America should learn how to be a chaplain in a funeral service. Then my friend Tod Bolsinger wrote a great response suggesting that what we needed is a missional leader(s), not chaplains. I agree, to a point, but I also found myself thinking this is not a both/and but an either/or. Then this morning Michael Mercer, the Internet Monk, responded and expressed my thoughts perfectly. Three friends all engaging one other in respect and humility. This is truly one of the finest dialogs among Christian leaders I’ve read in a long, long time.


Tod Bolsinger disagrees with Mark Galli. In a post on his blog, Bolsinger writes, We Need Chaplains…Just not More Of Them…Not Now. . . .

Does evangelical “immediatism,” or direct access to God in Jesus, mean we cannot learn from tradition? No.

One may say: well, if evangelical mysticism/immediatism (direct access to God in Jesus) has stunted our ecclesiology by making everything between the individual and God negotiable according to a sort of pragmatics of piety (see my previous post), then it must also militate against tradition in all senses of that term.

In other words, our tendency to emphasize direct experience of God must be the enemy of a full-orbed understanding and appropriation of the church fathers and other rich theological and spiritual sources from the shared Christian heritage. Yes?

But surprisingly, no. Or at least, not necessarily. And this suggests a program for evangelical renewal today, as I suggest in another section of my paper “Evangelicals and Tradition,” given at the 2007 meeting of the Evangelical-Roman Catholic Dialogue in St. Paul:

Lest we think that the Augustinian-Platonic focus on direct inward experience of the divine works only against tradition, however, we need only remember the Reformers’ own deep engagement in the thought of the church fathers. The Reformation was precisely the story of a group of people who saw unacceptable (they would have said, “modern”!) innovations in their church and worked to reform and renew it by reengaging with . . . yes, the Bible; yes, the New Testament church; but also and very significantly, the church fathers. When the late Robert Webber talked about the “ancient-future church,” he was saying only what the Reformers themselves were saying. Continue reading

Yes, there is such a thing as evangelical mysticism

These days all you have to say, in order to be blacklisted from the rolls of evangelical Christianity by certain self-appointed watchdogs, is that you are a fan of “contemplation” or “mysticism.” Voila! you are apostate: probably sliding into Eastern mysticism, and certainly a dangerous person for right-thinking evangelicals to hang around.

A colleague of mine at Bethel San Diego, the theologian Glen Scorgie, has lately been spelunking the little-studied area of “evangelical mysticism.” Among a select group of 19th- and 20th-century evangelical spiritual writers such as A. W. Tozer and Andrew Murray, the Catholic mystical writers were not at all off-limits for evangelical study and praxis.

I’d go further. If you define mysticism as Bernard McGinn does, as  a direct, intimate relationship with God in Jesus, accessed through certain disciplines, then I would argue that mysticism has been present in evangelicalism from its beginnings in the 18th century, and indeed from its immediate roots in the 17th. Here’s a clip from the beginning of a paper I gave in 2007 to the Evangelical-Roman Catholic Dialogue here in St. Paul. I use the term “immediatism” here, but I mean by it mysticism, in the sense defined above:

“Immediatism” in evangelicalism’s DNA

American Evangelicals have mysticism, or what I would call immediatism—the belief that the average layperson has direct, individual access to God, with no other mediator beside Christ—in the bloodstream. We find this at the very roots of American evangelicalism, among the first Puritans. As we were first taught in 1939 by the grand revisionist and revivifier of the Puritans, Perry Miller, this was “an emotionally vibrant and spiritually vigorous group in the tradition of Platonic idealism and Augustinian piety; their zeal came from an insatiable quest for the spiritual ideal of union with God despite their human imperfections.”[1] Continue reading

How evangelicals have rediscovered the treasures of early Christianity, and what to do next

Further to my previous post on the new center for early church studies at Wheaton: In Spring, 2007, Wheaton College hosted a conference on how evangelicals are re-engaging with the wisdom of the early church. I attended the conference and wrote a feature article on it, published in Christianity Today in February 2008. The trends I describe here are certainly continuing, and the wise encouragements and warnings of the scholars who presented at that conference still apply. Let us rejoice in “treasures old” as well as new, and let us also display and use these treasures with discernment:

The Future Lies in the Past
Why evangelicals are connecting with the early church as they move into the 21st century.
Chris Armstrong

Last spring, something was stirring under the white steeple of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College.

A motley group of young and clean-cut, goateed and pierced, white-haired and bespectacled filled the center’s Barrows Auditorium. They joined their voices to sing of “the saints who nobly fought of old” and “mystic communion with those whose rest is won.” A speaker walked an attentive crowd through prayers from the 5th-century Gelasian Sacramentary, recommending its forms as templates for worship in today’s Protestant churches. Another speaker highlighted the pastoral strengths of the medieval fourfold hermeneutic. Yet another gleefully passed on the news that Liberty University had observed the liturgical season of Lent. The t-word—that old Protestant nemesis, tradition—echoed through the halls.

Just what was going on in this veritable shrine to pragmatic evangelistic methods and no-nonsense, back-to-the-Bible Protestant conservatism? Had Catholics taken over? Continue reading