Tag Archives: Richard Lovelace

A conversation with Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, Eugene Peterson, and James Houston on the “ressourcement” movement in evangelical spirituality


Reader Alex Tang posted to my “Ask Dr. Church History” page: “What is your current assessment of the ressourcement or spiritual formation movement? I believe you have written earlier that you think it is ‘stalled.'” The assessment Alex mentions is not mine–or to be exact, it is mine, but I take it from conversations I had with Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, Eugene Peterson, and James Houston.

I had those conversations while preparing the following article, “The Rise, Frustration, and Revival of Evangelical Spiritual Ressourcement” for the Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care 2009, Vol. 2, No. 1, 113–121:

The Rise, Frustration, and Revival of Evangelical Spiritual Ressourcement

Chris Armstrong, Bethel Seminary (St. Paul, MN)

It started in the 1950s and 1960s. It “broke out” in 1978, with the publication of Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline. But today, evangelicalism’s recovery of spiritual traditions from past centuries—led by such popularizers as Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, Eugene Peterson, and James Houston—seems to have reached an impasse. What opened evangelicals to the riches of spiritual tradition? Why has this movement seemingly stalled out? Are there grounds for hope that it will soon move forward again?

There is no denying that by the time Foster’s Celebration hit bookstores in 1978, the conciliatory, culture-engaging “new evangelicals” (represented by the National Association of Evangelicals [NAE], Christianity Today, and Fuller and Gordon-Conwell) had already begun to initiate themselves into the world of traditional Christian spirituality. They were using contemplative prayer techniques, attending retreats, sitting under spiritual directors, and reading Catholic and Orthodox books.

This new openness emerged out of two decades of radical change and barrier-crossing within evangelicalism. The Age of Aquarius saw evangelicals hungering for genuine spiritual experience. If this meant breaking out from the narrow biblicism and constrictive intellectual boundaries of their fundamentalist roots, then so be it. They sought a deeper Christian wisdom both about what makes disciples truly Christ-like and, simply, about what makes people tick. Continue reading

Can the study of history have value for the church? Reflections after the Kalamazoo congress


A few reflections on my experience at Medieval Congress 2010, dictated as I drove from Kalamazoo to Midway Airport (through Michigan Wine Country–and stopping at a few tastings!) to return to the Twin Cities:

Sitting in that last session [where I heard the paper “The Beauty of the Person in the Thought of Thomas Aquinas,” by Margaret I. Hughes of Fordham Univ] reminds me again of the apparent integrity and usefulness of Thomistic moral categories and moral analysis (this first came across me at the conference in Rebecca DeYoung’s session on vainglory).

I’m aware always of David Steinmetz’s off-handed dismissal, in a class one day, of virtue ethics as something, as I understood him, inherently Pelagian. But I think again that there’s a high value in an anatomizing of the heart as an ultimately spiritual as well as intellectual discipline, and I think Aquinas works in that mode do many other ethical thinkers in the medieval period . . . and as do the penitential manuals and so on and so forth.

Do they always do it well or in ways we can appropriate today? I’m sure they don’t. But to examine closely our personalities, who we are as moral beings, how we are tempted, how we sin, and how we recover from sins and become purified through a life-long process of sanctification—there is great value in this; it’s a value that was captured in the Methodist movement, has been captured by the Pietists, the Puritans . . . It seems it’s inherently and faithfully biblical and worthy of further study. Continue reading

Evangelicalism’s hidden liturgical and confessional past


Can revivalistic emotion and liturgical reverence co-exist? What about spontaneous worship and doctrinal carefulness? Yes, these can be part of the same religious experience–indeed, these seemingly contradictory elements coexisted at the very taproot of evangelical history. I explored this in a post on Christianity Today’s history blog:

Evangelicalism’s Hidden Liturgical and Confessional Past

by Chris Armstrong

The emotional energy of Cane Ridge and other early frontier revivals arose from a strong emphasis on the Eucharist.

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Many evangelicals – especially younger ones – are today re-engaging tradition. Other evangelicals worry about this re-engagement. They feel that to move toward a more liturgical form of worship or a more fixed, detailed style of theological “confession” is to give up the freer, more emotional worship style or more grass-roots, straightforward doctrinal and theological style won for us by such evangelical forefathers as the 18th century’s John Wesley or the 19th century’s Charles Finney.

I want to suggest that one way forward to healthier engagement with tradition for modern-day evangelicals is through a look at our own recent past. For American revivalism itself grew on unexpected foundations of liturgy and doctrinal confession. Continue reading