Tag Archives: Robert Webber

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

Prominent Reformed evangelical promotes medieval mystics


This piece was first published last December over at Christianity Today‘s history blog, but since it’s been a while and not all of you saw it the first time, here it is again:

Prominent Reformed Evangelical Promotes Medieval Mystics

by Chris Armstrong | December 10, 2008

https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f6/Meister_des_Hildegardis-Codex_003.jpgThis headline seems to fall in the “man bites dog” category. From a professor (also dean and VP) of Westminster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, we expect precise articulations of Reformed doctrine. Defenses of biblical inerrancy. Disquisitions on the priority of theology over experience.
We don’t expect a spirited exhortation to read thousand-year-old mystical texts.

But that’s just what we get in Carl Trueman’s article Why Should Thoughtful Evangelicals Read the Medieval Mystics. And it’s worth reading – whether you share Trueman’s Reformed stance or not. In a nutshell, after acknowledging difficulties, he enumerates four reasons we should read such luminaries of the Middle Ages as Bonaventure, Hildegard of Bingen, and Julian of Norwich. For those wanting to cut to the chase, here’s my brief commentary on Trueman’s article. 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