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Jesus Creed


More on the Liturgical Turn

posted by xscot mcknight

What is going on? There is a rise, a burgeoning rise, of young college students converting from low church evangelicalism, with its anemic, unhistorical ecclesiology, to the great liturgical traditions: Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. Three students this semester have already told me they are considering converting. I have spoken with professors or chaplains at a few colleges and they are seeing the same thing. The numbers are not large, but the students themselves are often some of our brightest and best. So, what to say?
We’d like to hear from students (and others) who are considering this turn, from those who have already made the turn, and from chaplains and college professors who are witnessing the experience.
Paradoxically, I see this as part of the emerging movement. One of the themes of the emerging movement is made up of several threads: weariness with evangelical bickering, a yearning for liturgical form, and an awareness of the value of the ancient fathers of the Church. But instead of pursuing the vicious radical low church ecclesiology we see in some writers today, which is evangelicalism on steroids, these young students move out of evangelicalism with some emerging ideas and return to the ancient church traditions. (I trace some of this story in Finding Faith, Losing Faith: Stories of Conversion and Apostasy. In this book I cite the major collections of stories of conversion to liturgical traditions.)
Here’s how I see it, and I’d love to have a public and open conversation right here about this topic among those who are seeing this first hand. (So College profs and chaplains, let’s hear what you are seeing. You need not mention your school; you can. It’s going on all over the place.)
How do you explain it? Here is the beginning of my thoughts:
These kids come to college with:
1. No ecclesiology to speak of in their low-church evangelical experience.
2. Complete ignorance of the first 1500 years of the Church.
3. A chaotic postmodern culture in search of anchors.
4. Pastors who act like popes and read the Bible authoritatively with reckless disregard for anything prior to 1500.
5. Professors who each interprets the Bible for himself (or herself if they are lucky to have a woman reading the Bible).
6. Learning to read the Bible for themselves … again with little regard for anyone or any tradition.
And… then these students …
1. Land upon Ignatius and Irenaeus and Athanasius, each of whom materially shaped what we believe.
2. Are told by professors how important these great thinkers were.
3. They see the budding rise of early Catholic and Orthodox thinking in these writers.
4. Know that Nicea is not only a good set of ideas but something you better believe or you get kicked out.
In other words….
Everything in favor of thinking EO or the RCC just might be the way to go.
And I suspect they have friends, good solid mature spiritual friends, who are EO or RCC.
And a professor or two who teaches Aristotle or Thomistic thinking (behind RCC) or some good solid Platonism (behind EO).
The conversion of young low church evangelicals to liturgical traditions should hardly surprise us. What we should be doing is correcting our weaknesses by listening to those converting.



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Ted M. Gossard

posted September 22, 2008 at 12:51 am


I agree, Scot, with your last statement. The weakness in so converting, as you make clear in your upcoming book, “The Blue Parakeet” (from my “advance reader copy”) is that we can end up reading the Bible *through* the lens of tradition rather than *with* tradition as in “The Great Tradition” as you put it. We need to learn much from tradition, while at the same time being free to critique tradition from Scripture.
But I remember just how impressed I was when in school over the same things you mention here. I considered considering Roman Catholicism around ten years ago, but after investigating decided not to.



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MattR

posted September 22, 2008 at 1:23 am


I agree Scot, but from the college and post-college young adults I talk to would add: Depth.
From what I hear this is often a reaction to the stunning lack of depth in some (not all) of evangelicalism. Worship has become marketing and middle-of-the-road love songs to Jesus… teaching just rehashing the ‘three points’ that someone taught 20yrs ago (instead of dialouge with voices of the past and present as you mentioned), or even worse, reducing the gospel to self-help platitudes in the name of being ‘practical.’
The emerging church was in some ways a resonse to this… but some are even seeing parts of that as just a repackage of the same thing (again parts… ceratinly not all).
In college I explored EO for simular reasons (though never converted).



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APole

posted September 22, 2008 at 2:33 am


I teach in one of the evangelical seminaries in Poland. Maybe I will surprise you, but I observe similar tendency here. Although religious situation in my country is significantly different than one in the States, weaknesses of evangelicalism are pretty much the same all over the world and so the consequences. In recent years several of our graduates have converted to RCC or mainline protestant denominations (both Lutheran and Reformed). Some of them are in the process of searching in these and other (EO) directions now. Similarly to what you’ve noticed, Scot, they were our brightest students. It seems three main things that repel them in evangelical churches are: 1) total disregard for serious exegesis that lets pastors preach whatever they want from whatever passage of Scriptures they want (text becomes pretext), 2) careless rejection of ancient tradition and the teaching of Church fathers which makes inexplicable, in their opinion, even the acceptance of the canon of the Bible and 3) bullying behavior and attitude of many pastors who do not feel accountable to anyone and lead churches in an authoritarian way. If you add to these constant fights and multiplication of evangelical denominations and congregations (all of that in spite of slowly but unfortunately steadily declining number of evangelicals in Poland), not wonder these young people do not want to be part of such a fragmented and antagonized movement.



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Kyle

posted September 22, 2008 at 3:04 am


I’ve never really been attracted EO (except for in the writings of David Bentley Hart), but RCC has definitely attracted me at times.
One of the big influences on me was a course on Calvin in seminary. I quickly found that this “father” of the Reformation was highly influenced by the Fathers. To be honest, as an ignorant student I simply assumed the church had fallen away from Christ for the first 1500 years or so…because that’s what was often implied in my upbringing. This caused me to start reading the church fathers and seeing how our faith developed and grew stronger and thus attracted me to RCC since they still placed great emphasis on the early church leaders’ teachings.
Then, another period of considering conversion came around the time of pope John Paul II’s death. I was fascinated by it. I remember those last few days of his life sitting in front of my TV glued to EWTN. I was working at a church and had my youth group watching it at the youth center. The parents of the youth would say things like “It’s just sad that they put so much emphasis on a man…look at all of their worldly rituals…they think they have to be saved by their works…think of all of the mouths they could feed in Africa with the riches they’ve put into these cathedrals” Honestly, while most of the other adults (many who grew up catholic) were turned off by what we were watching, I was longing to be a part of it.



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miranda

posted September 22, 2008 at 3:54 am


I wonder whether is trend is related to the younger generation only.
As a forty something, with a Pentecostal/evangelical background my faith recovered from doubt and despair by studying theology, in particular systematic theology. Through the voices of the church of all ages I found comfort in knowing that my questions were not ‘unbelief’, but serious issues that the church has struggled with from its early beginnings. I tell my kids that by the time they leave the house, I might turn to the Roman Catholic church. But I suspect that I am too socialized as an evangelical to really make that move.
I do struggle with the evangelical church I attend and long for a more embodied and multi sensory form of liturgy



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Jason

posted September 22, 2008 at 4:08 am


Hello,
I have only been reading your blog for the last 3 weeks or so, but I like your stuff :)
I recently graduated from Wheaton College and among the students, especially in the bible/theology department, there was a typical pattern of: attend the near-by non-denominational church of choice for 1-2 years, spend a year+/- looking around for “something more” and ending up at Church of the Resurrection (Anglican Mission in America)(disclaimer: I was one of them). And this consisted of many more than 2 or 3 students. I would say at least 2 or 3 of my friends were attending an EO church with thoughts of converting. Of course, this wasn’t just a student thing, I found out after switching that a few of my favorite professors attended Church of the Rez as well, despite a non-Anglican background.



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Diane

posted September 22, 2008 at 5:15 am


Fascinating, and I agree with much of what Scot and people above said. Just the weekend, I met a young former Quaker who converted to an Eastern Orthodox denomination and recently graduated from an EO seminary. His frustration with what he saw as “free interpretation” of the Bible among Quakers palpable. He likes –and I’ve seen this with others, anecdotally, of course–being part of an institution that has been more or less the same for 2,000 years and isn’t likely to change. I don’t know if this was said above, but in the people I have seen move to high church, the attraction is often moving from a place where the central Christian doctrines can shift dangerously in order for the group to “be loving” and accommodate injured people (be it through, in Quakerism, a tendency to embrace universalism or in other churches, a prosperity gospel that asks its members for no sacrifices …) . A challenge for Quakerism (and I suspect in different ways for evangelical churches) is to attract the wounded while keeping core doctrines pure. I am saddened that the young man above, who is on fire for Jeus, is using his gifts in another church when Quakers need people like him so badly, but at the same time remember we are all part of the body of Christ.



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Diane

posted September 22, 2008 at 5:17 am


Apologies for all the dropped words above.



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Richard

posted September 22, 2008 at 6:19 am


I have to say that tradition or even, The Great Tradition, has never, ever profited a man outside of Grace. The high school students at the church I attend are having a rally to pray around the flag pole on flag day at their high schools. We would be considered a low church (I think). Although we know that our his-story lies in Him being the God of the Living and not of the dead.
There is an esscence of mystery made know to us who believe, with true North being Love. The True church is in temples not made of hands. Strenght in weakness.
Glorifying God in Truth, that edifies, is the work of the Holy Spirit. It reminds me of seeing my color monitor displaying millions of colors in additive colors but only being able to reproduce, in print, a small percentage of that spectrum that when printing in subtractive colors. What is Spirit is Spirit and what is flesh is flesh.
This Sunday, or today, as we recognize the presence of God with us… Let us thank Him for where He has us and give thanks for where He has others, for He is well able. Let us remind ourselves that He died for all. That we are no better or no worse than anyone else for He has died for all. Let us consider the fact that perhaps those who don’t know Liturgical events might know Him better, and that those who, do might know Him less or more and that none know Him without His Spirit… let us leave persecution to error and find none in our hearts.
Our Father God show us what isn’t by what is, “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday today and tomorrow.”
The struggle in time is for rest. We do not get our banner by converting but by the obedience of the obedient one who said that ” Without me you can do nothing.”
I suggest that what is happening now has happened before only over a greater span of time and the see-saw of time and eternity is still creaking… even so, come Lord Jesus.



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Scott Lyons

posted September 22, 2008 at 6:25 am


Scot, the first thing I want to say is Thanks be to God!
I’ve been down this road and the Emergent/Emerging conversation was part of my path, however briefly. I’m RC, coming up on three years. I would echo what MattR says about Depth. And the further in you go, the deeper the waters. (Of course there is never one single reason, but an avalanche of reasons.)
There is mystery in these ancient faith traditions, but more importantly, there is also intimacy. And this is something difficult, in my experience, for some Evangelicals to understand. They get that some of us are attracted to the felt Transcendence of God in these Churches, and they like to say that that is an important reason for some of our conversions (an escape from the Jesus-and-me, or Jesus-is-my-girlfriend mentality). And it is an attraction. But my final decision, and I suspect many others as well, came because of nearly the opposite reason: the Scriptural evidence, the Fathers’ support, and the continuity of Church teaching on the Real Presence of Christ in the holy Eucharist – that the bread and the wine mysteriously, somehow, becomes Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. This teaching is not merely Transcendence like my Evangelical background failed to provide me, this was now Intimacy that she didn’t have as well – I eat our Lord and He consumes me.
I follow Christ in the Catholic Church. Why? Among a multitude of other reasons, I am awed by his great Transcendence, and am broken by the tenderness of His Presence. Eucharist is parousia – though, of course, there is more to come.



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D C Cramer

posted September 22, 2008 at 6:26 am


I would add one other element that I’m seeing at the small, midwestern, evangelical college where I teach: the nearby Catholic ministries are actually providing ministries that the students find meaningful: homeless shelters, food pantries, etc. So, providing authentic service opportunities has actually served as implicit evangelism to these students.



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Heather

posted September 22, 2008 at 6:28 am


There are many reasons why students explore EO and RCC, and I think that those given above are valid. I would add to that list a desire for a more structured and unified church body–this stems from the obvious lack of cohesion in the Protestant church (in fact, it is difficult for me to refer to Protestantism as a “church” as I see it more as a melting pot of beliefs without structure). EO and RCC have visible leaders and hierarchy, and while that hierarchy is not friendly to women, I still see the benefit of making at least some attempt to communicate with the rest of the church. This structure also provides authority that I feel the Protestant church does not have, with pastors frequently interpreting the Bible in their own way, sometimes even with cynicism toward the Church and the pastor’s own personal history. The Protestant church also lacks unity in that many churches are on their own and not at all attached to any communion of churches.
Above all, in my experience with EO over the past six months, I feel there is a greater reverence and a sense of mystery there that I have simply not found anywhere else. I don’t know that I’ll “convert,” but if I did, it would be for the reasons above in combination with those Scot gave.
One of my greatest hopes for the Church is that one day, we would all be in communion with each other, sharing the Eucharist as one body instead of keeping it to our own sectors. At the very least, we can begin to talk with each other about how we can even get along–what is the Church supposed to be to the world? Whatever the answer is, our response to it will be much more powerful if we work together.
Just my thoughts. =)



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Matt

posted September 22, 2008 at 6:35 am


It seems to me to be an over reaction to the low church movement. If evangelical churches would reclaim thier main line roots, I think they would not loose so many people. Many great protestant theologians would role over in thier grave’s if they saw the state of the Church today (Luther, Calvin, Wesley are the bid 3 that come to mind) I became Anglican from a low church background, this happened at Trinity Divinity in Chicage. I read the Fathers, got sick of the lack of ecclesiology and the loe emphasis on sanctification. What has stopped me from EO or RCC is reading the reformers, my concern for missions, reading Development of Doctrine stuff by Pelikan and studying the inner workings of the EO and the RCC.
I think to many people just read the EO and RCC writers and then read the currernt Evangelical authors. It may serve us well to educate ourselves with the classics of men who lived and breathed the Fathers and the scripture, yet ID themselves with the reformaiton, and have a good understanding of ecclesiology. (not low church)



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Jim Martin

posted September 22, 2008 at 6:35 am


Scot,
This is a fascinating discussion. (Your post and the comments to this point.) I especially look forward to campus ministers, chaplains, and profs who might comment.
My interest is not only as an observer but on another level as well. A few years ago, I discovered that I have a distant cousin who went down the EO trail some years ago, became a priest, etc.



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Ben Sternke

posted September 22, 2008 at 6:37 am


I began exploring liturgy a few years ago for many of the same reasons. I was especially looking for a way of worship that took the story of God more seriously – too many “Five Steps to a Better Marriage” sermons led me to desire some depth in worship and preaching, something more connected to the Great Tradition, more connected to the church around the world and through history – something that actually HAD an ecclesiology, in other words.
A few books that have been really helpful in the journey for me were Simon Chan’s Liturgical Theology, Robert Webber’s Ancient-Future books, and D.H. Williams’ books. David Fitch’s The Great Giveaway was also influential.
But while I do see others interested in liturgy, there are plenty more who give me blank stares when I try to explain my attraction to it ;)



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Anette Ejsing

posted September 22, 2008 at 6:42 am


The liturgy is to the presence of God what a set table is to a good meal.
When the liturgy asks my body to kneel for the confession of sins, I am more likely to remember my sin.
When the liturgy directs my attention to that day’s new robe color, I am more likely to understand that I must focus on all the different aspects of what Christ has done for us.
When the liturgy asks me to watch the process of “the preparation of the table,” I am more likely to learn that Christ intentionally went through a process of taking death upon himself.
When my parents, during our childhood years, asked us children to “always eat with both knife and fork on Sundays,” I learned that food is special, nothing to be taken for granted.
That’s how I think about the liturgy, and the reason I need it. Sometimes I even crave it.
Anette



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seth

posted September 22, 2008 at 7:01 am


just following comments.



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Jeff

posted September 22, 2008 at 7:19 am


I’m a campus pastor to graduate students (for four years). I have noticed that students who transition from low church evangelicalism to a liturgical community bless this new community by bringing to it a fresh discovery/appreciation of the meaning and power of liturgy. To many who grow up inside a liturgical tradition, this tradition is assumed and even taken for granted (same is true of the low church tradition). Converts bring with them a new energy and vigor that can help renew a community.



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BB

posted September 22, 2008 at 7:57 am


Any good words for evangelicalism?



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Scot McKnight

posted September 22, 2008 at 8:06 am


BB,
Fair enough. The post is about why there is a liturgical turn by young evangelicals and they don’t turn because of the good in evanagelicalism but because of the weaknesses they sense. So, the focus in my description is not on the good and bad but the perceived weaknesses they want to put behind them.



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Ben Sternke

posted September 22, 2008 at 8:09 am


Also, BB, I think the reason many people do not go “the whole way” and convert to RCC or EO is possibly because although they see weaknesses in evangelicalism, they also see strengths, and perhaps are simply trying to bring the strength of liturgical tradition into the strengths of evangelicalism.



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Nico-Dirk van Loo

posted September 22, 2008 at 8:09 am


Noticing the same pattern of behaviour or at least line of thought in Dutch Emerging/missional circles. Some converted to RCC, most work towards learing from RCC/EO and anglican tradition. Some are digging into mainline protestant tradition to search for liturgy that preceded liberal theology.



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RJS

posted September 22, 2008 at 8:15 am


We have a weak and unhistorical ecclesiology in low church evangelicalism; an unbiblical hierarchical ecclesiology oft beset by corruption in the great liturgical traditions; (a complete ignorance of the first 1500 years allows for a greener pastures outlook as one need not wrestle with the great moral failings of the great liturgical traditions).
What, Scot, should Christian ecclesiology look like?



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Tim

posted September 22, 2008 at 8:18 am


I think part of this small movement has been helped by some of the more well-known converts to Catholicism like Dr. Scott Hahn. He describes in his conversion book “Rome Sweet Home” his experience at a Marquette Chapel observing daily Mass and how it was one of the main reasons he decided to become Catholic. He later went on to write “The Lamb’s Supper” which connects the Mass with the Book of Revelation. I know for me, a cradle Catholic who wasn’t much involved in my faith, that this book was essential in my “re-conversion” to the Church, where I now do full-time campus/young adult ministry. I also know, that this book has been a great help to both cradle Catholics and those who convert.



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Steve

posted September 22, 2008 at 8:22 am


Couple thoughts-
I see the same trend, and am myself pulled in those same directions (I would surely be considered a young evangelical). So I understand the yearning for more.
But I find two specific themes problematic:
1) Conversion- do we convert to Christ? Or to a denominational form? My only interactions with EOs have always gone along these lines (even the EO authors I have read).
EO “This is what we believe __________”
Me “Hey, that is what I affirm.”
EO “No, we don’t believe the same things.”
or
EO “You need to join the one true Church.”
Me “But I’m already a part of it?”
EO “Nope, you gotta be EO or else.”
I follow Christ. Certainly I follow someone as they follow Christ. And that someone is important. But as a spiritual descendent of Protestantism, I still claim the heritage of Augustine et al.
2) Church Shopping- I don’t like my church, I do like that other one. So I will leave mine and join the other. This is simply self-centered! (I recognize that God will move people from one church to another! But this is a trend that cannot be attributed to that solely.) Surely God would want people to invest in the community they are a part of?!?!?! If the floor is dirty, pick up a broom!!!! Don’t complain and find a ‘cleaner’ church.
Either we are committed to community or we are not. Relationships are hard, trusting, knowing, loving is difficult. But it is the command (and the joy!).



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Scot McKnight

posted September 22, 2008 at 8:30 am


There are so many good comments; keep them coming, but I want to respond briefly to RJS:
What should the ecclesiology look like?
Anchored in the past
Capable of always reforming
Expressing itself for our day



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Anonymous

posted September 22, 2008 at 8:42 am


Worship Connect » Blog Archive » Liturgical Turn?

[...] Today,? Scot McKnight? is talking about college students converting from evangelicalism to other traditions. What is going on? There is a rise, a burgeoning rise, of young college students converting from low church evangelicalism, with its anemic, unhistorical ecclesiology, to the great liturgical traditions: Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. Three students this semester have already told me they are considering converting. [...]



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John W Frye

posted September 22, 2008 at 8:52 am


My observation is that the EO and RCC to some extent stay immersed in the grand God Story via the liturgical calendar. Low church evangelicalism is and has been for a long time awash in topics—a series on marriage, how to manage anger, 5 steps to financial freedom, how to have good sex, yada yada yada. The Bible no longer presents a sweeping Story for low church evangelicals; it has become a pill bottle for social ills and personal “happiness.”



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Scott W

posted September 22, 2008 at 8:56 am


Your hypothesized six-step path of conversion to RCC mirrors my experience pretty much to the letter. I grew up in a rabidly anti-traditional Charismatic church, attended a Wesleyan college, got extremely involved with Spiritual Life on campus, and then left exasperated, depressed, and fatigued. This was due mostly to what I perceived as Sola Scriptura philosophy running rabid and a postmodern exegesis which had little regard for the tenets of literary criticism and too much emphasis on trendy themes in sociology.
In my graduate years, I was heavily influenced by a group of similarly disaffected Protestants who were seeing the necessity of the Church Fathers. We wanted to recreate the original Early Church and embarked on a trek that took us deeper and deeper into Church History, development of doctrine, and eventually the Roman Catholic faith. (Nearly 2/3 of this group of about 20 have already been received into the RC Church… one is in seminary).
So far it seems like I’m just embellishing your six steps. But there’s a crucial factor that you don’t mention–the example of pious Catholics. There’s a renewal going on within the RCC and, thankfully, I was befriended by some believers (all under the age of 25, mind you) who are heavily involved with this project. This group is in love with John Paul II and Benedict XVI, adores Humanae Vitae and traditional Catholic sexual ethics, is friendly with religious orders, and is not at all shy about its faith.
Although converts have a lot of zeal, many “re-verts” come back to their cradle Catholicism with a mammoth amount of energy an axe to grind about the poor catechesis which had led them astray. These young adults see how ancient (and in their eyes beautiful) rituals were sidelined by the misguided “progressive” attempts of the last generation. Post Vatican II RCC culture threw a lot of babies out with the bathwater and liturgy-loving young believers rush to the rescue (they’re nothing if not pro-life).
To be honest, I wouldn’t have had the strength to continue in my early zeal were it not for this group. I see young Catholic university students pooling their resources to live communally while they discern the priesthood, religious life, or simply attempt to minimize their debt so they can start (large) families soon after graduation. I’ve met teenagers who tell me they’ve wanted to be friars since they were six years old… and their zeal hadn’t been curbed by postmodern culture. Seminarian friends get practically teary-eyed when they think that in a few years they’ll be able to wear a cassock and help repair the damage of decades of lazy teaching and watery homilies.
They’re a new breed… or, more to the point, a very old breed which had been thought extinct. So I think any discussion of converts would be lacking if it did not in some way include this group (their example, their prayers, their outreach ministries). From religious orders like the Franciscans of the Renewal or the Sisters of Life to lay movements like the Missionaries of the Eucharist or Regnum Christi, there’s a revival fire burning… and the average age of the torches is much younger than you’d think.
It’s not merely an intellectual trajectory for university students jaded by low-church mentality… its a cultural backlash against the permissive culture which has had a stranglehold on Catholics and Protestants alike.



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Scot McKnight

posted September 22, 2008 at 8:57 am


John Frye,
My e-mail back to you got bounced. Here’s what I said:
“Said by John Frye, with a raspy voice and cigar butt dangling from the left side of his mouth…”



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Scot McKnight

posted September 22, 2008 at 8:59 am


Scott W
Ah, brother, that was what I was getting at in the “In other words…” second point. The power of an exemplary life makes credible the turn to the liturgical traditions.



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RJS

posted September 22, 2008 at 9:13 am


Wow, I can come up with some other short, easy to answer questions now that you are done with that one… the problem of evil and the work of the Spirit?
Ok ??? I realize this is only a start, and that working out your three points is not so easy. But it is a thought provoking start. A post dedicated to the topic would be interesting.
On topic of this post ??? I am no longer a young evangelical, and I am not considering converting to EO or RCC (although conservative high church Anglicanism has some attraction). But – one key piece of the ecclesia is corporate worship; participating in the communion of the saints, past present, and future. As you say ??? anchored in the past. The great liturgical traditions do this well, low church evangelicalism, not so well. And John hits the nail ??? we are not immersed in the grand God story ??? and this hurts.
But ??? to counter Scott W, my exploration deeper and deeper into Church history and the development of doctrine has not led me into RCC, because the failings of the church are great, and this is also part of the history; but it has led me from lock step with the reformation ??? because our faith is rooted all the way back through 2000 years of history. While the reformation brought essential change, it also brought its own set of error and overreaction.



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B-W

posted September 22, 2008 at 9:19 am


One very quick observation. I’ve seen a trend that’s very similar to what you write here, but toward the Episcopal Church, as opposed to EO or RC. The Episcopal church retains much of the sense of tradition and liturgy (and history!) that you’re arguing is appealing to many younger Christians, but also has a more “open” (for lack of a better word) theology that many find appealing, as well.



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CAL

posted September 22, 2008 at 9:21 am


As a young man considering conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy (and quite far down that path), I wanted to add a few thoughts. In my group of friends, there are at least six people now studying Orthodox literature (some are students or student age), regularly attending services at a local parish, and adopting Eastern Christian spirituality in their private worship. Also, because it is of interest: I’d like to note that many of the parishes in our city are full of converts of every age, not only young people. I’d say this phenomenon extends well beyond the student age group to entire families, mid-life persons, and elderly folks, and has been happening for a few decades since Orthodox services and literature became more widely available in English.
Scot, to what you’ve said above (comment #20), you’re absolutely correct???our inquiry into this ancient Church isn’t about the lack of goodness we see in Evangelicalism (though we do see some, to be sure, just as any of you do). It’s about the fullness of the Eastern Orthodox experience???the depth, as someone said above, that doesn’t appear to have an end. I can only speak for myself and my friends, but we are thankful for our Protestant experiences. We continue in love for our Evangelical brothers and sisters. But what we’re experiencing is something like a river widening into the ocean. That???s how it feels, anyway.
I don’t want to be brushed aside as an over-excited cheerleader here by overstating. But never in my life as an Evangelical???27 years in total, active in church membership, ministry, and leadership???have I experienced Christ so magnified in worship. I simply can???t get over this realization. The depth of call to Christlike living and union to our Lord transcends anything in my previous experiences???which isn???t to say it was absent before. Not only that, but there is a time-tested path to spiritual growth here, handed down through the ages. We???re not captive to the fads and fashions of pop-psychology and the mass market. Through Orthodoxy, we follow footsteps of the saints of old. Amazingly, this ancient path is profoundly relevant to our lives today.
Primarily, I don???t believe that what we???re seeing in the shown interest and conversion of some young Evangelicals is primarily a rational endeavor. It may begin as this with the study of the fathers, the development of the Church and the canon, the councils, convincing polemics against certain Protestant doctrines, and so on. But it???s the experience of God that wins us and keeps us. To put it simply, God has never been more real.
There is too much to say about this here, really. I encourage any student leaders, pastors, or anyone of the sort who has questions about why their young people are converting to not simply look from afar at the Eastern Tradition and make conjectures. In my experience of writing to prominent Evangelical seminary professors and speaking with learned Protestant Christians, their understanding of Orthodoxy is surprisingly limited. I have found many of the assumptions made to be quite misguided.
If you really want to understand what your students see in this Tradition, attend services (and not just one or two), read some Orthodox books, talk to some priests, and most of all listen to your students.
Scot, if I can be of any help to you, I would be happy to chat. Please feel free to e-mail me.
P.S. To Steve’s comment above about using the word “conversion,” I agree that it’s problematic. It’s somewhat imprecise, but best reflects the amount of change required of one moving into one of these Churches.



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pam w

posted September 22, 2008 at 9:23 am


Depth is the most significant longing. 10,12 years ago I began going to the Catholic retreat centers in Colorado to study the contemplatives and the mystics. Having had many friends seek Buddhism because of the depth, I was searching for the fuller expression if Christ and the Body.
I did not go there for worship as I was a Protestant in theology. This is a a harsh generalization, but my experience (and what I keep hearing from the 20′s, 30′s crowd): The mailnine churches were lifeless, the evangelical shallow and focused on the ‘evacuation theology’. To a soul that has been raised in a postmodern context, the church that has been defined by modernity has lost it’s relevance. So, after my EV seminary degree, I (and many others I came to learn) was trained in Spiritual Direction from an RC who was studying Dallas Willard and part of Renovare.
A fascinating thing is happening here in the Bay Area. The evangelicals seeking depth are in spiritual formation groups through center. They are still in their EV churches on Sundays, but through the week meeting with RCC trained spiritual directors.



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Scott W

posted September 22, 2008 at 9:23 am


This phenomenon describes my journey, which began in my early 20s, when I became an Episcopalian till today some 28 years later and I’m now belong to an EO jurisdiction.
My reasons? They were related to a call from YHWH in prayer. In retrospect, this was absolutely essential to my growth as a Christian. My charismatic spirituality was grounded in a sacramental understanding of the Christian life and spirituality. And I was initially drawn to EO through itss prayer tradition, where I sensed the powerful working of the Holy Spirit and a sense of wholeness and renewal.
Personally, I don’t identify with the need for definitive authority which is an outgrowth of the foundationalist anxieties arising from Evangelical Protestant doctrines on Scripture.



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Thom

posted September 22, 2008 at 9:34 am


For your reading, here are my thoughts on the liturgical turn.



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Scott R W

posted September 22, 2008 at 9:56 am


Steve,
(This is from the first Scott W, by the way. I’ll now use Scott R W to differentiate)
I understand your problems with conversion and church shopping… but as a convert and former shopper, I’ll chime in. Obviously the ideal would be to stay involved in one community for the entire time. But it is not always that cut-and-dry.
First off, to the EO or RCC understanding, sharing beliefs is not the same as being “in communion.” Between your tradition and mine there’s a disconnect in the very understanding of “church.” This is due to the argument surrounding Apostolic Succession. If the church was a formal hierarchical body instituted by Christ and recognizably preserved to the present day in the RCC and EO bishops, you can see how an EO or RCC Christian would have a “you’re in or you’re out” mentality. To people like us, “church” is not merely a federation of like-minded believers. It is a tangible institution (that one joins through sacramental Confirmation). I’m not trying to pick a fight… just trying to give you a window into the mind behind the dialog you quote.
Second, regardless of which tradition one is in, if the quest for truth takes her/him beyond the pale of her/his current community’s tradition, it is often better to leave peacefully than to stay and inadvertently sow dissent. We are to be charitable and community-based but never at the expense of truth. So if one cannot, in good conscience, break bread with a body of believers who are radically different (in their understanding of “truth”), then it is nobler for her/him to go elsewhere. It may not be pretty, but people’s spirituality evolves and it’s not always the charitable thing to stick it out. I understand that people island hop for ridiculous reasons and shopping has gotten out of hand, but sometimes picking up the broom is only going to scratch the floor.



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Richard

posted September 22, 2008 at 9:59 am


I have seen the finger point both ways and I can not find it in my heart to say that any of the organized churches in this world are anymore of church than God allows them to be because of His Love and commitment to us.
I attend a Assembly of God Church in the same way that I attend work… in Love, and although I enjoy the assemblies and work, most of the time, I know that God has me there for a purpose as at work, to show that He loves mankind, including me – to give and take, in the Living and ever Present God, and knowing who I bow my knee to.
If I go anywhere not in Love (as if that could be possible) I grieve the Spirit that dwells in me and I pay to the last farthing until the reality of God’s Grace comes home to me in His ever abundant sea of forgiveness which is by everyone for the asking and taking. Sometimes a asking for forgiviness to a certain person might speedy the peace when being obedient to Love Himself.
I still believe that the church has Her High Priest and both are avialable 24/7, closer than a brother. Maybe this is just talking as a child and when I grow up I”ll have to put all this childish stuff away and get into church history and how wonderfuly it got us to the point where we can think that Christ is not enough for everyone, anytime anywhere even though we say He is.
I thank God through Jesus Christ for everyone of you who prayed to be like Him and find out that there is only one of Him and to be like Him, well, as He is in this world, so are you.
Anette #16 When I look at the American Flag I am reminded of the red of Jesus’s blood, the blue of His majesty, the white of His Purity. When I look to the East and West I see how far my sins have been seperated by Him. Snow reveals that my heart is whiter. Every face I look into reminds me that I can not Love God who I might not see and hate His creation whom I see.
His Table is set in every morning with the host of Life rising in the horizons of our hearts, His Mercy is fresh as the morning dew and His voice is heard by all even the deaf ear who would dwell in darkness.
I rejoice in your coming to grips with Him.



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BB

posted September 22, 2008 at 10:05 am


I emailed this to Scot, who asked me to submit it to the blog….
Great post about RCC and EO and evangelicalism. One line got me thinking, ???And a professor or two who teaches Aristotle or Thomistic thinking (behind RCC) or some good solid Platonism (behind EO).??? Where can I read more about the philosophical underpinnings of these ???denominations???? I was raised in a ???Bible only??? movement and am behind on philosophy.
If your time permits. . . . Scholars say that Benedict XVI is a ???non-Thomistic??? thinker. Is it possible to be RCC without being Thomistic?



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RJS

posted September 22, 2008 at 10:19 am


Scott R W,
You are absolutely right – on both counts.
And your if is the big if.
I am not and feel no inclination toward RCC because my exploration of church history, which started with reading scripture and the ante-nicene fathers, led me away from, not toward, the foundation of Apostolic succession. The church was established by Christ and grew – but was not established as a formal hierarchical body.



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RJS

posted September 22, 2008 at 10:25 am


Actually let me modify the last sentence a bit. The church was established by Christ and grew- but I see little to no evidence that it was established as a formal hierarchical body. I think this is actually because we are to be focused on Christ and on following Christ; not on Paul or Apollos or Peter or James.



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pam w

posted September 22, 2008 at 10:29 am


In #35, I missed a couple of words in the last paragraph (challenge of typing from my phone in a meeting…shhh)
should say: The evangelicals seeking depth are in spiritual formation groups through a Catholic Retreat Center.
The Vineyard, Covenant, PCUSA, Anglican…folks are all together experiencing the Ignatian Exercises and other spiritual formation disciplines through the Mercy Center (RCC). Then they are leading groups in their communities. The groups are sponsored by their churches, but end up with an interesting mix because of the web of relationships through the Mercy Center. It is fabulous!



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nathan

posted September 22, 2008 at 10:43 am


As an Anglican/Episcopalian I have to say that I would have remained in my evangelical “birth stream” of faith, but it was made clear to me that I would not be welcome–as a leader and as an individual–because the theological forms/language I used were a deep source of ambivalence for them.
Sometimes it’s not about complaining and abandoning a church…in fact, with the many people I’ve seen/listened to over the years, it’s about what Scot has called the “hard turn” and the increasing move toward a “dis-fellowshipping” impulse that tends to inhere in the essential structure of “free church/congregationalist” non-ecclesiology.



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pam w

posted September 22, 2008 at 10:46 am


And John Frye – Cigar or no cigar, great point. Those who have been raised with the mental models of a postmodern world are looking for the bigger picture, the larger narrative of our Story with God. They are not satisfied with the ‘parts’.
CAL – Love the ‘river widening to the ocean’. That picture resonates deeply. I can feel it physically (and it relates to the search of my soul) as I picture that moment in a river that you get dropped into the larger calm.
The reason I joined the larger emerging church conversation was that I saw the need highlighted by Richard Foster and Dallas Willard in Renovare. Since 1517, we have been on an arch that has taken us from essentially 2 ‘Bodies’, to 33,380 Christian denominations (if you believe the google number, if not, you get the point). As we continue to break down in smaller and smaller groups who agree with each other, we lose the fullness of the Body of Christ. When we bring these traditions (and the global cultural manifestations of each) together (at the ocean?) we see the fullnes of God.



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Kacie

posted September 22, 2008 at 10:47 am


I am a young evangelical who is indeed drawn to both the EO and RC paths. I would say that the thought process is that I was raised to love God and believe Him, but then once reaching adulthood and my own evangelical school degree, I see the immense flaws in the evangelical world I grew up in. In response, I look for those that love God and exhibit faith without the trappings of the evangelical church that I have come to dislike. The EO and RC church look good, mostly because I didn’t grow up in them so their particular flaws don’t hit home so personally.
However, I remain appreciative but outside of those two traditions, mostly because of their believe that they are THE Church. While I may struggle with evangelicalism, I am not willing to look at everything I grew up with and say that they are not just flawed but WRONG because they are not EO or RC.



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dopderbeck

posted September 22, 2008 at 10:55 am


I have toyed, only fleetingly in moments of despair over my evangelical / fundamental roots, with converting to RCC. (I’m not really young either though, but I do teach (law) in a Catholic institution). Here’s what’s attractive to me about it:
– the Eucharist means something. As I read scripture and study the Tradition, I’m convinced that Christ gave us the communion meal to be something more than a perfunctory monthly remembrance. Evangelicals who grow up in the Baptist / pietist vein tend to miss out on this entirely.
– intellectual engagement. Contemporary Catholic theology by and large has no problem integrating Truth from the natural sciences and Biblical criticism. The Vatican’s recent report on creation and evolution was a model of erudition. They learned from Galileo. And Catholic Biblical scholars can acknowledge that Moses didn’t write the entire Pentateuch without getting fired from their seminary jobs.
– rich social teaching. There is no comparison just about anywhere in theology, I’d suggest, to John Paul II on the theology of the human person and human culture.
– richer soteriology / eschatology. Here I think there’s some tension within Catholic theology, but the doctrines of purgatory and the harrowing of Hell suggest hope that “those who haven’t heard,” etc. may have a share in salvation through Christ.
– generous anchors for theological exploration. As you note in your book, Scot, there possibility of certainty offered by an authoritative interpretive magesterium is very attractive to those of us who feel at sea sometimes within the roiling waters of evangelicalism (if I like Karl Barth, am I a wise, progressive thinker or a heretic? depends who you ask). But, I’d add — and this is crucial — it’s particularly attractive because the magesterium seems to be fairly broad on many theological matters of interest — including the issues of the natural sciences, Biblical criticism, and soteriology that are difficult for many evangelicals. One can be certain that debate about such questions will not result in excommunication or even accusations about one’s true catholicicity. The discussion is much safer.
What would be unattractive to me about such a move:
– real theological differences about the meaning of justification, grace, and the priesthood of all believers; and a growing affinity for theologians in the Reformed tradition who eschew Thomistic natural theology (Barth, Torrance, McGrath)
– belief in the personal, small-group fellowship aspects of much evangelical ecclesiology, which seems to be missing from much Catholicism
– birth control. A huge pragmatic issue.
– abuses of authority within the Catholic church, particularly the priest sex scandals
– realization that the grass isn’t always greener — there are RCC fundamentalists just as there are evangelical fundamentalists
– desire to pass along a vibrant, personal faith to my children — something that seems to be lacking in many of the RCC families I know.



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Aaron C. Rathburn

posted September 22, 2008 at 11:10 am


Fascinating thoughts, Scot.
I have a friend at Bible College who graduated this Spring, and plans on leaving his Vineyard tradition to become a minister in the Anglican church.
I, myself, also have an interesting history. I come from a charismatic/Restorationist background, and I am not unhappy with my church or body whatsoever. Our church is reformed, and our pastor is a PhD-wielding, published historian, on US presidential foreign policy, and a professor at one of the biggest universities in the US.
However, due to no unsatisfaction whatsoever with my church (our church is amazing!), I have still curiously felt drawn to more corporate, ancient traditions. Perhaps this is fueled by my Restorationist/Primitivist background (Apostles for today), but I definitely feel compelled to be a part of a bigger, corporate, historic confession of the Body of Christ.
I have briefly and idly thought of RCC, but ultimately some doctrinal and ecclesiastical things that they practice are just irreconcilable with me. However, this has made me drawn to the most ancient non-RCC traditions we have- and in my case, Presbyterian and Anglican (I never considered EO).
I am off to seminary in a year or so, and will have to leave my church due to geography anyway. I will always be in relationship with my present church (I am the former youth pastor), these are some thoughts I have been recently contemplating.
-ACR



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dopderbeck

posted September 22, 2008 at 11:33 am


Aaron — sheesh, who’s your pastor?
I should add this: I’ve also thought probably even more seriously about “converting” to a mainline denomination such as the PCUSA, Episcopal Church, or ELCA. But here the theology is so diverse that there seems to be little center, even sometimes on basic things like the divinity of Christ. And I fear that the question of homosexual pastors and gay marriage is so front and center for them that it will define them on one side of the fence even as if defines us on the other.



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RJS

posted September 22, 2008 at 11:40 am


dopderbeck,
I have attended two PCUSA churches – First Pres. Berkeley when Earl Palmer was the pastor and Bethany Collegiate in Havertown when Ben Sheldon was the pastor. Both were “sound” on theology and gave me a taste for a more liturgical worship style that I truly miss. There was a depth and connection that my tradition (Baptist) lacks.



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Aaron C. Rathburn

posted September 22, 2008 at 12:01 pm


The Presbyterian branch that I was interested in exploring is the PCA, which is a more theologically conservative wing from the liberalism that has crept into the PCUSA.
I’m not sure my pastor would want me throwing his name around the internet alongside my comments, so I will leave him anonymous- sorry to be obnoxious.
-ACR



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unorthodoxology

posted September 22, 2008 at 12:06 pm


I came from looooooow church (the Church of the Nazarenes, and Churches of Christ) my entire life, but just before I got to college I had some really troubling experiences with faith. So, I leaned on the hundreds of years of liturgy and the beauty of an Episcopal Church to give me the words to pray that I could not form and no longer knew how to form.
When faith fails, the liturgy is a soft, strong place to land.
I loved the liturgy for the next 8 or 9 years. Now, recently, I can’t stand it. What once was freeing now feels suffocating. What once was uplifting now seems stuck in doldrums. Part of this could be that I have an energetic 1 year old who doesn’t understand contemplative silence. :)
Anyway, I find myself aching for modern, rock-out services because it’s the kind of thing I and my son can dance to. And, to be honest, I don’t to send my kid to the nursery because I don’t want to worship God without what and who I am most thankful for.



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Steve

posted September 22, 2008 at 12:09 pm


To Scott R W:
I wholly agree that there are appropriate times to leave a community of faith. My point is simply that the general trend is to leave for completely inappropriate reasons. We lack willingness to work through anything. We don’t have a value for delayed gratification!
I would rather stay put and work through differences.
What else does ‘justification by faith’ mean, if it doesn’t mean that we are united by something deeper than agreement? We are not united by theological knowledge, but by Christ! (Of course there are points where disagreement must lead to dis-fellowship, but we rarely reach those points of contention, and yet often run from community.)
I have two very dear friends who have been ‘scratching the floor’ in a church they hate for 5-6 years now. And it is starting to pay off!!!!!!! The Church is changing, and so are they.
The issues in #47 are exactly the kinds of things that can and should be addressed by people who are willing to stay put and make a difference! The temptation is to go and find those values in another community, the reality is to manifest them in the place where they do not yet exist!!!!
How will the Church ever be what God intends if we won’t simply stop running away from discomfort?!?!



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Steve

posted September 22, 2008 at 12:18 pm


PS as to the issues raised in #47
It shouldn’t need to be said that one doesn’t need to become an Anglican to read and appreciate The Resurrection of the Son of God, nor do we need to join the RC or EO to share in the Eucharist weekly (nor to speak of it in less Protestant ways). I recognize that not every person is in a position to change the worship structure of the gatherings of their faith community, but I have a hard time believing most of the thinkers here do not have influence in their respective communities…
Use your voice!
Use your talents, your God-given authority!
(In appropriate and submitted ways of course, but usethem none-the-less)
Step out into the destiny that God has for you, right there in your local community!



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Steve

posted September 22, 2008 at 12:29 pm


PSS Scott R W
I didn’t answer the ‘Apostolic Succession’ point, but it just seems rather silly to me (sorry!) although I do understand how that might severely color someone’s perspective.
I just see the entire flavor of Church history (most specifically in the book of Acts) being the exact opposite. Whenever the Church focuses on ‘Proper Succession and Institutional Structure’ (read control!) it stagnates and ceases obedience to the Great Commission. Whenever, in contrast, the Church seeks obedience to the Spirit who Sends (John 20:21-22) we lack control (because the Spirit has it!), but see the Mission of God go forward!
I mean Paul was planting Churches, ditching them, and then writing letters for follow up…
Hardly the model we see for starting new Churches today! And hardly the kind of willingness to relinquish control that is embodied in the structured ecclesiology that would lead one to argue of who is the ‘true’ Church.



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Michael

posted September 22, 2008 at 12:38 pm


Well, this already has a ton of comments, and I haven’t read through them all so maybe (likely) I am repeating someone…
I am college aged (but not going to college, stupid private school tuition…) and trying to make my way through a theology degree, and possibly anthropology as well.
Anyways, I didn’t grow up in the Church, and converted to mainline evangelical protestantism in my later high school years.
I am drawn to the depth of RCC and EO. I am drawn to the awareness, the willingness to talk about…you know…doubts and stuff.
When I brought up that I am having doubts about the existence of God to my evangelical pastor, the response was “Look outside, the sun is so beautiful, of course there is a God!” There is no depth in that whatsoever. Everything I learned was cheesy illustrations and easily disputed beliefs. I can see why so many lose their faith in the college years, because their faith is primarily built on feelings and experiences, but very little intellectual belief.
I feel like the RCC and EO have such a strong and high value of intellectual belief that its more balanced.



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Bill

posted September 22, 2008 at 12:54 pm


As you seem to suggest, Scot, it should have been obvious that Frank Viola and Barna were only one step away from Jim Rutz and those who say that the simple/house/organic church is the only way. They now admit to having taken that step. So, where do those of us who are anabaptistically inclined go, if we want to avoid the ethnic enclaves of the Antiochian Orthodox on one hand and the Amish on the other?



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Scot McKnight

posted September 22, 2008 at 1:01 pm


Bill #57,
Barna should never have given Viola what he did for I see Viola’s stuff as low church evangelicalism on steroids, and I see it fostering an approach to church that denies the presence of Christ in the Church throughout history.
We can’t look to institutionalism to give us the ecclesiology we need, but the radical response to institutions is not denying institutions but to reforming them constantly — in continuity. I’ll be posting about this later this week.



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another Beth

posted September 22, 2008 at 1:02 pm


I currently know of two bright, devout evangelical/protestant women, one who has converted to the RCC and the other who is pursuing it.
Alisdair MacIntyre traveled this road. People can’t live among shards forever! Some bright young people have figured out that the soils of Encyclopedia and Geneology are infertile, so like MacIntyre, are making the u-turn to Tradition. I hope to be counted as one of those Aristotelian/Thomistic professors who have been their intellectual midwives.



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Scott R W

posted September 22, 2008 at 1:16 pm


Steve says: “I just see the entire flavor of Church history (most specifically in the book of Acts) being the exact opposite [of a hierarchical institution]. Whenever the Church focuses on ???Proper Succession and Institutional Structure??? (read control!) it stagnates and ceases obedience to the Great Commission.”
I think this statement highlights how he and I are coming at this from two entirely different perspectives. His qualification for “the entire flavor” of Church History seems (and correct me if I am wrong) to include only that history which is recorded in Scripture (or at least to give that era such primacy that it renders most subsequent tradition moot).
The argument for Apostolic Succession is an historical argument… and whereas he presumably reads early tradition/history through the lens of sacred writ, I read Scripture through the lens of tradition. Thus when I hit his line about how “???Proper Succession and Institutional Structure???” causes the Church to “stagnate and cease obedience to the Great Commission,” it not only makes little sense to my entire approach, but it becomes offensive.
Now I do not mention this to spark debate. This is not the place for that kind of dialog. I only wish to highlight how the differences between us are much more than denominational… they are epistemological. This is likely why my stance seems “silly” to him.
I grant that there was institutional evolution along with the development of (Catholic) doctrine. But the fact that St. Paul’s idea of governance differs from Benedict XVI’s doesn’t detract from my Church’s argument for one holy, Catholic, and Apostolic institution.
So while Scot wishes to spark discussion so that the Emerging movement can address some perceived shortcomings, the real question is why are so many believers converting to something which is, properly speaking, an entirely different religion? Much as I value ecumenical outreach, let’s be realistic–RCC and EO notions of the Body of Christ are so radically different from Protestant (and post-Protestant) views that we’re talking separate religions altogether. To diminish the differences is to stretch words and concepts beyond the semantic breaking point.
So the real question is why are so many turning their backs on all things post-Reformation and how can the Emergent church respond without undoing all the (so-called) gains of the Reformation? I’m genuinely curious… because it seems that the only options are 1) to become so liturgical that it might as well be high church Anglicanism or 2) to become something new that is as radically different from traditional Protestantism as Protestantism is from EO or RCC.



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Hunter Beaumont

posted September 22, 2008 at 1:17 pm


I had a similar experience in seminary thanks to some wonderful teaching from a historical theology prof who loved the Patristics, Irenaeus in particular. I felt “jipped by low-church evangelicalism for several of the reasons you mentioned above.
I never seriously contemplated becoming Roman Catholic because the critiques of the Reformation still resonated with me. But I did consider moving to a more liturgical form of Protestantism (evangelical Presbyterians, Lutherans, and Anglicans all intrigued me).
In the end, I stayed in what most would call low-church evangelicalism by planting a non-denominational church. Although I loved the higher church forms, when I began to think of church in missional terms, the lower church forms still seemed most culturally accessible (I’m not making a dogmatic statement here; just what seemed right to me for the place I was called to).
But I would say the church I pastor is heavily shaped by my wrestling on this issue and we’ve tried to reflect some of the historical substance that I felt was lacking in my previous low-church life. Specifically:
* We teach the concept of “Tradition” as a second-order voice after Scripture
* Apostles, Nicene, and Chalcedonian Creeds are all part of our official doctrinal beliefs. We teach these in our newcomers class as well as the history surrounding their development.
* We observe the Lord’s Supper every week. The service still contains the 45 minute expository sermon that you might find in a lot of non-denominational churches, but the Word always leads up to and ties-in to the Table.
Ironically (to some), I also became Reformed theologically in seminary. But we try to guard against the “everything before 1500 is worthless” mentality by using the creeds and Tradition concept. And this also helps guard against Reformed sectarianism.



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Ron Newberry

posted September 22, 2008 at 1:33 pm


I left a fundamentalist church 18 years ago to become a United Methodist minister. The liturgy has been a blessing and comfort to me. I feel a deep connection with the ‘communion of the saints’ and the ‘cloud of witnesses’ that the Hebrews writer reminds us of.
In 2006 my wife and I went to London and in St. Paul’s there was a sign that said: On this site there has been a Christain church since 604 (or words to that affect). That had a profound effect on me. For over 1400 years Christians had been worshipping there. In spite of the Norman invasion (1066), the violence of the Reformation, the upheavel of the British Civil War, faithful saints had went about their work. As my family comes from England and Normandy, I am who and what I am becasue of them.
St Cyprian had it right, he who does not have the church for his mother, cannot have God for his father.



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dopderbeck

posted September 22, 2008 at 1:43 pm


Steve — I can’t really agree with what you see in scripture about succession and institutional structure. The apostles were keen to establish the institutional structure of elders and deacons, and the Jerusalem Council among the elders and apostles described in Acts 15 arguably sets the precedent for a unified governance structure for the catholic (small-c) Church.



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Dianne P

posted September 22, 2008 at 1:48 pm


I’ve written here often of my longing for the rich spirituality of the Eastern/Byzantine Catholic church of my youth – deeply rooted all the way back to my mother’s family church home in Udol Slovakia (which I’ve been privileged to visit). In the U.S. parish, from my own chrismation, through my (first) marriage at age 19, and the return there for the baptism (chrismation, actually) of my first child when I was 32 – my last visit there was for the burial services of my parents, in 2002 and 2003. Those services were immensely powerful – rich with scripture and meaningful references to traditions of the early church. Ironically, there was much reference to the promise of the eventual resurrection of the body – along the lines of N.T. Wright’s “Surprised by Hope”.
Since I seem to be the only one around here from an Eastern/Byzantine Catholic church, which retains the papal/Rome connections yet “looks” just like an EO church, I brashly use the abbreviation EC for Eastern Christian to include both the Eastern Catholic and the EO.
Though I’m far from the college age of Scot’s original post, sometimes I feel as though I’m a postmodern soul trapped in a baby-boomer body, and since Scot graciously widened his invitation to all ages, I’ll chime in once again.
There have been so many excellent posts here already, I just want to echo #28, John Frye, on my perception of the shallowness of the messages in today’s evangelical churches. I once was drawn to the frequent bible studies, but have come to see that many of these are just a prelude to another proscribed list of “life lessons”. And while life lessons are important (we do live in this world after all), it just leaves me hungry for something else, though I often don’t know why or what. I long for depth… connections… roots. Small groups just become a form of peer-pressured group think.
The current church service of mediocre, incessantly upbeat, pseudo-rock music plus a 15 minute sermon leaves me wondering – is this worship? Even though our church blessedly has communion every Sunday, the band can’t even crank it down for a few minutes of post-communion meditation. (BTW, I love great loud rock music – but this stuff in church is neither real rock music nor real worship music – sort of a hybrid beast that hopes to offend no one.)
#34 CAL, I resonate with your description of a river widening into the ocean and Richard’s #9 analogy of color. I’m frustrated with the evangelical approach of capturing, simplifying, and explaining it all. God is inexplicable, and sometimes I just want to be awash in Him – not in feeble explanations of Him. And to speak of this in evangelical circles is to be suspect because of the reflexive fear of those twin peaks of horror – mysticism and “personal experience”.
So why don’t I re-vert? doperdeck’s #47 is a good start. I would like to use that as a basis and add on, though if I were to revert, I think it would be to EO, not RCC.
doperdeck’s first 3 points on his list of negatives are some excellent points of why I wouldn’t go back to the Catholic Church. For me, the EO looks and feels like the church of my youth – the same mass of St. John Chrysostom, the icons, the same saints of the ancient, eastern church, the same communion of bread and wine, etc. I don’t relate to doperdeck’s 4th point – I feel that I had a vibrant personal faith in my natal home and saw much of the same in the families around me.
To add to the negative side, the EOs are very closely tied with ethnic groups, though this is changing with time. Growing up in a Slovak church, I have an inside track on the multi-layered complexity of ethnic churches. I’m not sure I want to approach one from the “outside”. I guess I need to seek out one that has a substantial number of non-ethnic congregants.
And ethnic churches, just like any place where one is culturally expected to go to church, contain many cultural Christians.
Also on the challenging side for me is my husband, a WASP of no discernible ethnic background and protestant/ presbyterian/ dutch reform tradition. I hesitate to even ask him to visit an EO – an eastern mass must appear inscrutable. And to become EO is a process – not anything like just showing up at the local protestant church.
Following on that are the multitude requirements of the EO church – fasting, holy days of obligation, etc. I’m not sure that I want to go back to that much “requirement”, let alone lay that on him as well.
On the plus side, I would add the EC viewpoint of women. While I used to be frustrated with the unwillingness of the Catholic church to consider women as priests, it seems that women are pretty much encouraged to be and do just about anything else, and to do it with power and strength and commitment. This is in such contrast to the evangelical church where women’s position in both the church and home centers on submission. You all know the issues – I won’t elaborate on them here.
Another plus is a certain separation from U.S. politics. This is a refreshing change from the evangelical = Republican diatribe that is so tiring to me. Of course, this may be due to the strong ethnic component – their political energies are often directed to their non-US heritage.
Wow, long answer. But I look forward to reading more on this post….



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John Frye

posted September 22, 2008 at 1:51 pm


Scot (#30) and Pam (#45),
I am stumped. Where did the dangling cigar butt get deduced from my comment #28? :)



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Anette Ejsing

posted September 22, 2008 at 2:15 pm


Richard #39. I understand. Still, the American flag, snow, and peoples’ faces do not have the sacramental value that the Church liturgy has.
What I see in my students is a longing to have an actual experience of God’s living presence. No more empty talk. No more lofty abstractions. They want to know that God is real and that he cares.
The liturgy comes to them as a promise that God just might be more real than what words can express.
The liturgy comes to us with the power of a promise. Just as a set table comes to us as the promise of good food. My students want to know that the promise delivers. That is the power of their attraction. Or so I think.
Anette



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Lyle Mook

posted September 22, 2008 at 2:24 pm


I think serious EO and RCC communities call young evangelicals to a level of discipline and spiritual rigor that they have never experienced. Most Christian college students have not been ‘catechized’ into their church of origin and so are looking for substance as they make their faith their own in and after college.
I am an Evangelical Covenant pastor who has delved very deeply into EO spirituality and doctrine through reading, dialogue with authors and some EO leaders. I am attracted much more than to RCC by it’s mystery focus (vs. rationalistic bent of the West,) its greater compatibility theologically with evangelicalism, and more masculine tone in music and iconography.
I have 2 post college sons who are in deeply involved in ministry and will be vocationally. They are more critics of evangelicalism from the social justice and wholistic gospel focus rather than worship. I think one thing that has strengthened evangelicalism for us is the “robust Gospel” teaching and emphasis on compassionate outreach and the freedom to engage and use liturgical forms of many kinds within our worship. We often play Rachmaninoff Vespers at the end of Communion services in Holy Week or at the end of the evening service (“Sanctuary”). I use the resurrection icon at Easter and others to explain biblical stories at times. We have a contemplative prayer group that is several years running and led by our head Elder who is a certified spir. director from an RCC body.
Though we vary the liturgy – the IDEA of ‘liturical’ elements has been ‘subversively’ (not a negative idea) embedded into our church DNA in natural ways that our diverse population of mostly X-RCCs and conservative Christians of all stripes greatly appreciates. We seek to model a theological humility that invites study and learning from the whole Tradition.
Scot, I’d like to see your colleague Brad Nassif weigh in on this as one of the few – if not only – EO profs at an evangelical and denominational type college. He emphasized to me once that we can embrace ‘the Great Tradition’ without transplanting – something that not all EO leaders and priests would agree with (even Frederica Matthewes Greene who has a large following with evangelicals questions those who think they can ‘dabble’ in EO instead of diving in.)
Thanks for the good conversation.



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Steve

posted September 22, 2008 at 2:53 pm


Sorry, my comments were coming across saying some things I didn’t intend to say…
And I certainly don’t mean to insult. I shouldn’t have used the word ‘silly.’ Although I was thinking precisely of someone telling me that people who follow Jesus are going to hell because they don’t belong to the ‘one true Church.’
I absolutely believe that ‘Institutional Forms’ are essential. (I am a pastor of a Church.)
I would dispute however, that the events of Acts (establishing deacons, and the Jerusalem Council) should be taken as giving primacy of place to Institutional Forms in the thinking of St Paul et al.
Instead these were essential to maintain the central aim of the Church, which was something else entirely. I would argue that it is a mistake to think they themselves are the central aim of the Church. I like Scott’s ‘constantly reforming’ point. Constantly reforming in light of God’s Character, and God’s Purposes.
The Apostles did not think of establishing deacons, instead, that decision was forced upon them by the success of the Church in its proclamation of the Gospel. (Same for the Jerusalem Council) These things were only issues to be addressed by the Church because it was proclaiming Jesus as King (and even more specifically, because it was successfully doing so cross-culturally)
As for History. I certainly do look to Church history between the first and 15th Centuries as important and (to the same degree as the 1st and 21st Centuries) normative. However, I would argue that Church History teaches us this lesson: as a general rule, energies given to Mission directly compete with energies given to Ecclesiastical governance. Not that governance is not needed, or incompatible to mission, but that Institutions should serve the greater emphasis on Mission, not the other way around.
(I am completely enamored with Roland Allen!)
The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church and the Causes that Hinder it
An historical analogy I just thought of (so don’t take the military analogy too far, all you Anabaptists!!) is the genius of Genghis Khan. He was able to take the infighting of the mongols and point it outward; forging the largest empire in world history. In fact, the only thing that stopped the conquest was political infighting! It was the politics surrounding the succession of their leader that prevented the Mongols from conquering Europe (who knows what history would have been…) not defeat on the battle field. So with the Church. When we point inward we fail at mission and Church (I know the language here is problematic, and that it is much more complicated than this, but you get my point) when we point outward we succeed at both.
Once again, apologies for unintended insults; I inherited my Father’s penchant for subtlety!



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Aaron C. Rathburn

posted September 22, 2008 at 3:20 pm


To Scott (R?) W and Dianne (and everyone on this thread),
Have you guys heard of the extremely new theological movement referred to as Radical Orthodoxy? “Radical” meaning “radix,” or “root” (not “extreme,” as it is used today).
Radical Orthodoxy is a new branch of theological thinking driven by Anglican and Catholic thinkers, and has a focus on high liturgical worship, and respect for tradition.
James K.A. Smith is a professor of philosophy at Calvin College, and he has written a critically acclaimed book, “Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?” (It was the 2006 Christianity Today best-in-category award).
James Smith is the current main voice in Radical Orthodoxy of the Protestant tradition. His closing chapter introduces Radical Orthodoxy as a solvent for postmodern worship.
He explains that he is sympathetic to the “emerging” church, because they are trying to do something new and different. However, he argues, they are going about it in the wrong direction. He proposes that true postmodern worship would look much different than the emerging church is taking it, directionally, and offers Radical Orthodoxy as the alternative (during this postmodern time).
For example, Smith highlights the importance of incarnational thinking. The Body of Christ is also incarnational throughout history, and he discusses the “goodness” of we human beings as tangible, fleshy creatures- confined by time and space. He talks about how liturgy offers multi-sensory worship (incense, visuals, choruses, etc), that are more holistic in their incarnational understanding, as well.
He paints a picture of what a Radical Orthodox, postmodern, emerging church gathering would look like. It is a mix of High Church and liturgy, complemented by postmodern and cultural missional relevance as well. It’s quite fascinating.
-ACR



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Scott R W

posted September 22, 2008 at 3:37 pm


ACR,
Do you know of any reliable web resources on this Radical Orthodoxy movement? To be honest, I’d not heard of it ’til you mentioned it. The little bit of info that I could scare up off the web seemed lacking to me. I saw references to Aquinas (whom I love), the Oxford Movement (which intrigues me, particularly because of Cardinal Newman), and Hans Urs von Balthasar (whom I get easily annoyed with). I’d like to investigate it.



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Mike

posted September 22, 2008 at 3:40 pm


Scot et al,
I’m kinda-of post-Ike right now, and skipped what was 69 posts that preceded me.
OK: I’m on the staff of a campus ministry, and I’m seeing most of what is the “low-or-no” ecclesiology that many have inherited. All of the late modern/post-modern turn into community has also summoned questions about “why-are-we-doing-what-we’re-doing-when-we’re-doing-it?”
Not everyone gets to Nicaea, but there is an uninformed (under-informed?) sense that ritual and community have some precedence or history that offer vitality for faith in Jesus. So, some are checking out RC and Episcopal communities in their quest for answers to the above questions.



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pam w

posted September 22, 2008 at 4:16 pm


John – #65
I was just jumping off Scot’s comment. I really don’t know what he meant, but was assuming it was in reference to you sounding ‘emerging’. Cigars are stereotypical of the men in the conversations.



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Aaron C. Rathburn

posted September 22, 2008 at 5:20 pm


Hey Scott!
I’m afraid that I have found that all web resources re: Radical Orthodoxy left me more confused than enlightened. It wasn’t until I actually read “Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?” and the closing chapter that it all came together and made perfect, 100%, complete sense.
The book is very short, an easy read, and very cheap. It comes strongly recommended, so I’m sure you will find it worth your while as an investment (you can read it in just a couple-few days).
-ACR



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Doug Nolte

posted September 22, 2008 at 5:39 pm


Wow, this is an interesting topic. As a soon to be forty-year old married man with three children under 10, I uttered to my wife the other day, “what do you think if we were to explore the RCC?” To my surprise she was very intrigued by the idea!
The rub, and she and I both agree on this, we have a concern that we could manage the perceived transition to a higher structure worship experience long term. Simply, we enjoy the low church experience for the worship experience, but feel that at many times the pastor preaches topical or provocative to get numbers in the door. For example, a very good communicator of a church down the street has a large sign advertising the current message series they are doing, “Pillow Talk”. It is a frank discussion on sex. The pastor will use scripture liberally I am sure. But the hook is what concerns me. . .
But why would I consider the move? What is behind the idea? First, I grew up seeing that there was “born again” Christian and everybody else. I was not taught that while I may have a personal relationship with Christ, how others worship or come to that same personal relationship with Christ might be in the RCC or EO church. I simply didn’t think it existed.
Second, and perhaps most importantly, I had to learn the very difficult lesson that I am nobody to judge another. Once I was able to recognize that I viewed people way down deep in my heart as wrong or right based on my own highly-un-Christlike opinion, I could view them as Christ does. Part of that lesson was learned by becoming familiar with St. Francis of Assisi, and reading the contemporary author Richard Rohr.
Then in an unexpected place, sitting in a funeral of a police officer who had killed himself, I listened as a priest offered one of the most amazing services on decisions we make. I was moved at his compassion, his decisiveness, his transparency. I was not expecting that.
Wrap that up with the typical church issues that seem to plague most churches, (ie. who can serve, what can they serve on, etc. . .) there seems to be a compelling move towards the structure.
But towards the other end of the spectrum, I mentioned to my wife the other day, “maybe we should start our own church.” Much to my chagrin, she stated, “That’s an idea!”
I want to find community with believers. Ultimately that is where we will find Christ. I think that opens up the doors for us to find the place we fit in the best. What I hope to see one day is the ability for us to move past the EO, RCC or low church moniker and be the body of believers that Acts records! That will be the closest thing to heaven on earth, in my humble opinion.
As for now, I am remaining protestant, but curious about the RCC. . . .



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Troy

posted September 22, 2008 at 5:55 pm


As a military chaplain, I think young people (40&-) are looking for more in life, and they are not only turning to EO or RCC. They are looking heavily into Buddhism and Paganism as well for the same reasons listed above – depth and meaning. Like the emerging movement, there are also “Christian buddhist” and “Christian wiccans” now. Dogmas don’t play an important role as much as personal meaning. They side step questionable doctrine more easily in lieu of shared belonging.
Another reason I would suggest is these other faiths require a greater personal action (or works) that give the sense of greater spiritual ownership.



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Aaron C. Rathburn

posted September 22, 2008 at 6:24 pm


Don’t forget about the rise of the “New Calvinism”:
http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/september/42.32.html
This could similarly be related. People want a deeper understanding of God, and deeper worship. Reformed theology is similarly the deepest protestant tradition of the Reformation, and offers more substance and ‘meat’ than the modern, topical, seeker-sensitive teaching people are being fed.
-ACR



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dopderbeck

posted September 22, 2008 at 6:33 pm


Scott RW — James KA Smith’s website is one of the best resources on Radical Orthodoxy: http://www.calvin.edu/~jks4/ro/
The University of Nottingham’s Centre of Theology and Philosophy is another source: http://www.theologyphilosophycentre.co.uk/
One of the basic texts is John Milbank’s “Theology and Social Theory.”
As you can see, it’s a very dense and rich theological sensibility. Some of it is almost impenetrable for those of us not formally schooled in philosophy (Theology and Social Theory is an awesome book but I still haven’t been able to finish it after several tries, and I think I have a pretty high capacity for plowing through dry stuff!).



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Aaron C. Rathburn

posted September 22, 2008 at 6:38 pm


Scot, (with one ‘T’, ;-)
Are you familiar with the Radical Orthodoxy movement?



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Scot McKnight

posted September 22, 2008 at 6:44 pm


Aaron,
Yes, I read a bit of it a few years back; I found Milbank the thickest writer I’ve read in years. I came away as if it was a Catholic form of Hauerwas.



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RJS

posted September 22, 2008 at 7:15 pm


Aaron (#76),
Excellent point, I think that you are right about the appeal of the “New Calvinism.” This provides both a deeper theology and a deeper ecclesiology, and even in some forms, liturgy. The church is again something bigger to be approached with submission. It is academically appealing and historically grounded.
I don’t think that this is right either though — it seems to me that this deferral comes from a desire for certainty found in God alone, not in systematic theology or ecclesiology (although it should be found within the church).
Struggling with some of these ideas, at this point my inclination is to view institutional church and systematic theology as manmade and God used. God has and continues to work mightily through the RC and EO churches — I have no desire to deny this. God has and continues to work through the old and new Calvinism and through many other forms of his church. We need to wrestle with the insights of 2000 years of church history. But … I cannot see how the systems and the hierarchies are anything other than manmade.



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Aaron C. Rathburn

posted September 22, 2008 at 7:22 pm


My good friend is studying at your alma mater (Nottingham!) under Milbank himself. He said he tried to read Milbank’s work and it was also quite thick.
However, Jamie Smith seems to have a more accessible take on it. According to some of the stuff I have seen you write and dabble thinking on, you may find it has a vast amount to contribute to this topic.
I am enjoying the “Blue Parakeet,” as I review it on my blog. Keep it up!
-ACR



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Mykl Krause

posted September 22, 2008 at 7:26 pm


Fascinating discussion!
As someone who is an Evangelical-Charismatic-Pentecostal-Emergent-House Church-Pastor-doctoral student studying church history, I also often wonder where the church is going and who is going where. I have two college aged children who are both dissatisfied with church as normal and involved in a number of faith communities on a regular basis.
As someone trying to catalogue new expressions of church, I appreciate that church history and tradition definitely needs to be informing our current ecclessiology. However I’m with RJS (#41) in that the institutionalism and hierarchical leadership structures are the things that have kept me away from the more liturgical traditions. My guess is that some of those who have been burned by the unaccountable, loose cannon controlling leaders of certain Evangelical or non-denominational churches would prefer the more structured, accountable and historically based hierarchy of the RCC and EO traditions.
My concerns are:
1. the inherent tendency to evil (or at least injustice) in any institution because the goals and survival of the institution (in every situation that I have experienced) are always more important than the people who are part of that institution. This usually means that some people will always be treated unfairly and advancement often has more to do with pecking order (or leadership succession) than skill or gifting.
2. I don’t think I could participate in any worship tradition without eventually participating in its formation (or more precisely leadership). I think that’s how it really should be and I deeply respect those who have followed their promptings and personal convictions and have become fully grafted into the tradition they have chosen to follow. Therefore if I did more fully embrace the liturgy of the RCC or EO traditions, I would also be in there trying to change it, attempting to correct what I perceived as the shortcomings of the system to which I belonged. Even though I recognize my own presumption (presumptiveness?) I’m not sure that would go over well with the institutional hierarchy.
3. I’m also concerned about the consumerism implications implicit in this trend. If one is dissatisfied, he (or she) can just find another Christian expression to help one experience God. My concern is not so much that there are shoppers but that the shoppers don’t become producers. Will this experimentation lead to renewal and regeneration in the RCC and EO leading to more priests and spiritual directors and bishops and vital congregations (and altar boys?)? Or will what is there merely continue to grow more and more grey because there are only consumers and not theologians and true practitioners?
4. One other point – my observation is that even though there is a renewal or a reformation or a new movement or a new denomination, the old still remains. Judaism remained after the formation of the church. Both the EO and the RCC remained after splitting (there is also still a “Melkite” church). The RCC remained after the Reformation. Mainline churches still exist after the fundamentalist debates. Evangelical churches still remained after Azusa Street. I’m wondering what the new will look like all the while being convinced that others will find renewal in other historic traditions.



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Cindy

posted September 22, 2008 at 7:44 pm


My, how the pendulum swings. If you had asked me even two years ago if I ever thought I’d entertain the idea of converting, you would have received a resounding “No!” accompanied by a diatribe detailing what was wrong with the Catholic church in my view. Today, however, I am one of those aforementioned young students considering conversion. My journey is similar to that which Scot outlined in his post, but with a few, highly personal, differences:
1. For as long as I can remember, I was intrigued by Roman Catholicism–the kneeling, the crossing, the idea of confessing your sins–it was all very exciting and mysterious to me. Combine this interest with the fact that I was the little girl who baptized her stuffed animals one day after church, and it makes for a tension that I’ve ruminated on for my entire life.
2. The summer before my junior year of college, I worked as the Student Minister at my United Church of Christ home church. The experience was enlightening, to say the least, and I am still realizing how it affected me and my views on the Church. I anticipate its echo changing me for many more years. If I walked away with only one thing from the experience, it was with the realization that I am more high-church than I ever thought (and even having the gaul to say that I as an individual am high- or low- church shows that I was raised Protestant).
3. Shortly after my summer as Student Minister, I reconnected with my now-fiancee, a man who I’ve known since high school, who almost became a Catholic priest himself, and who (by the by) was taught in college by the author of “Rome Sweet Home” (referencing Tim’s comment above). Dating him gave me a chance to finally have an excuse to attend the church I’d been so intrigued by all along. Call me crazy, but I felt odd just walking in on my own, or going with a friend who had no idea what it was all about. There’s quite a marked difference between attending mass with my middle school best friend whose commentary included (and this is a direct quote): “Now the Scripture reader is going to read something from the Bible in a really monotonous voice” and with my fiancee, who whispered the reasons for each prayer, each recitation, and each ritual in my ear throughout the service.
My experiences as a Bible major at an evangelical college have certainly shaped my journey as Scot described, but ultimately, my considerations of conversion have been impacted most by what Anette described in her comment. The liturgy is what has drawn me most initially to, and now to stay in, the Catholic church; I have never been one to wake up on Sunday morning excited to leave the warm cocoon of my covers and truck it to church, but now I can’t wait to go back to mass.
The costs and benefits of converting are still being weighed in my mind (not the least of these is the fact that I have to “convert” from being a Christian to….being a Christian?) and I am taking my time, but from what I can tell, it’s been a life-long journey all along.



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ADHunt

posted September 22, 2008 at 7:45 pm


I am the son of an AG minister, and I had been one for all of my life. But I made the switch to The Episcopal Church. Mostly because of the Anglican Communion rather than the Episcopal Church for its own sake.
To make it very short and sweet I was drawn to Anglicanism because it is orthodox, but generous; catholic but reforming; diverse but not perverse; western and southern; liturgical but biblical; thoughtful and charismatic.



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Jeff

posted September 22, 2008 at 8:00 pm


I have always been a member of the United Methodist Church and the more I get into the writings of our movement’s founder, the closer I get to becoming Anglican…for that is how the movement began. I am a graduate of Asbury Seminary, which has seen several convert to EO, RCC, but esp. the Anglican Communion. Of course, the Methodist movement switched to an institution in the aftermath of the American Revolution…Anglican priests were returning to England and Wesley had no ordained ministers to administer the sacraments to American Methodists.
What I am curious of is how the rise and increase of popularity of the writings of C.S. Lewis contributes to the attraction to Anglicanism. He has been beneficial for me and the deeper one gets into his “theology,” the less attractive that low church populist evangelicalism seems (though Lewis was not without his criticism of the Anglican Church at his time…however, I’d think this was his way of encouraging reform of the insitution, not advocacy of abandonment).



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Ty

posted September 22, 2008 at 8:06 pm


I attend a Catholic College (though this college has the most non- Catholic students of any Catholic college) and am now I senior. I see evangelical (and some liberal protestant) students at mass on a weekly basis.
First and foremost I attend a Jesuit school so, social justice is key in the whole message of the school. I think the historical grounding of the Catholic and Orthodox Church has something to do with this shift. I would argue though that the social justice emphasis also plays a large part in a student’s interest in the Catholicism. With people like Dorothy Day and Mother Thersea on their membership, (who evangelicals students read about in Shane Clairborne’s book The Irresistible Revolution). I think more and more students are looking toward a praxis oriented faith, because in a post-modern world, talk is cheap.
I also see less of a focus on “work righteousness”, a lot of students know they aren’t saved by their good works (if they were raised in a evangelical environment). So if the Catholic Church offers a more praxis oriented they might lean there, or for a deeper mystical communion they might lead towards EO.
I think the disconnect goes both ways as well, just like when a Catholic becomes an evangelical because they thought they were saved by “good works” and now Christ has saved them. Evangelicals become Catholics (or just hang out with us) because they see us doing things (I work at a Catholic soup kitchen and only 40% of the 100 or so volunteers are Catholic) that don’t include trying to convert people. Which is just code for Catholics are better at being normal. (no offense intended)
On another note most students generally don’t give a hoot about the hierarchy of Catholicism, most Catholic students ignore it. (unless they are very conservative, which they don’t go to Jesuit schools in the first place).
I work on the evangelical side of the fence for ministry (Young Life, and others) and people think I have “secret knowledge” because I hang out with Jesuits. (a lot of Young Life staff read Herioc Leadership by Chris Lowney, a book about Jesuit leadership). I just think I’m a victim of my generation, I just don’t see the walls between the denominations past generations have seen. Mostly I just think this is a symptom of a larger post-denominational social subconscious. (I talked to a Catholic man on the plane the other day, who listens to evangelical radio everyday).



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Clint

posted September 22, 2008 at 10:26 pm


I have written an essay entitled “Tradition & Scripture: How Tradition Can Contribute to Evangelical Alchemy” which details some of the conclusions I have come to which led me out of a low-church Evangelical setting and into an Anglican church (and I am considering ordination into the Anglican priesthood). Frankly, I am blown away by guys like D.H. Williams and how he can remain Baptist despite some of his statements in his works on tradition.
see my essay here:
http://summaphilosophiae.wordpress.com/2008/04/18/tradition-scripture-how-tradition-can-contribute-to-evangelical-alchemy/



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Jamie Arpin-Ricci

posted September 22, 2008 at 10:37 pm


This is not a critique, simply an observation from my context. Large numbers of college age people here in Winnipeg, mainly Evangelicals & Mennonites, are moving towards liturgical traditions. Among the urban poor, however, that demograph is not interested. Some have a heritage in the liturgical traditions (namely, First Nations people from Catholic & Anglican backgrounds), but there is little connect with the tradition. I have been pondering why.



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Mike Mangold

posted September 22, 2008 at 11:20 pm


Lyle (#67): God bless you and the legacy with your sons. If you need further help along the EO road, try Pr. Laurent Cleenewerck, International Faculty Coordinator Professor of Applied Sciences, International Affairs and Theology Euclid University Consortium. You could be pleasantly surprised at how tradition can foster reform and vice versa.



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mariam

posted September 23, 2008 at 12:14 am


Jamie #88,
Remember when, in Canada, the Anglican Church was the Conservative Party at prayer? When the Pentecostals, the Baptists and the Salvation Army were the religious voice of the left? (Tommy Douglas was a Baptist minister, after all). The social justice movement in Canada came out of the evangelical churches. The same ridings that were NDP strongholds were also where the big evangelical and pentecostal churches were found. How times change! And, yet, I think that part of the reason that there is not the interest among the urban poor in the liturgical tradition is that, to some extent the Anglican, Catholic and Presbyterian churches were until fairly recently seen as part of the oppressive establishment and the liturgy part of the way in which the privileged lorded it over the uneducated. I certainly thought that way as a teenager. In Canada the evangelical wing of the church is still in the minority and I think it attracts those who feel distrustful and marginalized by the Central Canadian elite. In other words a way for immigrants, under-educated, rural, and western Canadians to protest against the educated, affluent, Liberal, Western European Ontarians.



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chad m

posted September 23, 2008 at 12:27 am


Scot, your question at the end really caught my attention. i am an Evangelical Covenanter through and through who hated “traditional” church as a kid and wanted to just sing camp songs at church! in seminary (at North Park) i came to appreciate the so-called “traditional” forms of worship expressed in various Christian traditions. the Book of Common Prayer became my friend, but i wondered, “how can i use this thing in a real Evangelical church?”
my biggest problem is communicating what you have described and what others have comfirmed to the “boomer” generation. how do we tell them that we don’t want what they want? moreover, how do we tell them that the current “style” of Evangelical worship isn’t necessarily healthy? it is, as you said, a chance to point out and correct weaknesses. but who is really listening? are there churches you know of?
for example, last sunday we held a vespers service using the Great Thanksgiving and liturgy from the BCP. i was connected. i was involved. we practiced the presence of Christ together. we were silent. we confessed our sins by kneeling. we broke bread together. but we apparently cannot do this in our regular services because it does not fit stylistically. why? what is our fear?



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Nancy

posted September 23, 2008 at 6:19 am


My interest in EO and RCC simply derived from the desire to search back in church history for what might be the most original form of Christian faith practices. I suppose delving into the mystics contributed to this interest in ancient practices but the main impetus was some hope that there was a “best way” and that the earliest ways might reflect most closely the original intent of the church. I’m not driven by such thinking now, seeing the practice of our faith as an ever-evolving and complex mix of timeless truth (eg, Love your neighbor), cultural influences, scientific understanding, and the curious and unpredictable work of the Spirit…to name just a few of the potential factors that might mediate how we express our faith at any given time.



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+ Alan

posted September 23, 2008 at 7:21 am


Very interesting stuff Scot. Seems like this move toward the liturgical has been going on for some time. Robert Webber probably had not little to do with egging this on. He’s woven into my own story. I’m not your exact target for this question but close I guess. I’ll be 42 on Thursday and quite a few of my age group are in this number I think. And probably a good bunch of them are going to be “reverts” too, not “converts,” going back to the Catholic Church (in this case) and not to it for the first time.
I thought since I spent so much time in the thick of the whole emerging church scene, my story would be a good connection here and might resonate with some. I’ll share a short quote from the blog post where I told the world I was going back and “why” – and a few links because it’s a long tale.
“I won’t go into all kinds of reasons why this is happening, theological and otherwise, right now. That’s not what this post is for. That will come, as a matter of course I’m sure. Logical conclusions I suppose. Those who know me have heard that phrase before a few times. And, it’s more than rational, and that’s hard to explain. I suppose I could also say, I have emerged. That’ll do for now.”
???from “why not?” – read the whole thing here.
???interview on the Praxis Podcast with my friends D.G. and Kevin.
There are several more of my ramblings along the re-entrance journey here, some good, some not so happy. It has been a huge thing in our lives. Such a shift is not to be taken lightly. It will rock your world. Hopefully, though, if this is what God is leading someone to do, it will ultimately be a positive thing. OK, enough from me.



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dopderbeck

posted September 23, 2008 at 7:23 am


Chad — when I was in my late 20′s, early 30′s, the praise & worship movement was just becoming widely popular (I’m 41 now, not quite a “boomer” but also not “younger”). I’m a guitar player and I was dying to use my guitar in church. But the old dudes who ran my church were only interested in singing from the hymnbook. How did we get them to change?
First — we just did it. In “our” services — the “college & career” group, youth group, etc, we did “our” kind of worship. The more spiritually perceptive folks among the old dudes noticed that we were really engaged by this kind of worship.
Second — a few of us gained enough credibility with the old dudes, by serving on commmittees and, well, politicking, to get an ear. And we found that here and there were older folks who felt the same way as us.
Third — Promise Keepers happened. I wonder how many others had this experience? The old dudes and the young studs went to the first huge Promise Keepers rallies together. For the first time, some of those guys were moved to put their hands in the air and sing praise choruses — and they loved it. (Set aside whatever problems or excesses the Promise Keepers movement represented — on the question of worship, I’m convinced, it was a good thing at the time).
For my part, if some of the “kids” in their 20′s or early 30′s said “we’re a bit tired of the guitars and drums — we want some smells and bells” — I’d say, “I’m with you, let’s do it!”



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RJS

posted September 23, 2008 at 7:42 am


chad m,
You are a pastor – think pastorally. First and foremost, put yourself in the other guy’s shoes. How do you respond to change and what approach makes you want to cooperate? Is this change worth the effort or not? If so why? What will you do to bring others on board? How will you make the case? (Hint ??? pointing out that their current style isn’t healthy probably isn’t a good choice.) Establish relationship and trust, build credibility. Emphasize the positive and bring people on board.



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RJS

posted September 23, 2008 at 7:43 am


Oh – and what dopderbeck said (while I was distracted and before I hit submit).



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Jamie Arpin-Ricci

posted September 23, 2008 at 8:32 am


Mariam #90. Great point, thanks for the input.



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Ted M. Gossard

posted September 23, 2008 at 10:27 am


John Frye #28-
I think you make an excellent point there. I’m afraid there’s too much truth generally in what you say there for comfort. We must be careful that it is not we ourselves setting the agenda, but that we endeavor to find and be under God’s agenda for us in Jesus.
I think the liturgical turn can help us in that way, helping us keep peripheral matters peripheral and the gospel in Jesus at the center.



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Rebecca

posted September 23, 2008 at 2:38 pm


I had EO grandparents (Russian Orthodox) grew up Methodist, and have been in a non-denom. evangelical church since ’01.
I very much appreciate UM theology and liturgy. It stood me in good stead for 40 years. Like post #82, I gravitate towards leadership and reforming wherever I am, but after at least 20 years of struggle, the strictures and immobility of the denomination’s hierarchy beyond the local church (and the deadness of cultural Christians in the local church) nearly killed me. A last attempt was to be a founding member of a short-lived UM church plant, but that just magnified the out-of-touchness of the hierarchy.
My current church allows those who want to make a difference to do so, and the congregation is open to many ministries. I love that about where I am, and being able to be in ministry like this is what keeps me here. I personally do not get much out of the contemporary evangelical worship style and topical preaching [for many of the reasons already mentioned in this thread]. I do not agree with many of the cornerstones of evangelical theology. I also agree that it feels dangerous for the individual pastor to be able to decide what doctrines the church believes.
I would never have left the UM if its structural/administration system were not so fossilized. We had many of the same difficulties as the RCC with problem pastors being shipped around, people not understanding the richness of the liturgy, etc.
I hope someday to make my way back to the UM, or even to the EO (would have to deal with the women in ministry thing there, as well as the credence given to early church legends about the saints).
But for now in my active ministry years, I need to be able to actively minister.
I think those migrating to mainline churches, EO or RCC have to be aware that they’ve got their own sets of issues, which can be plenty exasperating. It just might take a little while to figure out what they are.



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Justin

posted September 23, 2008 at 5:20 pm


Looks like I am late to the discussion, but I will post anyway. I am a graduate student who has been thinking about switching to Orthodoxy or Catholicism since 2005, when I was a senior at Bethel University in St. Paul, as a result of reading Patristics and studying church history (finding both the fathers and people like John Henry Newman influential in my thinking). I have attended mostly Anglican churches since then.
I found the points in your first post, Scot, to ring true for me. Another issue that has been of importance to me in considering becoming Catholic or Orthodox is the issue of church discipline. I think that Evangelical churches lack the church structure to adequately deal with issues of sin in the church, and I find it frightening how easily someone can commit major sins and if reprimanded by the church, just run to a new one and face no repurcussions. That is to me very scary, both as a general matter, and also because should something like that happen to me, I don’t want to have that option to be available, I want to suffer the consequences and be rehabilitated through discipline.
Furthermore, I have found the emphasis on the community partaking of the Eucharist on a weekly basis, being the culmination of the service, to be perhaps a better focus than a 45 minute sermon. I acknowledge that this is also found in some mainline Protestant denominations as well (such as the Anglican church I attend).
A few reasons I have not yet switched affiliations: 1) I am at heart not a papist, 2) Of the few EO churches I have attended, more tended to seem like a haven for a specific culture making up most of the constituents.



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Matthew

posted September 23, 2008 at 6:35 pm


I must apologize for coming into the discussion so late. If I say anything that has already been said, please forgive me.
As a college student of the sort that Scot described, I must point out that I think there is more at work behind a move to RCC or EO than desire for liturgical woship or even reading the Church Fathers. I can only speak for myself, but if it were just liturgy I was looking for, I would still be an Anglican, rather than leaving that communion a month ago, after a membership of less than two years. Liturgy had much to do with my move toward Anglicanism, but I knew even when I joined that it would probably not be permanent. My recent exit came out of the lack of an ecclesiology worthy of the early church, which the Anglicans, like all Protestant denominations, simply do not have.
When I look at the Church of the early centuries, there is a sort of unity and authority which are still preserved in some measure by RCC and EO. The church is understood as an entity that is truly one, and organized as such–whether under one leader (RCC) or comprised of a college of equal bishops (OE)–which preserves the faith and authority of the apostles. Protestant ecclesiology simply cannot meet the standards of the apostolic Church. As someone has already mentioned, there is no Protestant Church (singular); instead there are simply denominations which supposedly total up to “one holy catholic and apostolic church”, a model which Lutheran theologian Carl Braaten has called “ecclesiological docetism”. Such a “church” cannot establish a rule of faith, cannot hold an ecumenical council, cannot promulgate doctrine, cannot pronounce anathemas–all of which the early Church did because she had to, and because the authority to do so was given by Christ. Furthermore, true continuity with Tradition cannot be separated from the institution of apostolic succession.
I am still reluctant to join either RCC or EO. I have different reasons for each, but in either case, I am still dissatisfied with the present state of Christendom. One of these two is probably the true Church, but as long as there are Christians outside her, she is still incomplete.
Therefore, if you would like to correct the weaknesses of evangelicalism that are sending people toward Rome or the East, my suggestion is to re-establish communion with either Church (they could both use an influx of evangelicals!)–and then convince the two to re-establish communion with each other. People who are seeking the Church of the apostles and the fathers cannot find it in Protestantism. They may find it in RCC or EO, but we will all find it most fully if we are in full Eucharistic communion, under the authority of the successors of the apostles, one with each other as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one. I do not think any other option is acceptable.



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Mykl Krause

posted September 23, 2008 at 6:37 pm


Still following the discussion here and still fascinated. I???m still working through all this in the context of where the church is actually going. I often have a callous and cavalier attitude toward all church structures and traditions and am convinced that we don???t really have a detailed biblically mandated structure to follow. So I???m doing some wondering aloud here ???
There are a couple of wonderings here ??? mostly our of ignorance. I wonder if the RCC and EO hierarchies are sufficiently staffed to sustain a huge influx? One hears about the paucity of ???vocations??? and the scarcity of new young priests. Is there sufficient interest in this generation to staff the potential growth indicated by this interest we???re talking about? Are those expressing interest actually pursuing ordination? Or as I mentioned above is it more about a spiritual search that is consumer oriented.
My second wondering: Is this combination of factors (interest in RCC/EO, lowering of denominational walls, deconstructionism, consumerism, general interest in spirituality, lack of trust and commitment to organizations and institutions, the Emerging church, etc) leading us to a spiritual landscape where there are a few stable towers of hierarchical ecclesiology (the Catholic traditions on one hand and the mega church phenomenon on the other – plus a few reformed holdouts) and then the teeming masses of small groups, house churches, new monastic orders, aging and fading mainline congregations, each consuming religion where they want. Maybe the parallel is the emergence of the super store and the disappearance of the mom and pop shops. Some people will still be fiercely loyal to their neighbourhood stores but most will shop where they get the best selection and the lowest price.
Or maybe a better explanation is that we are going back to the pre Reformation days (sociologically not theologically) whereby there are the cathedrals, where major religious events happen and also the many small folk religions and superstitious practices and beliefs (remember I am speaking metaphorically here).
Any body done some reading or writing on this?



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Patrick

posted September 23, 2008 at 6:57 pm


Mykl #102,
Phyllis Tickle has been writing about this, suggesting that we are in the midst of an ecclesiological reconfiguration as profound and disconcerting as the Reformation. Has anyone read her new book “The Great Emergence” yet?



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Daniel S

posted September 23, 2008 at 11:04 pm


Hi Scot,
May I ask the reasons that you are an Evangelical and not a Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox? It seems that you???re very aware of the merits and defences from both sides of the body of Christ. In light of the exclusive claims and dogmas of the Catholic church, what resonates with you so that you remain Evangelical?
Your response would be a big assistance to many on this journey who aren???t as well read.
Daniel.



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Wonders for Oyarsa

posted September 24, 2008 at 8:14 am


I’m another Evangelical-turned-Anglican, and my sister is probably going to become Catholic. There does certainly seem to be a trend in this direction – at least among readers of Scot’s blog!
I don’t want to convert to EO or RC myself (though if global Anglicanism disintegrates I may have no choice in the end). But I see in liturgical practice a solution to so many of the characteristic problems of evangelicalism, without necessitating the loss of any of the strengths. Here we have depth, beauty, and reverence in worship that has plenty of room for the rapturous enthusiasm of Evangelicalism. The drama of the church year, the comprehensiveness and unity of the liturgical readings, the richness of the prayers, the personal intimacy and community of the eucharist – all of these are just what the doctor ordered for many serious problems in the evangelical world. Yet the enthusiasm in worship, the deep commitment to the Bible, the zeal for evangelism, the immense creative energy, which are evangelicalism’s key strengths are not lost but flourish here. Count me in!



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CAL

posted September 24, 2008 at 11:23 am


Mykl Krause (#102),
I think your concern about consumerism is a valid one. And I have no doubt that, for some people, this is precisely what’s at work. However, my experience suggests this isn’t the case for the majority of recent and would-be “converts”???those seriously committed to their new homes.
For anyone who has spent a significant amount of time with the EOC, for instance (because I am less familiar with the RCC), I think it would be difficult to maintain a consumerist mindset for long. Even those who begin by looking for a remnant of the Church’s “golden age” are quickly disappointed by the humanness that so often crops up in various ways. My bet is that most people looking for a fad or for the perfect Church quickly meet reality and do one of two things. Either they accept their new home as Christ???s Church, though made up of flawed humans, or they walk out the door to the next thing. Whether that means that those who remain and convert would enter the priesthood or diaconate, I don’t know. But I don’t believe their failure to do so would automatically relegate them to consumerism.
As for whether or not there would be enough clergy to handle the influx, I also don’t know. But if previous mass conversions bear any witness (the Evangelical Orthodox Church in the late 1980s comes to mind–worth looking up, by the way), clergy could be ordained from the existing leadership of evangelical congregations.
I am by no means an expert on this. I’m merely thinking “out loud” with you.



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phil

posted September 24, 2008 at 2:19 pm


I think something has to be said about their priesthood. The blessed Eucharist is like a divine magnet drawing everyone to Himself, thus where is Jesus’ body and blood truly, really present to us? In the EO and RC churches.



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Daniel S

posted September 25, 2008 at 3:48 am


Hi Scot,
May I ask the reasons that you are an Evangelical and not a Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox? It seems that you???re very aware of the merits and defences from both sides of the body of Christ. In light of the exclusive claims and dogmas of the Catholic church, what resonates with you so that you remain Evangelical?
Your response would be a big assistance to many on this journey who aren???t as well read. In your response, I would appreciate if you could touch on one dogma in particular ??? the Real Presence in the Eucharist (or Transubstantiation). How would a young evangelical balance his questions about the Real Presence (that would arise from an honest search of scripture and church history), yet not take the plunge into RC or EO?
Daniel.



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Mykl Krause

posted September 25, 2008 at 8:16 am


Scot, I know you have been looking at some of this movement to RCC and EO in “Finding Faith, Losing Faith.” And. there have been a number of statistical studies done recently (the Pew Foundation, the FACT study, etc.). Has anyone done some statistical research to specifically track this phenomenon of cross tradition spiritual migrations?
It would be valuable to go beyond anecdotal evidence.



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Chad Toney

posted September 25, 2008 at 8:34 am


I come from a very low-church background, plymouth brethrenism mixed with generic non-denominationalism and bible church influences. I’m a PK and grew up in the church my parents started, led, and still lead.
I think your thoughts are right on, Scot.
For me, the draw started out with interest in aesthetics in High School (Franky Schaeffer’s Addicted to Mediocrity), and liturgy in college (Thomas Howard’s Evangelical Is Not Enough).
I have an audio interview with more detail here.



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Anonymous

posted September 25, 2008 at 9:48 am


aldenswan.com » Blog Archive » I’m starting to remember what Church was all about

[...] Today Scot McKnight writes at Jesus Creed on why there seems to be a trend that There is a rise, a burgeoning rise, of young college students converting from low church evangelicalism, with its anemic, unhistorical ecclesiology, to the great liturgical traditions: Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. [...]



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Anonymous

posted September 27, 2008 at 11:03 am


Blogspotting 9/27 at Between the Trees

[...] Scot McKnight ably sums up many of the reasons younger evangelicals are returning to Rome or Byzantium. He also has reviewed Rob Bell’s new book Jesus Wants to Save Christians. As a long time appreciator of Bell, I’m excited to read his latest work. [...]



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Aaron C. Rathburn

posted September 29, 2008 at 11:25 am


Woah-
I just read one of Scot’s “Original Sin” threads, and realized that the term “primitivist” also refers to some people who deny the doctrine of original sin.
I just want to clarify one point- when I said I was of a Restorationist/Primitivist branch, this had nothing to do with original sin! This is using “Primitivist” in the ecclessiological sense (Apostles for today).
Whew!
-ACR



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