Wednesday, November 17, 2004

"Manifesto" PART I


In advance of my upcoming review of Brian McLaren’s “A New Kind of Christian” I felt compelled to repost something I wrote over a year ago. It was dubbed by many as my “manifesto.” Whatever you wish to call it, it was, for me, a genuine outpouring of my passions, convictions, and Spirit leadings. Re-reading it, I admit they have altered very little. At the time, I had no idea how to explain, much less name, what I was feeling. Furthermore, I didn’t know if I was alone in my feelings or if others felt as I did. As it turned out, I received dozens of letters from you, many quite lengthy, excitedly explaining that I had nailed what many had been thinking and feeling for some time. Many of us have continued those dialogs and persist in feeling that the modern church (primarily because it is a MODERN church) can no longer speak to the emerging generations.

If anything, a year’s time has allowed me further research, prolonged study, and extended observation of what has come to be known as the Emergent movement (for more on Emergent and its birth pains read this month’s Christianity Today cover story at: I suppose I am curious how the movement (I, like others, hesitate and even resist calling it a movement, but there you are) has grown or shrunk. Who still feels the same way as before? Who feels differently? Who has begun incorporating Emergent ideals into their lives and who has decided not to proceed?

The original was long and so I will present it here in a couple sections. I have cut its content down at bit as well. There were some things (most notably my struggles with and pulling away from the Pentecostal/Charismatic church) that were (and continue to be) specific largely to me. Please forgive the work’s pace and often-aggressive tone. It was written in one sitting and can be, shall we say, provocative at times.

I am going to share a discovery with you. Why? Because I suspect that many of us have adopted a like-minded spirituality without perhaps being aware of it. Something has been percolating inside of me for some time now. I have felt the confines and borders of my spiritual self heave and shift in the past several years. Perhaps you have too. My Christianity no longer fits into any preconceived box, and for the first time, I am ok, even excited about that. I have begun looking at my Christianity and its role in my life with new eyes and a new appreciation. I knew from talking with several of those friends in my immediate circle that they too were transforming their religious experiences into a new and at times, controversial package. I simply did not realize how far reaching this alteration was. Suspecting but never being able to confirm its breadth, I was both astonished and energized to discover that I and those I keep company with are in fact not alone.

I will attempt to describe this trend as it applies to me personally and the others who find themselves the vanguards of its tenets. I have researched its emergence extensively over the past week and found that, more often than not, our thoughts align to a compelling and faithful standard.

I would love to hear from you about this. I suspect that I am not alone and as my week’s serendipity alludes to, there are more of us than we know.

This is not intended to be a critique of the current state of the Church as much as it is a barometer of a new and fresh move of the spirit of God among that Church’s younger (primarily but far from exclusively) members. I think what follows will intrigue you, possibly shock you, and almost certainly thrill you. Please take it in the spirit of which it is intended—a soul only dimly aware of the universe he resides in, trying his hardest to wrestle truth from the cosmos. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, only the hunger.

Before I continue I just want to say that I am thrilled at what I sense the Lord doing in my life and the lives of those around me. While it may shock and grieve some of you, I am, for literally the first time in my life, on the cusp of my thirties, truly ecstatic about my Christian faith and where it is taking me.

In one week’s time, my perspective on this issue has exploded. It went from something that I thought was only seething in my and some dear friends’ hearts, to something that is being described in recent books, reputable periodicals and online journals as, “a new great awakening,” “a historical change,” and “a spiritual revolution.” It is a revolution occurring at this very moment. As one writer in Christianity Today admitted, “Something is unquestionably afoot.”

But what is it?

The “Younger Evangelicals” as author and researcher Robert Webber has dubbed us (referencing Richard Quebedeaux’s seminal 1970s text, “The Young Evangelicals” ) range in age from early 20s to mid 30s. We recognize that we are in the maelstrom of a cultural transition period as modernism is thrown overboard in a post-modern world. The old counterculture of the sixties is now the mainstream—we are the new counterculture. We are the first generation raised among the fallout of a society that embraced moral relativism, licentious sex, rampant drug use, and debased ethics and morality. Far from the utopia it was touted to be, the socially corrosive world into which we were born has produced broken families, relentless promiscuity, dumbed-down education, devastating sexually transmitted diseases, and increasing social violence.

The popular mythology of the sixties said that religion would end on the trash heap of history. Instead, while cultural elites wring their hands over the erosion of civil society and the increasing irrelevance of the church, their children are entering adulthood on their knees. Confounding the predictions so fashionable just decades ago, Gen-X is not cynical and jaded, but optimistic and spiritually sensitive. Gen-Xers and the uncreatively dubbed Generation Y that
follows them are embracing religous faith in record numbers. We are seeking something with more enduring meaning and we are finding it in religion. Churches around the nation are recording record growth and numbers.

However, even among those raised in the Church, tectonic shifts are occurring. It is here that the true crux of the movement hinges.

There is a widespread theological discontent among ordinary young Christians. Many of today’s youth are unresponsive to the agendas of our immediate forefathers in worship, theology and general church strategy. Instead, we are increasingly drawn to Christian orthodoxy, traditional Christian teachings about doctrine and morality. There is a deep hunger for tradition and all that has been stripped away in modernized worship and teaching.

The trend of the mega-church is an anathema to us. Our goal is an organic, relational community of believers—a goal that cannot be achieved in huge Wal-Mart churches delivering a slick and packaged program of nauseating Christian consumer goods. We wish to communicate our faith by embodying the teachings of Christ, rather than articulating principles and programs. There is no longer any room for truth in our market-driven atmosphere.

Glenn Wagner said, “[W]e have bought into gimmicks and programs, the razzle dazzle Las Vegas syndrome of Christianity, all flesh and lights and gaudiness. We have forgotten what it means to BE the church and do ministry.”

We want tradition, not innovation. We seek meaning, not entertainment from our worship. Unsatisfied with both “traditional” and “contemporary” worship, we strive to strike a balance, blending the two into a rich tradition where the Church is vibrant and alive but also contextualized for the era.

These changes represent a paradigm shift in the Church. We are quite aware that we are deconstructing modernity and re-imagining the Church in western culture. The Church, we feel, does not suffer from a lack of persecution in our hemisphere because of supernatural blessings and protection, but because of a lack of serious threat and impact to our society. Our churches strive to be inoffensive, instead of desiring full-blooded truth claims. More and more denominations are letting secular and indeed Satanic influences infiltrate the Church. Many who call themselves Christians are adopting belief systems at odds with the primacy of Scripture.

In enacting this change, we not only feel the freedom, but the responsibility to shatter denominational lines. We gather together from the full spectrum of the Church, creating a new spiritual mosaic. Moreover, those raised in evangelical Protestantism (like myself) are finding deep satisfaction and comfort in more liturgical forms of worship, often sending us into the pews of more Orthodox and Catholic churches while our parent’s generation of clergy and laity look on with uneasiness. We do not draw the line in the sand as others before us have done. The Gospel has been made far more complicated than Christ ever intended it. An individual who calls on the name of Jesus Christ for his salvation, who recognizes Christ’s gift off the cross, and who repents of his sins is a Christian—be he Catholic or Protestant. Both groups tack on “do’s” and “don’ts” that have nothing to do with Scripture and only divide one group from another. We see these issues as irrelevant so long as the Gospel is tantamount.

For those of us coming from Protestantism, high liturgy reinforces the awe and majesty of God lost on a watered down evangelical movement more interested in seeing God as a bosom chum. We find grounding and purpose in the historical creeds, communicate our faith publicly through the use of symbols and the recovery of sacramental life reminding us in tangible ways of the grace that saved and sustains us daily. We are just as likely to listen to Nicole Nordeman and Michael W. Smith for spiritual nourishment as we are Benedictine choirs, Gregorian chants and even U2! We find ourselves less hung up on the finer points of non-essential doctrine and tit-for-tat legalism. Harkening back to a bygone era, some have dubbed us, “young fogies.”

Our heroes and standard bearers are pulled from the familiar and the obscure intellectual landscape, without respect to denomination: C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Francis Schaeffer, Brennan Manning, Phillip Yancey, Thomas Merton, Os Guiness, John MacArthur, Henri Nouwen, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Rich Mullins, Soren Kierkegaard, Brian McLaren, and Dorothy Sayers.

We are committed to a biblically rooted, historically informed and culturally aware new evangelical witness in the 21st century. We desire a multicultural community of faith, and inter-generational ministry. As our model, we look to the past to forge our future.

Of particular importance is the early church. Much of what we want is found in the Catholic tradition—a profound respect for church history that traditional and contemporary evangelicalism has ignored. We are not interested in going back to wallow in the past, but to take from that past (its ancient traditions, worship, biblical dependence and doctrine) and implement them in a contextually relevant way.

Make no mistake—we are not interested in changing the church based on our culture as so many contemporary churches have done in an attempt to fit in and make themselves more palatable. We wish to approach our culture and the current humanist disciplines through the lens of the Church’s ancient beliefs and practices. There is no better way to read the history of humankind. Our religious beliefs should inform, shape and direct our culture, not the other way around.

The path is an ancient road, rediscovered. Adoption into the life of the Church grounds us in a world far more substantial then we could ever discover on our own. It establishes a direct link with the apostolic life of Christ and His disciples and their followers in the early church. Individualism as a paradigm (especially that of the personality-driven ministry) is vanishing, allowing for a new appreciation of the corporate paradigms in Scripture.

This involves a return to ancient Christian and Reformation teachings that Christianity is a community of faith. We seek a rebirth of the church visible. The church was intended to be incarnational—that is, the Church is the body of Christ, and as such is His hands and feet and mouth. The most persuasive apologetic is not a finely crafted sermon, but a visible, identifiable people living truly and honestly under the rule of God in both community and service. The question is not whether or not we can prove what we believe, but can we live what we believe.


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