See the full article by Becky Garrison at God’s Politics.
When I interviewed Phyllis Tickle for Rising from the Ashes: Rethinking Church, she reflected on the seismic changes she sees occurring in contemporary Christianity. “Evangelicalism has lost much of its credibility and much of its spiritual energy as of late, in much the same way that mainline Protestantism has.” Lest anyone find this news so depressing they want to run for cover, Phyllis offers some much needed historical and hopeful perspective. “About every five hundred years, the church feels compelled to have a giant rummage sale.” During the last such upheaval, the Great Reformation of 500 years ago, Protestantism took over hegemony. But Roman Catholicism did not die. It just had to drop back and reconfigure. Each time a rummage sale has happened, in other words, whatever held pride of place simply gets broken apart into smaller pieces, and then it picks itself up and to use Diana Butler Bass’s term, “re-tradition.
I am intrigued by this bird’s eye view of the church. I do think that evangelicalism as I have known it has spent itself and is seeking a new paradigm. We have been embarrassed too much, confused too much, with a theology that is getting shallower and with a vulnerability to fads that demonstrates an inability to reflect and have larger views that require balance and wisdom. Some are seeking the stability of the Roman Catholic church as a respite from the rocking boat of evangelicalism. Some are downsizing to the smaller communities of meaning and mission that are being validated by some of the thinking offered by the emerging church. But too many churches are still trying to be the Saddlebacks and Willowcreeks of the 1980’s and 1990’s, churches that don’t exist anymore even at Saddleback and Willowcreek. I am wondering what it all will look like in twenty or so years.
I have lived through southern fundamentalism, Billy Graham evangelicalism, Carl Henry neo-evangelicalism, charismatic renewal, inclusive seeker models, and now emerging and emergent. I have gone to seminary and been on the board of a seminary and witnessed the coming and going of staff as each new wave hits the church. Some professors can’t catch the new wave and have to go; some professors try to build a breaker wall against the new wave and get rid of those who would surf it; and meanwhile mega churches are producing their own institutions of reproduction that bypass the seminary. Is there an omega point? Or is there a necessary turmoil being stirred that will force evangelicalism to reconnect with church history?