A growing number of evangelicals—younger evangelicals in particular—are maturing the movement in another way. They are taking their newfound love affair with Christian tradition and the early church beyond the realm of books and talk and into their churches and Christian lives. Covenant's Kenneth Stewart noted at the Wheaton conference that more and more traditionally evangelical congregations are now experimenting with advent candles, sampling practices associated with Lent, and marking Holy Week with special services like Tenebrae—an evening service featuring songs, readings, and the gradual extinguishing of lights to represent Christ's death.

This fascination with early liturgy has perhaps grown out of the recent trend toward what Richard Foster has called "the classic spiritual disciplines." In his 1993 book Devotional Classics, Foster argued that "pure modernity makes us parochial," so we need to return to practices "weaned from the fads of the marketplace" that will give us "perspective and balance."

One aspect of these disciplines that has captured the imaginations of evangelicals is monasticism. In The New Faithful (2004), Colleen Carroll Campbell believes the public love affair with things monastic surged with the 1996 publication of Benedictine oblate Kathleen Norris's The Cloister Walk. Among evangelicals, the trend has extended to retreats at Catholic monasteries, recovery of Celtic spirituality, and observance of the divine hours. Not surprisingly (given the biblical focus of evangelicals), the slow, meditative monastic prayer technique called the lectio divina has captivated many. They have taken up the practice guided by such books as the three-volume Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle, The Rhythm of God's Grace: Uncovering Morning and Evening Hours of Prayer by Mennonite professor Arthur Boers, and a book for youth, Divine Intervention: Encountering God Through the Ancient Practice of Lectio Divina, by Minneapolis Emergent leader Tony Jones.

More radically than the sometimes cafeteria-style adoption of monastic practices, a small but growing group of Protestant "new monastics" has now taken up the task of molding their lives by ancient practices. Their goals are described in the book Schools for Conversion: 12 Marks of the New Monasticism, and their desire to learn from the monks and nuns of the early and medieval church is explored in Inhabiting the Church, by Jon Stock, Tim Otto, and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. At the conference, Trinity Western's Mark Charlton noted that the phrase "new monasticism" now crops up almost every day on Internet news services, and that writers such as Rodney Clapp, Jonathan Wilson, Arthur Boers, Tom Sine, and Brian McLaren have all been calling evangelicals to monastic models as a guide for the future.

Article continues below

Related Elsewhere:

This sidebar corresponds to "The Future Lies in the Past." Mark Galli looked at "Ancient-Future People" in Inside CT.

Christianity Today editor-in-chief David Neff interviewed Webber in 2006 about the AEF Call.

Neff blogs at AncientEvangelicalFuture.blogspot.com.

CT briefly reviewed Ancient-Future Evangelism in 2004, briefly excerpted Ancient-Future Faith in 2000, and briefly profiled Webber's work on "blended worship" in 1997.

Other Christianity Today articles on reclaiming ancient church practices and Robert Webber's Ancient-Future theology include:

A Higher Ecclesiology for Evangelicals | Bryan Litfin, author of Getting to Know the Church Fathers, says that we need to reclaim our spiritual heritage. (October 26, 2007)
Spirituality Squared | Webber's Divine Embrace touches both head and heart. (July 26, 2007)
The New Monasticism | A fresh crop of Christian communities is blossoming in blighted urban settings all over America. (September 2005)
Looking Back to Go Forward | Robert Webber urges churches to catch the spirit of the ancient model. (February 1, 2004)
Advent's Spiritual Pilgrimage | The birth of Christ is only the final stop when meditating this holiday season. An excerpt from Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality Through the Christian Year. (Robert Webber, December 1, 2004)
Remonking the Church | Would a Protestant form of monasticism help liberate evangelicalism from its cultural captivity? (August 12, 1988)

The Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies, Northern Seminary, and AncientFutureWorship.com have more on Webber. Northern also hosts Webber's "Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future."

Christian History & Biography has many issues on the early church.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.