You might say that a number of CT editors have a vested interest in this issue's cover story. David Neff, Ted Olsen, Tim Morgan, and I have been doing the ancient-future thing for many years, at Episcopal and/or Anglican parishes.
And, if this were not enough immersion in the topic, in his spare time, David Neff heads up the Robert E. Webber Center for an Ancient Evangelical Future, founded by the father of the ancient-future movement. (Check out David's blog at http://ancientevangelicalfuture.blogspot.com.) In light of all this interest, it may be surprising that our inherent bias didn't produce the cover story, "The Future Lies in the Past" (page 22), much sooner!
While the ancient church has captivated the evangelical imagination for some time, it hasn't been until recently that it's become an accepted fixture of the evangelical landscape. And this is for the good.
Evangelicalism has been a chief engine of church renewal, with its emphasis on the individual's relationship with God, a proper suspicion of institutions that can indeed thwart the Spirit, and boldness to step into the future to which God is leading us.
But these strengths have also produced our movement's weaknesses: spiritual narcissism, shaky institutions, and historical amnesiain short, a tenuous connection to the ancient church's wisdom and strength. The new appreciation of the early church is providing resources to face the challenges of 2008 and onward, which, in a lot of ways (increasing skepticism, paganism, libertinism), looks like the Roman Empire in and around A.D. 208.
That said, some of us have been basking in the warm glow of liturgy and tradition so long that the glow has worn off. We know the ancient church, in itself, is not the answer to evangelicalism's problems. If liturgy can revive, it can also deaden. If tradition can give us fresh perspectives, it can also bind us to anachronistic ways of thinking. Liturgy is another worthless work if not infused with faith and the Holy Spirit, and tradition is a noose around our necks if it isn't held up against biblical revelation.
This is why we are particularly encouraged to see evangelicals engaged in a search for the church's past. When fully immersed in Word and Spirit, what is ancient may truly become the church's lively future.
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Christianity Today editor in chief David Neff interviewed Webber in 2006 about the AEF Call.
Neff blogs at AncientEvangelicalFuture.blogspot.com.
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