Evangelicals – the same mistakes all over again?

April 13, 2012

Over the last five years I have seen a gradual growth of interest, especially from people under 35, in more ancient practices and expressions of the Christian faith. When I say ancient, I mean “pre-Reformation.”

There has been a corresponding growth in suspicion toward the theology and hermeneutics of the Reformers. This is, I think, a reaction to more recent expressions of Reformed theology that have, at points, strayed into incivility and theological pedantry.

One of the influences in this movement, I think unwittingly, has been the work of Tom Wright who has encouraged us to read the Bible and to encounter the Bible’s Jesus as a first century Jew rather than a 16th Century European.

To be sure, there is great value is Wright’s (and other’s) asking us to encounter Scripture in a way that allows Scripture to be what it is rather than something it isn’t. However, my sense is that Wright’s influence is becoming so significant that it’s almost reminiscent of Paul’s reference to Jesus in 2 Corinthians 2:14 — he is leading his followers in triumphal procession, deconstructing and debunking the theology of the Reformers brick by brick.

James K A Smith shares something of this frustration when he reviews Wright’s most recent book How God became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels. Read the review here

This whole business of revealing the new, deeper, truer meaning of Scripture that has somehow been lost to us thanks to the Reformers poses a deeper question. One of the greatest critiques of modern evangelicalism is it’s infatuation with the “new.” On it’s face, this would seem to preclude practices of the early and pre-Reformation church. How can something be new when it’s old?

I sometimes wonder and worry that what we are encountering today as a return to the “ancient paths” is simply another form of evangelical infatuation with the new–or, “the new to us,” “the newly new.”

Could it be that we are infatuated with old things not because they are better or older, but conversely because they are new to us?