An Ancient-Future Message

Dr. Garry K. Brantley

Yes, I admit the title of this blog derives from Robert Webber’s book Ancient-Future Faith in which Webber challenges many assumptions about “doing church” in today’s postmodern culture. There appears to be fresh winds blowing over the landscape of our Western culture that threatens many of our ecclesial presuppositions. For some, these winds are devastating, stressing the fabric of time honored sails that have transported the church over many turbulent seas. For others, these same winds are refreshing, blowing away chaff that for too long has obscured the kernel of authentic Christianity.

In any paradigm shift, there are dangers to avoid and benefits to enjoy. While postmodernity offers its own challenges to the Christian message (e.g., radical ecumenism; unqualified pluralism; decontructionism; etc.), it equally provides an appropriate critique of modernity that long held the church in its dogmatic grip. Strangely, in an attempt to wiggle free of modernity’s grip, the church embraced the very assumptions of it’s would-be captor. Such is the basic thesis of a powerful little book that I’ve recently re-read–The Worldly Church by C. Leonard Allen, Richard Hughes, and Michael Weed.

Though written in 1988, this little book is refreshingly timely. These writers boldly claim that the Church, in response to an increasingly ego-centric culture, developed a prudential gospel–a message that attempted to provide utilitarian reasons for becoming a Christian. Often, people are persuaded to come to Christ so that their marriage might thrive, that their business might prosper, or that they basically can enjoy a peaceful life. While the authors recognize these are possible by products of the Christian faith, they rightfully argue that such is not the call of the gospel. They write:

The call of Christ is not to personal success and peace of mind, but to brokenness, suffering, and service. Neal Plantinga put it well: “We are intended to please God–not the other way around–and the idea that Christianity is something we adopt for what it will pay us in happiness and personal mastery is an idea which must be explicitly discouraged” (p. 61).

In an equally powerful critique of the prudential gospel, these writers correctly remind us:

The scandal of the gospel today is that the gospel speaks only of a God-made person, while our culture glorifies the self-made person. The scandal today is the gospel call to surrender self, to offer self to God and his service, when the world calls only for self-enhancement. The scandal is that the heavens are open; that the sovereign God comes to rule this world and all who live therein; that salvation is by divine power, not human achievement or technique. The scandal is that we must be confronted with the depths of human evil and deceit before we can know the heights of grace” (p. 65).