The Quest for Mere Christianity
- Thursday, August 04, 2011
[Editor's note: The following is an excerpt of deep church: a third way beyond emerging and traditional (chapter 3) by Jim Belcher. Copyright(c) 2009. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press PO Box 1400 Downers Grove, IL 60515. www.ivpress.com.]
Before Roberta Green and her family joined Redeemer Presbyterian Church, she had one final question. Years before, she and her husband had been part of a small Reformed denomination that was very sectarian and inward-focused. It was not a happy experience. She had also grown up in a fundamentalist church and had the scars to show for it. "Is Redeemer ecumenical or sectarian?" she asked. "Because I grew up deep in the fundamentalist world where every kind of church or believer who was not in our denomination was a heretic and needed to be shunned and I don't want to be part of a church like that again."
I had gotten to know Roberta and her family well over the preceding months, so I knew of their wide-ranging contacts with Christians of all traditions and denominations around the world. Although they had differences with these people, what they shared in common was more important, especially in the face of widespread persecution by the Muslim governments of the Middle east and Africa. They rallied around orthodoxy, a belief in the historic creeds and deep passion for Jesus. This family was also passionate about John Calvin, his world- and life-view, and the ancient church fathers like Ambrose, Augustine and Athanasius. They had spent weeks traveling through Egypt and Turkey in search of ancient Christianity and the early church fathers. So when she used the word ecumenical, I knew what she meant. It was not the old ecumenism of dying liberalism but the new ecumenism, or what Tom Oden calls the surprising "rebirth of orthodoxy" around the world.
Before responding to her, I asked her a question: "Can Redeemer Church remain faithful to its theological traditions rooted in the history of the early church and Reformation and at the same time remain passionately committed to unity with all genuine believers?" Roberta responded, "Absolutely." "Then," I said, "I think Redeemer will be a good fit for your family." A short while later they became members.
A few months later my wife and I were invited to a dinner party at Roberta's home. It is not uncommon for the Greens to host a party of ten or twelve, usually around a special guest or a wonderful topic. Delicious food and great wine combined with stimulating conversation make for a wonderful evening. Their guests have included people from Cambridge, Copenhagen, Cairo, Charlottesville, Rome, Moscow and Washington, D.C., to name just a few. On this occasion, the honored guest was theologian and prolific author Tom Oden. A few weeks before the dinner I ordered his book The Rebirth of Orthodoxy. having not read any of his books, I wanted to be able to add to the conversation. I did not realize how groundbreaking this book is. It deeply challenged me and opened my eyes to a reality I did not know existed.
In the previous chapter I argue that no real dialogue or learning can take place between the traditional and emerging churches without them listening to and fairly representing each other.
What is missing from the dialogue, what would help us move from accusation to mutual learning, from innuendo to honesty, is trust. Trust is confidence that the other person's intentions are good and that we have no reason to be protective or careful around them. When one party feels disrespected or feels that their ideas have been summarily dismissed, trust is broken and communication is disrupted. Both sides are locked in a cycle of distrust and self-protection. Isn't this what has happened between the emerging and traditional sides? And doesn't this harm the witness of the church (John 13:33John 13:33)?
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