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New Ways of Being Christian

January 15, 2014



I have been participating in a year-long seminary class which is a survey of the Christian Tradition. We are using Justo Gonzalez’s two-volume The Story of Christianity as one of our texts. This week a particular paragraph in Volume II stood out to me, and also provided some good discussion material for our class time. In describing the atmosphere of the 16th century Reformation, Gonzalez wrote:

An old world was passing away, and a new one was being born. It was unavoidable that the church too would feel the impact of the new times and that, just as new ways of being human were emerging, new ways of being Christian would also emerge. Exactly how this was to be done, however, was open to debate. Some sought to reform the old church from within, while others lost all hope for such reformation, and openly broke with the papacy. In an age of such turmoil, many sincere Christians went through profound soul searching that eventually led them to conclusions and positions they could not have predicted. Others, equally sincere and devout, came to opposite conclusions. The resulting disagreements and conflict marked the entire age that we now call the Reformation of the sixteenth century. (14)

We noted in class that, if you changed just a few words in this passage, you could easily apply it to the time and place we find ourselves occupying today in North American, Western Christianity. We are living in the midst of a new and rapidly changing world, which is affecting how we think about and how we “do” church. The current atmosphere is causing some Christians to be excited, some to be hopeful, some to be inventive, while others are fearful, cautious, or just wondering what the heck is going on. Older, established church structures and institutions are engaging important questions and facing difficult circumstances. While at the same time fresh expressions of church are being born and developing. Similar to the previous Reformation, today seems to be a time of soul searching, of tension, of conflict, and of new birth.

What is the Spirit stirring in a time such as this? What might we learn from our history? What new ways of being Christian do we see emerging?

Using one word, could you describe how it feels to live in this time?

  1. January 16, 2014 1:00 am


  2. January 16, 2014 1:01 am

    Love to hear you expand more on what you mean by “new ways of being Christian.” I ask b/c what Martin Luther and the other Reformers of C16 and C17 were actually trying to call the church to was not anything new at all, but rather, something old; something originally intended that had been lost.

  3. Robert Martin permalink
    January 16, 2014 10:21 am

    Actually, to “outin2thedeep”, while they were calling the church to something old, at the same time, it was something new… in the original 1st century church, literacy was not there… Guttenberg destroyed that… so, now we have the Scriptures in the hands of folks who aren’t “trained”. Culture, itself, is also different… Europe is NOT 1st century Judea… what does church look like in Renaissance Europe?

    So, as much as it is a reclamation of something old, even that something old needed to find an incarnation in the new and changing world… this is, also, what is happening to the church today. Lot’s of folks looking to get back to the “original church”, but many different ways of figuring out how that takes form in current society.

    My one word: Schizophrenic – we’re deconstructing our identity as a church and trying to construct a new one and, even for me who has certain ways of looking at things, I find myself split in two sometimes.. or more… as I try and make sense of it all.

  4. January 16, 2014 1:05 pm

    Rachel-thanks for reading and for sharing your word. “Discontented” is a feeling that I think would definitely fit in both the atmosphere of the 16th and the 21st centuries. It’s also a good feeling to pay attention to as we attempt to listen to the Spirit in our time.

  5. January 16, 2014 1:35 pm

    outin2thedeep-Thank you for reading and for your comment. I see “new ways” as possibly meaning both something refreshed (drawing from older expressions, as you mention; i.e. early church) and perhaps also something brand new. I’ve been influenced by the late Robert Webber’s Ancient/Future works, so there’s lots I feel can be brought forward to inform the present and future. At the same time, incarnating these religious expressions in a different context still creates something new, as Robert noted. The printing press was a huge cultural influence in the 16th century, helping to initiating new reforms, theology, religious practice. In our time the big technological advance is the internet, and it’s already influencing everything. Theological blogging, distance seminary education, increasing diversity, global connectivity. Yet we also have expressions which are building on, and recovering elements from, the past, like New Monasticism for example.

    While these things can be exciting and interesting, at the same time with change there always is tension. So the word I have chosen to describe a feeling is “anxious.” I sense a lot of that, personally and corporately.

  6. Ryan Robinson permalink
    January 17, 2014 10:33 am

    Excited. Our faith is one that has always learned to evolve and I’m excited at the prospect of being around for one of the big steps (the “rummage sales” to use Phyllis Tickle’s language). No idea where it’s going – although of course there are hints – but as long as we’re all along for the ride together following Jesus, it’s going to be an adventure on par with the 16th Century. Tiring. Hard work. Sure to include many mistakes along with getting many things right. And definitely exciting.

  7. January 17, 2014 8:43 pm

    Well said, Ryan. I, too, was reminded of Tickle’s book and thesis when I was reading Gonzalez’s intro. Thanks for your word!


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