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CHANGE OR DIE

by Kent L. Svendsen


I recently attended a continuing education event at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois.  It was an eye opener to say the least.  The subject was Christian Faith in a Postmodern World and featured two excellent scholars on the subject Henry H. Knight III (Professor of Evangelism at St. Paul School of Theology) and Robert E. Webber (most recently Professor of Ministry at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary and formerly of Wheaton College).  Many of the things they presented were both challenging and somewhat disturbing.

Dr. Webber offered us both good and bad news.  The good news for evangelical conservatives is that liberalism is dead.  The bad news is that conservatism is dead also.  So while the conservative and liberal elements are in a full pitched battle for control of the denomination neither one can hope for anything but empty victories.  For the next generation finds arguments over "politically correct language" use and legalisms irrelevant when compared to an intimate relationship with God.  So whether its a liberal social action monolog denying parts or all of the Apostle's Creed or a conservative one railing against the evils of liberalism and the need to follow the rules, both fail to engage and draw in the next generation.

So what does the next generation what?  Believe it or not they want the "high church" ritual and ceremony, the very thing we have been moving away from and toward a "contemporary" worship which is more relaxed and informal.  Rather than removing all the symbols of the faith and dressing like corporate America so as to not offend anyone, they want all of it and then some.  They have a "new love for the pre modern" or the historical teaching of the church.  Many are ignoring the latest "winds of doctrine" such as the Jesus Seminar offers and are going directly to the early church fathers for their faith and doctrine.

The next generation will not respond to a "formalism" which is a "calm rational moderate religion" says Henry H. Knight III.  The humanistic leanings of liberal thought "having the form but without the power" will be seen by them as empty and useless. The irreverent tearing apart of the biblical story by "ultra-critics" and "deconstructionists" who's main goal is to find error and discredit the biblical authors rather than to establish a personal relationship with God will be soundly rejected by them. The new disciples are looking for a sense of awe and reverence towards God. So I guess we need to put away the tambourines & drums, get out the vestments, buy a few incense burners, and freshen up our study of the early church.

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