A Slow Holiday Season for the Historical Jesus

I just got home from the barber shop, where I perused the December 24 issue of U. S. News & World Report, which featured as its “holiday” cover story, not some new theory that threatens to change everything we’ve ever thought about Christianity, like we’ve been treated to for the last several years in a row, but an article on how Catholics, tombstoned.jpgProtestants and Jews are all alike seeing a return to ritual and liturgy among the younger generation which is so underwhelmed by the boomer generation’s attempts to relevantize (is that a word? I’ll look it up later.) their respective religious expressions. We evangelicals will certainly think instantly of the seeker-sensitive model of worship. This trend seems to be reflected in Bill Hybels’ recent change of heart about how his church has been weak on discipleship (or “self-feeding”); at least he’s publicly acknowledging a little self-critical reevaluation. Or is it just vying for some of the consumers to be had among the aforementioned younger generation that’s “seeking” more tradition-sensitive models of worship?

Here’s one interesting excerpt featuring the Evangelical version of this phenomenon:

Talk to Carl Anderson, the senior pastor of Trinity Fellowship Church, and you get an idea. “Seven or eight years ago, there was a sense of disconnectedness and loneliness in our church life,” he says. The entrepreneurial model adopted by so many evangelical churches, with its emphasis on seeker-friendly nontraditional services and programs, had been successful in helping Trinity build its congregation, Anderson explains. But it was less successful in holding on to church members and deepening their faith or their ties with fellow congregants. Searching for more rootedness, Anderson sought to reconnect with the historical church.

Connections. Not surprisingly, that move was threatening to church members who strongly identify with the Reformation and the Protestant rejection of Catholic practices, including most liturgy. But Anderson and others tried to emphasize the power of liturgy to direct worship toward God and “not be all about me,” he says. Anderson also stressed how liturgy “is about us—and not just this church but the connection with other Christians.” Adopting the weekly Eucharist, saying the Nicene Creed every two or three weeks, following the church calendar, Trinity reshaped its worship practices in ways that drove some congregants away. But Anderson remains committed, arguing that traditional practices will help evangelical churches grow beyond the dependence on “celebrity-status pastors.” (emphasis added)

Having looked over Trinity’s website, the only critique I have is in their fear of being divisive with a “detailed confession of faith,” favoring instead as their confession a combination of the Nicene Creed and the ankle-deep NAE Statement of Faith. A little too bare-bones for my taste, but the rest, I really like. But then, I’m part of that younger generation that isn’t into commercialized worship. Would that more “traditional” churches would seriously examine a more historical, liturgical worship that centers on the regulative principle of worship and actively encourages an appreciation of “the communion of saints,” our “connection” with the entire church in all times and places, as we worship God in the heavenly Jerusalem (Hebrews 12:22-24). Speaking of which, the current episode of The White Horse Inn which is featured in my sidebar, deals with this very kind of topic. I highly recommend your listening to it. It will expand your understanding of what’s going on spiritually in Sunday morning worship, and help you have an idea of where I’m coming from on all of this stuff.

Be that as it may, I was relieved that it so far seems to be a slow holiday season for debunkers of the historically orthodox understanding of Christianity in general, and Jesus in particular. As I was flipping through the pages of the magazine, the only thing of that kind of “historical Jesus” hand-wringing was a timely recycling of all the recent junk that had been polluting our airwaves for the past few years.

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