Final Thoughts -- By: John H. Armstrong
RAR 13:4 (Fall 2004) p. 219
For sometime I have believed that there are consensual roots of historic classical Christianity to be found in the common faith and practice of the early church fathers. This faith is not monochrome, for sure. But it is vibrant, confessional and catholic. As a convinced Evangelical, with a deep awareness and commitment to the Reformation, I believe, with both Calvin and Luther, that we need to go back in order to go forward. True renewal is, in Bob Webber’s term, an “ancient-future faith.”
Simply put, there is an apostolic tradition that is living, not dead. The need for our time is not the dead faith of the living but rather the living faith of the dead. Put another way, we do not need to reinvent the wheel.
One theologian who has resurrected a wide-scale interest in the early church to, whom many of us are personally, indebted, is Thomas oden a contributing editor to Reformation & Revival Journal. Dr. Oden was once a card-carrying modernist. His exposure to the Jewish philosopher, Will Herberg, changed his direction. He wrote of this change: “[Friendship with Herberg] did more for me intellectually in the six years of our close friendship (1971–1977) than any other person during that time, by requiring me to ground my thinking in classical sources.” As early church theologian, Christopher A. Hall, tells the story it was this Jewish philosopher who warned Oden that his overall perspective would be badly defective unless he gave concentrated time to the study of the church fathers and mothers of the early church. Thankfully, Oden heeded Herberg’s advice. In Hall’s words, “As Oden immersed himself in ancient sources, he discovered an antidote to his past idealization and idolization of the new.” I am persuaded that one of the most damning trends in evangelicalism is the
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“idealization and idolization of the new.” We rush hither and yon looking for the “new” thing, all the time living in a dense theological and practical fog that worships at the shrine of the “hot” new movement. We are a “movement” driven age. Technology has its own power and appeal, as the late Jacques Ellul pointed out powerfully, and it alters everything it touches, including the church. One might even say, especially the church.
Christopher Hall adds that Tom Oden came to the place where “the need to create was replaced by the call to listen.” This is a dramatic shift in mind and heart. I believe this is precisely where we need to be if we would genuinely renew the church of the West in our time. We need to stop the strategy of trying this and trying that and “listen” to the ancient vo...
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