Back & Forth to the Future

Robbert Webber & Co. have issued a A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future. This hasn’t escaped the notice of some of the writers at Touchstone Magazine, who have issued a critical response: Back & Forth to the Future

My two favorite excerpts. First by Wilfred McClay:

Well, in the first place, there is a word that is never used in this document. It is conspicuous in its absence. I kept waiting for it to appear, and it never did. That word is authority. Yes, the Scriptures are here described as an “authoritative” record, but that is merely sending an adjective to do a noun’s work.

There is no locus of authority being proposed here. This omission is especially strange in light of the document’s expression of the “pressing” question: “Who gets to narrate the word?” This would seem to be precisely a question of authority. The document calls on Evangelicals to “restore the priority” of the biblical story in their lives, which the writers insist upon calling “God’s narrative.”

But who is to do the restoring? After all, the story does not tell itself (which is, of course, precisely one of the reasons literary scholars use the verb “narrate”). The history of the Church is a history of all the different, and sometimes violently conflicting, ways of telling the story. I have no doubt that both James Dobson and Stanley Hauerwas could each tell the story convincingly and faithfully. But I suspect their accounts would differ.

In short, there is no escaping from the need for structures of authority in the Church.

And Russell Moore:

A truly ancient Christianity doesn’t need to assert how ancient it is—or how countercultural. An ancient Christianity that takes seriously the faith of the Fathers will cause a stir in the culture and in the cubicles at InterVarsity Press—if for no other reason than because it says things such as the faith of the “Fathers.”

It will believe the storyline of Scripture and judge the present order—all of it—against a Spirit-breathed norm. It will create a counterculture of people who aren’t counterculturally hip, on stage with Bono for the latest global warming consciousness-raiser, but who are countercultural because they, well, counter the prevailing culture.

If the Ancient/Future Evangelicals wish to counter this culture, they will be forced to do so in more than the generalities they’ve outlined. To take on consumerism, do you dare take on the dual-income family structure of contemporary Americanism? To take on the “culture of death,” do you dare speak bluntly about welcoming the gift of children, about the personhood of the embryo, about the way in vitro fertilization turns a child into a means?

To speak against “civil religion,” do you dare call for public prayers in the name of Jesus? To speak against “political correctness,” do you dare say that only in Jesus Christ is salvation found, thus fueling the evangelism of the world religions, including the Jewish people?

The roots of Halloween, we’re told, date back to a time when villagers sought to ward off evil spirits, witches, and ghosts by mocking them with mimicry. A bloodthirsty demon would retreat, it was thought, when he saw someone dressed in ghoulish costume. When reading documents such as A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future, it is hard not to wonder whether this is not what’s going on among these Evangelicals: keeping the ancient Christian witness at bay by mocking it with mimicry.

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