the future is in the past

Here's an interesting quote from the late Robert Webber:

"The truth is that younger evangelicals are conservative in that they believe the road to the future runs through the past.  They definitely are not returning to a fifties past.  Instead, they are returning to the Wesleyan past, to the Reformers of the sixteenth century, and to the ancient past of the first three centuries of the church, for inspiration and wisdom.  This new movement is not a perpetuation of twentieth-century traditional evangelicalism but a much older faith and practice, more tested by time, more rooted in the tradition of the ancient church."  (The Younger Evangelicals, p.239.)

If you are a "younger" follower of Jesus, does this quote resonate with you?  Is it an accurate picture of your faith/church life?


  1. Melanie! Wow! Thanks for the well-thought comment. You make some great points… You have a great paper in the works here! 🙂
    I’ve been reading loads of resources lately about passing faith onto the next generations. It would seem that the younger generations are not afraid of being really deep in faith and embracing traditional practices of faith… especially if the meaning/purpose is understood. It would seem that where the church has watered things down or made commitment too-easy… and where the church has preached one way and then lived another… that is where the younger generations disappear.
    I should read Crazy Love. Several people have been mentioning it to me lately.

  2. As the church faces more and more deception and distortion of the truth (predicted with end times 2 Timothy 4:3-4) I agree that my generation is feeling the need to embrace the ’tried and true’ practices of the early church. It’s necessary to study the theology behind the sacraments and rituals of our faith (ie. baptism, Eucharist) and realize how literally they represent our faith. By returning to these, we recognize the foundational truths that shaped our church… and begin to seek some of the answers to the eternal ‘mysteries’ of our faith. Things like Catechism seem fewer and far between. We think that to really reach people today we have to change and adapt to everything around us, often to the exclusion of certain practices. If we are trained in the church to follow Christ with an understanding of our faith foundations, I think we’ll see deeper, Christ-centered relationship and more committed Christians. A discipleship process that emphasizes foundational practices is more likely to produce accountability, training, and calling. The emphasis is hopefully not on the ‘rituals’ themselves, but the meaning and truth behind them. Obviously Christ commands us to partake in them for a reason.
    If my generation really wants to go deeper, wants to prepare for the future, we have to be willing to explore these theological foundations. Early apostles were more closely linked to first-hand encounters with Christ, so they definitely have a say. They were literally living out the call of discipleship. Webber (in Ancient-Faith Evangelism) talks about our culture today being similar to the culture of the early church. If this is true, why wouldn’t we return to some of the practices of the early church?
    I feel like there are so many distractions threatening our faith that the line of truth is becoming more and more relative. God is truth and through the HS, truth will resonate with those seeking it. Truth attests to truth. Trusting the HS to lead us, we can reclaim the church’s role as a pillar for truth.
    Oh… another quick thought: Change is not necessarily bad. I believe God calls the church to be authentic and relative to our postmodern world in certain ways, BUT without compromising the truth of the gospel. The emphasis of the early church was on church community. In community there is greater accountability and because of this I believe God uses the church to transform and to address social injustices. This necessitates some flexibility. If the HS is working, the church can’t remain static. We are called to live transformed lives which represent the dying to self, resurrection, and living life in the HS.
    Hmmm… and with regards to praying to the HS: I think full recognition of the Trinitarian nature demands more attention to the HS. When Christ was talking about leaving he said that he would give his apostles something even better than having himself remain with them. They couldn’t imagine what. The apostles found it hard to believe that anything could be better than having Christ in the flesh in front of them. If Christ left his HS to guide and direct us, over staying with us on earth, the HS must deserve more attention than we give him. A book I’m reading says “Our view of the HS is too small. The HS is the one who changes the church but we have to remember that the HS lives in us. It is individual ppl. living spirit-filled lives that will change the church.” (Crazy Love by Francis Chan pg. 171)Creation attests to the unique harmony of the Trinity. If we recognize the complexity of nature working together, or the body literally being able to function, we realize how much more the Trinity affirms and models this perfect synergy.

  3. Hey Tracy. You’ve got me thinking all kinds of stuff:
    “The practical importance of the doctrine of the Trinity is that it requires us to pay equal attention, and give equal honor, to all three persons in the unity of their gracious ministry to us.”
    -JI Packer, Concise Theology, 42.
    “In the New Testament… the Spirit, among other things, speaks (Acts 1:16; 8:29; 10:19;11:12;13:2;28:25), teaches (John 14:26), witnesses (John 15:26), searches (1 Cor 2:11), determines (1 Cor 12:11), intercedes (Rom 8:26-27), is lied to (Acts 5:3), and can be grieved (Eph 4:30). Only of a personal being can such things be said.” – ibid., 144.
    All this said, the unique character of the Holy Spirit is the same as that of Jesus and the Father. There is this distinction that all Three make of one another… and yet they each are One. It’s this beautiful, if not bewildering, communion.
    Regarding prayer… I’ll consider this some more… For now I’m thinking that in the Bible Jesus prays to the Father and sends the Spirit (the Father also sends the Spirit. The Spirit glorifies and points to Jesus, and in doing so glorifies and testifies to the Father. I think the best way to pray is to the Father… but there can’t be anything bad about asking the Spirit to dwell in us more, to transform us more, so that we can glorify Jesus and the Father.

  4. Oh for sure!! I apologize if I came off like I was criticizing your musings… I actually couldn’t agree more that it is amazingly eye-opening to ‘consider the uniqueness of the Father, Son or Spirit.’ Actually, I’ve been doing a bit more thinking on it, and I’ve caught myself wondering if I should be praying to the Holy Spirit more… Usually I direct my prayers and have my conversations with God the Father, or with Jesus… I’ve caught myself wondering if I’m purposely not addressing the Holy Spirit. (I don’t think that changes the fact that I’m interacting with Him, but still.) I guess this connects back to an earlier post on this thread… do we need to have more discussion with and about the Holy Spirit in our lives? I find for myself that it tends to be more about a quiet acknowledgment of His existence, but little searching into his ‘unique character.’ Anyway- all that to say, i would have to hear of any insights you gain into the character and role of the Holy Spirit- especially in regards to prayer.

  5. Thanks for the comment Tracy! And thanks for interacting so deeply with the content on this site. I appreciate it!
    You’ve given some great insight: “It’s not really about separating them so much…” So true. I agree. We should never deny or ignore the Oneness of God. But I also become more in awe of God as I consider the uniqueness of the Father, or the Son, or the Spirit. So hopefully I’ll not over-analyze or try to dissect God… It seems that whenever I pause and consider God… who God is, what he’s done, what he’s doing… the result is a wonder and awe that I can’t quite describe. That’s cool, eh!

  6. Hey Ken! just stumbled across your blog- and had a couple thoughts while reading through this post.. here’s what i was thinking:
    so when God started it all out, He was the forefront guy- Jesus and the HS were there in the beginning, but God was THE dude that kind of got the ‘press’ for His work in humanity – and then Jesus came, and God was like ‘here you go’- a Godhead, but in human form- a more relatable form, and a physical picture of God. But the HS, although He’s been in and around and through everything God and Jesus are and do, He’s kind of behind the scenes… He is harder to understand and relate to, but even though He is talked less about in scripture than JC or Yahweh, He is always popping up- always present, and evidently a necessary part of following the Way. But, as seen with your Dad Ken, and with others, it doesn’t always seem to be necessary to KNOW all about the Spirit, or always recognize when He is working, but just that when we are trusting Jesus, we are trusting the Father and His Spirit. Maybe then, it’s not really about separating them so much- when we surrender to God, we are surrendering to the Spirit; and when we are following Jesus’ words, we are also listening to the Spirit talk. That is (one reason) why Christianity is so amazing- that it can touch and impact people of all educational levels- faith can be analyzed and mined and result in incredible riches, but it can also just be accepted with humility and through that bring about great fruit.

  7. Great comment Andrew. You’ve got your pulse on the academic side of things right now, so it really aids in this discussion.
    I’m familiar with loads of “discipleship” materials from the 20th century. So many of them are called “manuals” or “curriculums”… there was an overemphasis on systematic thinking. While this isn’t necessarily bad, it perhaps did serve to make suspect the “experience” of the Holy Spirit.
    But I must counter my own comment with this: Many many many believers who worked hard at the programs of discipleship did so because they were in love and in thirst of God. My dad didn’t talk about the Holy Spirit (to me at least), but he did reveal a life changed by the Spirit and in love with Jesus. In the end, that’s the whole point.
    Most of my favorite authors were born, bred and raised in the 20th century… and yet absolutely inlove with God. People like AW Tozer blow me away with their sincere Spirit-filled reflection and ministry. In fact, I owe my own shaping in faith to many many people who loved and served Jesus and me with such unbending fire… and yet who didn’t speak much about a life filled by the Spirit.
    There ya go… just some more thoughts…

  8. I don’t know what age people are considered young evangelicals at, but I definately feel that this is true, at least in terms of my academic understanding. I find a lot of my academic struggles in spirituality point to current trends backtracking to reformer’s spirits of ‘like the church of acts’ focus. I have heard a lot of sermons on this and heard a number of engaging conversations about the same topic. The reason for this focus, from what I gather, is much like you have already been saying. There is a distinct lack of Spirit focused life in North American churches. Protestantism, in its efforts to remain true to Scriptures and Jesus tended to forget about the spiritual side of faith, the development, the struggles and the fruit found in that area. Instead, knowledge, more importantly, correct knowledge, was the focus in that people were to know properly about God and in that way, we forgot to get to know God. This focus finds itself rooted in Wesley, ‘heart strangely warmed’; reformers, ‘early church imitations’; and early church, ‘spirit filled’, movements. All three of these find a deep sense of spiritual power, I think that is what is being sought, therefore, we look where it is known to be.

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