For years, I have been very interested in questions regarding cultural engagement. I have led three different “shepherding” groups at our church over the last six years, seeking to see elders raised up in our rather young church. Some titles we’ve engaged are: 1) Far as the Curse is Found, by M. Williams; 2) Christ and Culture by Niehbur; 3) Resident Aliens by Willimon and Hauweras and most recently 4) Deep Church by Jim Belcher.
Furthermore, books that have impacted me this last year and more recently are: The Rebirth of Orthodoxy by Thomas Oden, The Biography of Cornelius Van Til by John Muether as well as To Change the World by James Davison Hunter. In Muether’s book, p. 66, he quotes Reformed giant J. Gresham Machen who said these words in his opening address at the opening of Westminster Seminary:
... But we cannot consent to impoverish our message by setting forth less than what we find the Scripture to contain; and we believe that we shall best serve our fellow-Christians, from whatever church they may come, if we set forth not some vague common measure among various creeds, but that great historic Faith that has come through Augustine and Calvin to our own Presbyterian Church. Glorious is the heritage of the Reformed Faith. God grant that it may go forth to new triumphs even in the present time of unbelief!
These words struck deeply because I love the Reformed Faith. Yet, I have grown so deeply over the last ten years of our new church, a church that draws from a variety of traditions and backgrounds. I celebrated Thomas Oden’s joy when he spoke of a renewal of orthodoxy in mainline traditions that had long ago seemed to be “dead” or apostate. I so appreciated Tim Keller getting me to think about C.S. Lewis’ “hallway” and seeing the commonality we hold with “mere Christians.” I was drawn to Belcher’s “Deep Well” illustration of drawing people to the “top tier” of the Gospel and then using discipleship as the tool by which we narrow the focus a bit and seek to train people up in the “bottom tier” of our particular tradition.
Yet, after ten years of having planted and pastored a PCA church, while I celebrate the number of theological students we have trained up, and while I know that our church has had a broad reach, especially to young people sent from us to serve the Lord throughout the world, … yet I wonder two things in particular: 1) how many people have we truly influenced for the Reformed Faith? but also, … 2) is our particular tradition (Reformed) worth fighting for as much as the celebration of historical orthodoxy/“mere Christianity” that so many of our people have come to love and embrace, celebrate and live for, even though sometimes remaining thoughtful Arminians, Baptists, Lutherans and even dispensationalists? Many have come through our doors over the last ten years, some have been “converted” to the Reformed Faith, yet others have remained with their particular traditions, … yet continue to think well of Grace Chapel (our church), whether they stay or pursue a tradition that more readily identifies with their theological convictions.
What does it mean to celebrate the catholicity of the church, all the while standing firm and rejoicing in a particular tradition (in my case, Reformed)? And how does this celebration of both work itself out in the life of the local church? Because, ultimately the question impacts the mission of the Church. Why? Didn’t Jesus say something about the world knowing we’re His by the love we have for one another? How we relate to one another, despite the plurality of traditions represented in the American church, directly impacts the credibility of our message to a watching world. Doesn’t it? To borrow from Davison Hunter’s language, what is “Faithful Presence”? What is it for us as we look towards not only the world that God so loved, but to the right and the left to the various expressions of the Bride He so loved as well? I’m hoping the D.Min. program can help me grapple further with these questions.