In some recents posts I have begun to explore/seek to explain what Bob Webber calls the “Ancient-Future faith” tradition. This phrase describes the expression of faith that is pre denominational, creedal, historical, and sacramental, among other things. It is, I believe, just what Christianity needs in our time to meet the needs of the postmodern culture’s cry for knowing and worshiping God in a community of faith.
I believe that we are beginning to see a resurgence in these aspects of Christianity, particularly because of the cultural conundrum we Westerners find ourselves in. Many of the expressions of Christianity, steeped heavily in a matter-of-fact Modernism, have begun to break down and are no longer sufficient to the millennial and post-millenial (postmodern) generations. Returning to the “faith of our Fathers” (and by that I mean early church fathers) helps us to fill the gaps that seem to be left by much of our contemporary Christian practice.
In this discussion we talk a lot about mystery, particularly in the context of how we experience God in worship, both personally and corporately, in very mysterious ways. The Christian faith is full of mystery: the mystery in the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, the “wind of God” that we cannot comprehend; what Paul refers to as the mystery kept hidden for ages and now made known as Christ in us, the hope of glory (Col. 1:27); the mysterious experience of Christ’s presence as we partake of bread and wine in the Eucharist; the mystery of the dual natures of Christ as both fully God and fully man. We must embrace mystery if we are to embrace Christian orthodoxy.
But I’ll admit, just like any good ol’ Truth-loving American, too much talk about mystery can make me a little nervous. See I grew up hearing about how I had to “arm myself” with intellectual ammo to defend against those evil people out there who would tell me that truth is relative and God wasn’t real. Instead of using my brain to think a little deeper on the subject, I would simply dismiss these people and their notions as stupid. It wasn’t until I looked a little closer that I understood where “those people” were coming from (just hear me out). Yes, “those people” are really out there and I don’t think they’re right. But they arrived at their conclusions for a reason.
As I mentioned briefly in my last post, the age of enlightenment and scientific discovery had a big impact on Christianity. Thinking, Reason, objective, provable facts, these became the “aces in the hole” in any argument in almost any area of society. We took the principles of mathematics and scientific method, with all their predictability and exactness, and applied it to our faith. The result was a nation of churches that were more like houses of parliament than houses of worship, complete with delegates from all sides filibustering to win their their case.
Now lest we commit the error of interpreting history through our contemporary lens, we should acknowledge that this particular season of Christian history had its purpose in God’s redemptive plan and should not be seen as a total grievous error. The weakness of this time was in what we lost, the ability to embrace of the mystery of God that Christian faith had previously been steeped in. Because we could not explain the mysterious in quantifiable terms, we abandoned the mystery completely. Take away everything you can’t fully understand or explain. It’s better for everyone.
But this couldn’t last long. I believe this aspect of Christian faith in the modern era paved the way for the revival of “Spirit-filled” worship services in the twentieth century. Eventually the predictability and exactitude gave way to a huge onset of “free-for-all” worship (which has its pros and cons). The pendulum swung in the opposite direction.
But before I run off on a lengthy (and poorly constructed) history lesson, let me make my point: Mystery is not the same as relativism. We don’t want to make the same mistake our predecessors made in assuming this connection or we will be doomed to repeat history and lose all sense of mystery and transcendence in our worship. Relativism says that since I cannot understand the truth, there is no truth; Mystery says I do not fully comprehend the truth, but I embrace it with all that I am. Yes, we believe even what we do not understand.
There are people in some circles who are seeking to bring mystery back into the arena of faith (a good thing), but their motive seems to be a reaction against instead of a returning to something that is healthy and historically a huge part of the faith. Embracing mystery cannot be a means to support an unwillingness to submit to God’s truth. You can’t embrace Orthodoxy in a rebellious way. That’s an oxymoron.
So let’s be free to embrace the mystery of faith together, not worried that it’s too “out there.” Our God and our family of faith through the ages can be trusted, because “he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).
Christ has died,
Christ is risen,
Christ will come again.