Liturgical Turn?

6 comments Written on September 22nd, 2008     
Filed under: Church History, Church Year, Liturgy, Style of Worship, Theology

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Today, Scot McKnight is talking about college students converting from evangelicalism to other traditions. He asks:

What is going on? There is a rise, a burgeoning rise, of young college students converting from low church evangelicalism, with its anemic, unhistorical ecclesiology, to the great liturgical traditions: Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. Three students this semester have already told me they are considering converting.

I know people who have converted for this reason. I also know evangelical pastors and worship leaders who use all manner of traditional worship resources for two reasons: 1.) They have a personal affinity for high church language and 2.) They are students of culture, who notice our growing interest in the words and symbols of historic Christianity.

Scot ends his post with a charge:

The conversion of young low church evangelicals to liturgical traditions should hardly surprise us. What we should be doing is correcting our weaknesses by listening to those converting.

Any thoughts?

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6 comments “Liturgical Turn?”

Is this phenomenon anything other than the usual ‘Christian shuffle’ prevalent in our US culture? I’m not trying to be sarcastic in this, but we “low church evangelicals” have, at least in my experience, quite a habit of shifting from one church to another (almost always with the most “spiritual” of reasons of course).

The studies (see our own David Olson’s “The American Church in Crisis”) indicate that Christianity in the US is on the decline overall thus any growth in most churches has generally to do with transfer growth-CHRISTIANS moving from one church to another- so, the ‘conversion’ of low church evangelicals to liturgical traditions may be one more manifestation of our already well entrenched habit of looking for the perfect church.

Bless the Lord for the hunger that this may represent, but it also may be an issue other than that stated by those converting. Has anyone checked the flow in the other direction? How many Catholics and Orthodox are “converting” to low church evangelicalism these days?

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I think some of the shift is an indictment on shallow thinking and language. The poverty of some musical lyrics and extemporaneous prayer are most evident when someone reads a prayer from St.Francis or Thomas a Kempis or gets lost in the language of “Be Thou My Vision” or “Spirit of God Descend Upon My Heart”.

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Certainly. Both Don and Dan relate the considerations. There are cultural trends that affect what sort of church folks want to attend. And… the trends reveal, both, what we are tiring of and what we are excited about.

There are other considerations, as well, but I often think about what Don and Dan have mentioned.

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I offer here what I posted on Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed thread:

I think serious EO and RCC communities call young evangelicals to a level of discipline and spiritual rigor that they have never experienced. Most Christian college students have not been ‘catechized’ into their church of origin and so are looking for substance as they make their faith their own in and after college.

I am a Covenant pastor who has delved very deeply into EO (Eastern Orthodox) spirituality and doctrine through reading, dialogue with authors and some EO leaders. I am attracted much more than to RCC by it’s mystery focus (vs. rationalistic bent of the West,) its greater compatibility theologically with evangelicalism, and more masculine tone in music and iconography.

I have 2 post college sons who are in deeply involved in ministry and will be vocationally. They are critics of evangelicalism (while committed and appreciative) from the social justice and wholistic gospel focus rather than worship. I think one thing that has strengthened evangelicalism for us is the “robust Gospel” teaching (espoused by McKnight and others) and the emphasis on compassionate outreach and the freedom to engage and use liturgical forms of many kinds within our worship. We often play Rachmaninoff Vespers at the end of Communion services in Holy Week or at the end of our longer evening service which our twenty somethings lead (”Sanctuary”). I used the resurrection icon at Easter and often use others to explain biblical stories at times. We have a contemplative prayer group that is several years running and led by our head Elder who is a certified spir. director.
Though we vary the liturgy – the IDEA of ‘liturgical’ elements has been ’subversively’ (not a negative idea) embedded into our church DNA in natural ways that our diverse population of mostly X-RCCs and conservative Christians of all stripes greatly appreciates. We seek to model a theological humility that invites study and learning from the whole Tradition.

Scot, I’d like to see your colleague Brad Nassif (North Park)weigh in on this as one of the few – if not only – EO profs at an evangelical and denominational type college. He emphasized to me once that we can embrace ‘the Great Tradition’ without transplanting – something that not all EO leaders and priests would agree with (even Frederica Matthewes Greene who has a large following with evangelicals questions those who think they can ‘dabble’ in EO instead of diving in.)

Thanks for the good conversation.

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