The Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future

Today, as in the ancient era, the Church is confronted by a host of master narratives that contradict and compete with the gospel. The pressing question is: who gets to narrate the world? The Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future challenges Evangelical Christians to restore the priority of the divinely inspired biblical story of God’s acts in history. The narrative of God’s Kingdom holds eternal implications for the mission of the Church, its theological reflection, its public ministries of worship and spirituality and its life in the world. By engaging these themes, we believe the Church will be strengthened to address the issues of our day.
– from “A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future”

In 1977 a group, led by Robert Webber (who passed away last month), issued what was known as “The Chicago Call,” which identified eight themes that required attention by the contemporary evangelical movement. The Chicago Call stated:

We confess that we have often lost the fullness of our Christian heritage, too readily assuming that the Scriptures and the Spirit make us independent of the past. In so doing, we have become theologically shallow, spiritually weak, blind to the work of God in others and married to our cultures.

The eight themes included the tendency toward individualized interpretations of the Bible, a disregard (or ignaorance) of the basic theology represented by the creedal statements of the past, the focus on individualized salvation experiences, and the separatist nature of contemporary movements (the unity of the Church). I remember reading it in the early 80’s and being very impacted by it (as well as by Robert Webber’s wonderful book, now out of print, Common Roots). Having been raised Lutheran (and later adopting an essentially Lutheran theology after investigating and rejecting the more trendy pseudo-evangelical theologies such as dispensationalism), but at the time serving on the board of an Evangelical Free church, this was music to my ears.

Now, years later, I am once again finding myself hearing the music of the “new and improved” call. When I first discovered the Ancient-Future Call, I nearly wrote it off as some postmodern angst-ridden emo-Evangelical document (it does make obvious use of the pomo-speak narrative); but then I saw Robert Webber’s name, and realized there may be some meat here. The Call has been updated to address a far different culture than we saw in 1977, as well as different challenges:

These external challenges include the current cultural milieu and the resurgence of religious and political ideologies. The internal challenges include Evangelical accommodation to civil religion, rationalism, privatism and pragmatism.

The AE Call is fairly succinct, focused on 6 areas. It is far more than just another expression of the Evangelical Angst that is so apparent in the Emergent-ish movements; this is an educated critique of the contemporary evangelical church from people who have managed to avoid angst, but at the same time have not been entrenched in the past, either. Read it here, and we’ll discuss it next time…

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