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Moment

A Franciscan Moment by Timothy George.

Evangelicalism is best understood as a renewal movement within the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. Across time, evangelicals have drawn deeply from four wells of Christian wisdom: the christological and trinitarian faith of the undivided church prior to 1054; the Protestant Reformation, especially its emphasis on the authority of the Bible and justification by grace alone through faith alone; the transatlantic awakenings exemplified by Whitefield, Edwards, and the Wesleys; and the missional stirrings of the Spirit throughout the globe, including puritanism, pietism, and pentecostalism.

Most American evangelicals are not aware of this rich heritage, and that makes them vulnerable to the idolatries of the present moment. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that “people who have no past, have no future.” The thinness of American evangelicalism—short on doctrine, worship as entertainment, little or no catechesis—stems from spiritual amnesia (“we have forgotten who we are”) and results in ecclesial myopia (“at least we’re not like them!”). At a moment like this, when the ground once thought solid turns out to be quicksand, what is needed is a back-to-the-future revival. I see the signs of such an awakening already. It will be decidedly radical, global, and ecumenical.

Younger evangelicals are increasingly drawn to the radical demands of the Gospel, to a kind of cross-centered, Sermon-on-the-Mount Christianity that embraces discipleship with a cost. In part, this explains why Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a figure of such enduring appeal. His break with the compromised theology and assimilated Christianity of his own time resonates with millennials who have little interest in “a church which asks nothing of you” (words I once saw on a church sign in Kentucky).

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