Is evangelical renewal possible for mainline and liturgical churches? Is it happening? Is it genuine? For many evangelicals (with Baptist, Presbyterian, or Pentecostal roots), these churches are unfamiliar territory. But several new books shed light on twentieth-century renewal movements in these churches. Highlighted here are those of the Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists, and Catholics.
Two books serve as general introductions to the renewal movements in these and other denominations. The Believable Futures of American Protestantism, edited by Richard John Neuhaus (Eerdmans, $7.95) presents essays and discussion from a diverse group of experts at the Center on Religion and Society in New York.
Evangelical Renewal in the Mainline Denominations, edited by Ronald H. Nash (Crossway, $7.95), surveys eight denominations (including American Baptist, Presbyterian, Disciples of Christ, and United Church of Christ, in addition to those mentioned above). Each essay is written by a church member who is sympathetic to renewal. Directories of renewal groups and publications are included for most denominations.
Thomas C. Oden, professor of theology at Drew University, offers commentary on the Wesleyan tradition through two different writings. In his Believable Futures essay, “Toward a Theologically Informed Renewal of American Protestantism,” he argues that the renewal of the sacred ministry (bishops and elders) and careful preordination preparation in the apostolic tradition is the way to contemporary renewal. The early church rejoiced in cultural pluralism, but rejected doctrinal pluralism, Oden writes. And he warns that such apostolic tradition must not be abandoned. He presents 47 theses, attested by quotations from “centrist classical sources—patristic to Reformation.”
To confront theological pluralism, Oden released his book Doctrinal Standards in the Wesleyan Tradition (Zondervan, $15.95) at the United Methodist General Conference last April (see CT News, June 17, 1988, p. 60). In this book he contends that the basic teaching of the Methodist church family has been textually defined since 1763 and that it is enforceable.
John Throop’s essay on the Episcopal church in Evangelical Renewal not only describes the current three-stream renewal (evangelical, charismatic, and anglo-catholic) in that church, but also gives a “quick tour of English church history [to provide] a framework for understanding renewal in the Episcopal Church.”
According to Throop, evangelical renewal is distinguished by commitment to “the primacy and unremitting authority of Scripture,” which gives priority to exposition, study, and preaching of the Word; personal conversion and holy living; and a view of the church as God’s herald and as the fellowship of the saved. Throop points to the influence of Philip Edgecombe Hughes and Stuart Barton Babbage, when they taught at Columbia Theological Seminary during the mid-sixties, as “the key to the development of a viable evangelical movement among Episcopalians in this country.”
As supplements to Throop’s essay, The Episcopal Church in Crisis, by John Booty (Cowley, $8.95), and The Episcopal Church’s History: 1945–1985, by David E. Sumner (Morehouse-Barlow, $24.95), provide us with a detailed look at the past 40 years. Booty traces a series of Episcopal identity shifts related to issues (Vietnam and sexism, for example). Sumner has written a series of individual chronicles, telling the story of major areas of church life (such as education, ecumenicity, missions, Prayer Book revision, women’s ordination, and civil rights). The book is an evenhanded resource (well-documented, with a glossary and a bibliography) for either new member or curious outsider.
Waldo J. Werning’s essay on the Lutheran churches (also in Evangelical Renewal) is more an assessment of the need for renewal and a description of what renewal would be than an account of ongoing renewal in this denomination. The Evangelical Movement: Growth, Impact, Controversy, Dialog, by Mark Ellingsen (Augsburg, $24.95), is a thorough study, undertaken to help world Lutheranism clarify its relationship to evangelicalism. The first three parts of the book survey evangelicalism.
Chapters entitled “The Essence of Conservative Evangelicalism” and “The Proclamation of the Gospel in Contemporary Society” compare evangelicalism with Lutheranism and move Ellingsens argument to a fourth section, “Dialogue with a Mainline Church Heritage: Biblically Based Theology for Born-Again Christians.” He observes that confessional Lutheranism’s emphasis on justification by grace through faith provides a basis for conversation and mutual reinforcement. The question evangelicals often ask, of course, concerns the twentieth-century Lutheran church’s degree of faithfulness to the Augsburg Confession.
Kevin Perotta’s essay on the U.S. Catholic church in Evangelical Renewal views the period between Vatican II (1962–65) and the 1985 synod of bishops as a watershed, during which the church moved out of its defensive stance toward the modern world, revised its structures, articulated the Christian faith for the twentieth century, and experienced renewal of its liturgy. However, Perotta states “the Council’s call for personal and corporate renewal, renewal in relationship with Christ and His Word, was actually followed by widespread confusion and loss of commitment.…”
Indeed, he sees the trend as decidedly secularistic. Vigorous leadership by Pope John Paul II and the 1985 synod to correct aberrations in teaching, coupled with the impact of charismatic renewal are signs of hope for Perotta.
The Emerging Parish: The Notre Dame Study of Catholic Life Since Vatican II, by Joseph Gremillion and Jim Castelli (Harper & Row, $16.95), seeks through survey and statistical analysis to assess the impact of Vatican II on parish life. Separate chapters detail findings in the areas of decision making, worship, education, evangelization, social action, and ecumenical action. The evaluation is more optimistic than Perotta’s.
By Larry Sibley, who teaches practical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.
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