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The Future Lies in the Past
Last spring, something was stirring under the white steeple of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College.
A motley group of young and clean-cut, goateed and pierced, white-haired and bespectacled filled the center's Barrows Auditorium. They joined their voices to sing of "the saints who nobly fought of old" and "mystic communion with those whose rest is won." A speaker walked an attentive crowd through prayers from the 5th-century Gelasian Sacramentary, recommending its forms as templates for worship in today's Protestant churches. Another speaker highlighted the pastoral strengths of the medieval fourfold hermeneutic. Yet another gleefully passed on the news that Liberty University had observed the liturgical season of Lent. The t-wordthat old Protestant nemesis, traditionechoed through the halls.
Just what was going on in this veritable shrine to pragmatic evangelistic methods and no-nonsense, back-to-the-Bible Protestant conservatism? Had Catholics taken over?
No, this was the 2007 Wheaton Theology Conference, whose theme was "The Ancient Faith for the Church's Future." Here, the words spoken 15 years ago by Drew University theologian and CT senior editor Thomas Oden rang true: "The sons and daughters of modernity are rediscovering the neglected beauty of classical Christian teaching. It is a moment of joy, of beholding anew what had been nearly forgotten, of hugging a lost child."
The conference's Call for Papers likewise rejoiced: "One of the most promising developments among evangelical Protestants is the recent 'discovery' of the rich biblical, spiritual, and theological treasures to be found within the early church." In particular, it said, evangelicals are beginning to "reach back behind the European Enlightenment ...1