is evangelical enough? part 1

In 2012, I wrote an article for Modern Reformation called “Is Evangelical Enough?” A few days ago, a young Lutheran asked if I ever write about the influx of young Christians leaving shallow, pop, evangelical theology for the meaty, historic stuff of the sacramental and liturgical churches. A shortened, adapted version of part 1 follows. A shortened, adapted version of part 2 will, well, follow eventually. 2013-1-large

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Label them “Rambo Catholics.” Call them “ecclesiastical bullies.” Claim they’re “hard-nosed.” But if you’re brave enough to assert they’re going unnoticed, do so at your own risk. They know better.

Conservative in all things theological (and social and political), this new league of outspoken Roman Catholics won’t be ignored. They’re well-versed in the church’s apologetics and its place at the cultural table, and they’re equally eager to dialogue with pretty much anyone who’s interested.

They’ve piqued the interest of Protestants, and the youth, in particular, have taken notice. While they aren’t abandoning Protestant churches en masse, a slow, steady trickle of Christians have dialogued, discussed and dived headlong into the Tiber, attracted to a theology that appears to have the history, orthodoxy and reverence they’ve been missing.

These converts have commonalities. They are mainly evangelical, and they are mostly millennials, the 80 million or so young men and women born from the mid-1970s to the early 2000s. But it’s not just the young. Seasoned Protestant pastors and theologians—Richard John Neuhaus and Francis Beckwith among them—felt the pull to Roman Catholicism as well.

Their migration leaves the churches of the Reformation with two choices: to pretend it’s not happening or to confess the faith even more robustly.

 

SPITTING UP SPIRITUAL MILK

As repugnance for the superficial grows among the youth, pop Christianity continues to offer little in the way of help, still struggling to discover where it went wrong. And so the young faithful search for something filling, something profound, something to which their faith can lay hold of and to which it can cling.

But their struggle is bigger than the contemporary culture. Their frustration lies in their lack of a past. Protestant churches that have forfeited the Church’s ancient creeds and confessions, liturgies and hymnody, have become their own downfalls, producing a generation that longs for—but has not been given—a theological foundation, a churchly history.

The youth’s response? To reject their “Boomer parents’ fascination with novelty and reinvention,” says Issues, Etc. radio host Rev. Todd Wilken, who discusses similar topics on the “Christ-Centered, Cross-Focused” show.  He’s on to something. Scot McKnight, professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary, Lombard, Ill., affirms that young Protestants are discovering that “evangelicalism is not enough, because it does not absorb the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church into its very bones.”[1] They’re looking for something else, he believes, something enduring, reverent, disciplined, historic.

So if the recent evangelical push toward coffee houses and contemporary worship, praise bands and introspection isn’t meeting the theological needs of America’s youth, what is? “Ancient worship with a contemporary flair,” writes Robert E. Webber, Myers Professor of Ministry at Northern Seminary. They want a church that has an “authentic character,” “more use of ritual and symbol,” “more frequent celebration of communion,” “high participation,” and a “recovery of the Christian year as a spiritual discipline.”[2]

They’re tired of the theological milk, he’s saying. They’re hungry for meat.

 

WHAT IS TRUTH?

The Roman Catholic creators of websites like calledtocommunion.com (“where Rome meets Reformation”) or Catholic Answers (forums.catholic.com/) recognize this generation’s theological discontent.  Intertwining robust apologetics and technology, the church now utilizes a unique platform to welcome disgruntled evangelicals “home” to Rome.

Their theological presence on the Internet is formidable. Thomas Peters, who runs the “American Papist” blog at catholicvoteaction.org, wears the title (“Rambo Catholic”) willingly. To be a Rambo Catholic signifies that he’s “proudly, joyfully orthodox.” That orthodoxy and its accompanying longevity, Peters believes, appeals to a generation channeling Pilot’s question: “What is truth?”

People find that truth in the Catholic church because it “challenges them, and not merely accommodates them,”  he says. “The Catholic Church has held fast to the moral traditions taught by Christ and . . . [converts] see a great deal of continuity between the early Church and how the Catholic Church believes and practices today.”

 

 

 

[1] McKnight, Scot. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. “From Wheaton to Rome: Why Evangelicals Become Roman Catholic,” (Vol. 45, No. 3), Sept. 2002.

[2] Webber, Robert. Reformed Worship. “How Will the Millennials Worship?: A Snapshot of the Very Near Future,” (March 2001).

 

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