Recent reports from the Pew Research Center (see Mollie Z. Hemingway's "Between the Times" for more information) show that America's religious landscape is changing rapidly and substantially: religion-hopping and religion-dropping are proceeding with a speed and industry never before seen in the modern West. Meanwhile, in a recent Atlantic Monthly (March 2008), several authors declared that: a) the shifting sands of evangelicalism will make it more-not less, as is commonly believed-of a force to be reckoned with in the future; b) as religion's economic benefits collide with intransigent religious dogmas, moderation of religious extremism is sure to follow; and c) based on the example of religious conflict in Nigeria, Christianity and Islam have found new common ground in an interfaith prosperity gospel that promises riches in this life, with little thought given to the next.
This perfect storm of religious upheaval reminds us that the Preacher of Ecclesiastes still speaks truth to our age: there truly is nothing new under the sun. Revitalized interest in all things spiritual, as well as the moderating effects of secularism, are the stuff from which the Christian church has emerged over the last 2,000 years. As Roman Catholic scholar Robert Louis Wilken explains in his seminal work, Remembering the Christian Past, our current ecclesial age faces the exact same challenges as early Christianity and it is to the early Christian apologists we must look for clues to combat the "new" spirituality.
In this issue, we want to make a beginning at identifying and classifying the new spiritual impulses that seem to be sweeping the world (and sweeping much of what is called evangelicalism along with them). To start things off, Reformed theologian and Editor-in-Chief Michael Horton shows us the difference between classical Christianity and the prevailing spirit of the age. New Testament scholar and Presbyterian professor of all things pagan, Peter Jones, takes aim at the new spirituality and its view of reality. Lutheran pastor Mark Pierson wonders what all the fuss is about as he considers the cyclical nature of heresy in his article on Gnosticism. And, we're honored to have Presbyterian pastor and author of Against the Protestant Gnostics, Philip Lee, give us an update 20 years after the publication of that important work. Unfortunately, his news is not good.
The good news, however, is that the health of the church is not ultimately up to the church and that Christ is in the business of entering into the mess that his bride finds herself to show again what a great Savior he is. As we understand and proclaim that message, the banality of the new spiritualities becomes clear. Our hope, then, is that Christians will not fear a new dark ages of religious superstition, but will see a possibility for a renewed golden age of the church in the work and witness to those attracted by what the gods of this age have to offer.
Eric Landry is pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church (Murrieta, California) and executive editor of Modern Reformation.
Issue: "The New Spiritualities" May/June 2008 Vol. 17 No. 3 Page number(s): 2
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