When I read the words below from Darryl Tippens, I thought, “Wow!” I then slowly read these thoughtful, timely words again.
Darryl is the author of Pilgrim Heart: The Way of Jesus in Everyday Life. I read this book several years ago and found it to be very encouraging. The author is Dr. Darryl Tippens, Provost at Pepperdine University. Darryl has graciously consented to participate in an interview on this blog. You can find part 1, here and part 2, here.
(This week, I will be giving away two autographed copies of this book. To be eligible for the drawing, leave a comment on this post.)
What concerns do you have for 21st century Christ-followers and their spirituality? How can the church better address some of these concerns?
Darryl Tippins: As Philip Jenkins and others are demonstrating in their books, Christianity is alive and well in the world–truly flourishing in parts of the globe (such as in South America and Africa). But the Christian faith is not doing so well in what we usually think of as the Western world. Christianity in the U.S. is beset with both internal and external challenges. Forces of secularization are strong, especially in media circles and education. I see expressions of hostility towards Christianity in the press today that would have been viewed as shockingly irreverent or blasphemous only a few years ago. We’re all aware of the new “fashionable atheists,” with their best-selling books. Consumerism, extreme individualism, and vague, self-concocted “spiritualities” abound–which makes the transmission of faith to our children and the next generation rather difficult.
We must find ways to practice Christianity as a robust minority religion–just as they did in the earliest centuries of the Christian era. If Christianity is to flourish, we have lots of work to do:
(1) We must build very strong local faith communities that are rich in community life, rich in tradition, rich in memory, and rich in knowledge of God’s word. The members of these faith communities must not only be thoroughly knowledgeable in the Word of God, they must also be profoundly experiential. (“O taste and see that the Lord is good!”) They must offer their members a true, holistic “way of life,” rich in practice. They must be more than fact-based. They must touch people’s lives to the core in multiple ways. They must be “incarnational” and “sacramental”–linking faith and everyday experience in numerous ways. Recently, I inventoried Christian practices of the early church as recorded in early church history. I came up with a list of over 35 specific rites and practices early Christians engaged in–many of which would look strange and foreign to us today. If we are not to engage in all these early practices today, well, fine. But my question is this: What are the “dynamic equivalents” to these ancient practices today? I think today’s Christianity looks sadly reductionist and stripped down when placed beside early Christianity. We ought to reflect on this, for it may explain why it’s harder and harder to hold on to our children.
(2) We must build communities that amaze the world with their good works, including especially a non-judgmental care for people in need outside our communities–the homeless, the destitute, the sick, the bereaved, the unemployed, the imprisoned, the sexually confused, etc. As in the first century, non-Christian people today should see our good works and be impelled to say, “See how they love one another!”
(3) Finally, just as we must develop the heart and the practice of Christianity, we must develop the head (the intellectual dimensions) of the faith. Christianity flourished in the ancient world partly because it had the best answers to life’s perplexing questions. In the ancient world there were momentous questions about life (why are we here? what is our purpose? why do we suffer? what happens after we die? etc.). To these urgent questions, Christians formulated the most convincing answers. Thus, in those early centuries, Christians were known for their minds. Some Christians were considered among the greatest intellects of the day. This has been true for over 1,500 years. Consider Augustine or Thomas Aquinas as examples–possibly the smartest men on the earth in their days–and they were Christians too. Today, the greatest thinkers — in most cases — are not believers or are not known to be believers. We must address this problem squarely and raise up a generation of Christian intellectuals who can show a hurting, confused, question-haunted world that there are answers, and they are to be found in the context of the Christian faith. A vibrant faith of this century will link head and heart, intellect and good works, in dramatic new ways.
(to be continued)