Ancient-Future Christians

A more holistic and integral concept of spiritual formation has begun to emerge. The architects of this emerging approach have often been described as “ancient-future” Christians. On the one hand, they have reached back, drawing from pre-Protestant sources—Orthodox, Catholic, Celtic, and monastic. On the other hand, they aren’t simply traditionalists; they are innovators as well.

First, they search for spiritual resources outside the parochial parameters: Baptists learning from Catholics, Mennonites learning from Greek Orthodox, Pentecostals learning from Copts. This is innovation enough. Then, they start integrating resources from previously discrete sources: Pentecostals praying in tongues and using the Eastern “Jesus prayer” and practicing Catholic spiritual direction and doing evangelical-style Bible study, for example. And then these catholic-ancient-futurists distribute and dialogue about the resources they discover through contemporary means: MP3s and downloadable videos, blogs and podcasts, Web sites and DVDs.

This emerging approach to spiritual formation questions the assumptions of institutional participation and knowledge or experience acquisition. Instead, it works from a more nuanced understanding that could be expressed as another formula, far more complex: knowledge (of the Bible, theology, Christian history) + experiences (of the Holy Spirit, of brokenness, of community, of mission) + relationships (in small groups, mentoring) + suffering + service + time = growth + health. But for all its increased nuance, this kind of formula still misses the mark. To use a formula at all is misleading because nobody understands this approach to be a foolproof formula. Human foolishness can trump any so-called foolproof methodology.

Instead of resorting to a formula, we can understand all the factors in the previous formulas as sets of practices. Then, portraying the Christian faith as a way of life, we can say that this way of life is learned and strengthened through a wide variety of practices developed by Christians across the centuries and across traditions. So spiritual health and growth result from a wide array of practices—used over time to acquire knowledge, to posture oneself to receive spiritual experiences, to deepen spiritual relationships, to face and endure suffering, and to move toward others in service. n

Excerpted from Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices, by Brian McLaren, with permission from Thomas Nelson Inc. Copyright 2008.

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