For None Now Live Who Remember It
"The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it." Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
The above quote is one of my favorite moments of any movie. There is an air of suspense. There is something lying behind the quote of which you are unaware. There is a truth you are not yet privy to. When you realize the quote does not actually stem from the book, there is almost an element of distrust and rebellion hidden in this epic introduction. All of these pieces form a beautiful tapestry for some of the best movies ever made.
Still, there is a generic beauty concealed in the phrase. An element of truth resides within it that stirs within Christians, both those in America and those coming out of old traditions and newly affirming other old traditions. There is a way in which we all feel as if we can attach ourselves to this phrase. It is cosmological in its audience. I am sure Tolkien is smiling from heaven.
The world is changed. Yes, the world does change. And yes there is a sense in which the very elements of creation testify to it. It wasn't an invention of Tolkien in poetic prose to allude to the water, earth, and air as testifying to change. The concept is primordially Biblical. I wrangled my way around the topic in "A Modernity Moment in Hosea 4" but it isn't only the prophet Hosea who points to the trembling of creation due to human sinfulness and the church's covenant unfaithfulness. It is an element of the Old Testament and New Testament prophets. Adam and Eve were placed in the role of gardener over earth and in their fall creation has been in a volatile state responding to covenant sinfulness.
It is easy to look at the larger landscape of Christianity and point out the places we disagree. "The world is changing!" There are always new blatant targets to hammer against. But this isn't what I am talking about. It is common place to assume being "modern," "revolutionary," and "creative" is a bad thing. But don't over think things, the same people who criticize creativity will turn around and tie the doctrine they are attacking to an ancient history. Ever changing but never changed I guess. This type of Chicken Little "the world is changing" is not what I am talking about.
Beneficial change, and its antithesis, in the church comes from a different place than the prominent theologians. It does not come because of talking heads at the top of the chain. Most religious history and issues reveal that the gap between laity and laymen is great. The significant changes often come through sparks and movements of "revival" among laymen. Granted, these start from the work/words of dynamic speakers but the movement and change itself is the general acceptance by laymen. So looking at top level movements and saying the world is changing is often nothing but entertaining existential climaxes (once again Michael has done a great job discussing this subject recently). Real movements alter the foundational way we live and within the church it must restlessly shake laymen out of their slumber.
For none now live who remember it. This really is the problem isn't it? In this awesome, non-Biblical, quote the origin of trouble is a lack of memory. In a relationship a lack of memory often indicates a lack of concern, care, and love (men try forgetting your wife's birthday or ya'll's anniversary). So let's be straight, a majority of America's religious and political problem is that it doesn't care. They might remember a vaguely better time that they would like to return to (e.g. neo-cons with the founding fathers, evangelicals with pre-hippie days) but we can't remember beyond that or care enough to acquaint ourselves with it intimately.
It is in this climate of evangelical Christianity (not the definition but the lay people in the movement) that I have chosen to reject the phrase completely. It now is nothing more than glorified decisional theology wrapped in a pharisaical demand for individualistic evangelism. This new incarnation of pietism can be devastating to "Boring Christians" (just wait that post is coming on Monday). To deny evangelicalism isn't a denial of its valuable truths but instead to affirm them in the framework of older more vocational theologies. I am set on returning to a fuller orthodoxy without denying the Reformation elements that I find to be Biblical. As such, I have followed closely to the great Thomas Oden and thus have developed a deep love for the patristics. I have written in numerous places the importance of church history (probably no where more clearly then in "How Church History Saved My Life"). I remain incapable of stepping over this issues.
Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it.
From my limited perspective, looking back to the reformation would be a start. Looking beyond it would be a significant improvement. There are so many free resources online to read the church fathers. So your mission should you choose to accept it is to read the following classical works before the end of the year. For those of you who are writers I would love to hear from you on your response to these documents.