Innovation and Revival


You’ve no doubt read a pre-obituary or two for The Late, Great American Church. You know, because she’s dying and stuff. All the numbers and pundits say so.

In response, some of us push the panic button, have an ideological fire sale, and try to remake the church into something postmodern Americans might find palatable. Others batten down the hatches, refuse to change even the slightest detail about how they do the church thing, and try to put a noble spin on going down with the sinking ship.

However, as is often the case in a world of polar extremes, there exists a third way. Something in the center, as it were. Here’s Tim Keller in Center Church:

“… when we study the history of revivals, we usually see in the mix some innovative method of communicating the gospel.”

He’s talking about how revivals are almost always marked by the familiar — “preaching, pastoring, worship, and prayer” — they’re also almost always marked by something unusual (outdoor preaching, society meetings, weekday prayer meetings, the printing press, etc.).

So, we must cling to both the old (beliefs and practices) and strain ahead toward the new (methods, metaphors, and expressions). We the communicators must be historians, contextualizers (sorry, that’s not a word), archaeologists, and designers. We must grasp the ancient and the emerging, and we must enjoin them in a narrative that is distinctly now.

This is one of the main ideas of Center Church, and I believe it ought to be one of our main ideas as well. After all, revival is the most confounding response to an obituary.

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