The idylls of another summer are now past and the leaves are gently falling from the trees. From imaginative individuals and various ecclesiastical institutions, a new crop of books and programs for Christian renewal are likewise descending upon congregations and parishes across North America in hopes of stirring up a renewal of Christian discipleship, at least for another year.
Since the 1960s, the theme of renewal has become the obsession of North American Christianity, whatever the denominational designation. What will it be this year that brings Christian life and witness into line with the precepts of the gospel?
The evidence that the days of the status quo are numbered exists all around us. And yet, the work of renewal in so many situations amounts to attempting to turn around a battleship in a bathtub!
People are seduced by loyalties. For some, it is just the patterns of habit from the past, while for others it can be iconic—the Book of Common Prayer, or the family pew, or Anglican chant, or just a favourite sentimental prejudice. And while these traps exist, the prospect for change is a challenge. Yet the books are published and the programs are introduced, each promising that this year, things will be different. But will they?
My doubts linger. So much of what is produced seems to have more in common with human cultural bias than it does with the demands of the gospel. The materials often seem to encourage yet more avenues, admittedly religious, for personal self-improvement rather than any coming to grips with the demands of the gospel.
The gospel is demanding as well as comforting, and true comfort and peace are the gifts bestowed when the prayer “thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven” is being fulfilled. Part of our discipleship task is to discover what demands are being made of us within our particular life situations.
Another is to address those demands as they are revealed. And this is the challenge to our faith, whoever we are and wherever we live. When this happens, the process of a life of true faith has begun, and as a process, it is never-ending, whatever books and programs are forthcoming.
Oh, yes—about that battleship question. When we embark on such a process of renewal, the bathtub begins to fill up until it is overflowing with the earnest and honest study of scripture and the ensuing good works that follow, until the battleship is floated over the side and beached, no longer a block to the gospel’s task. To God be the glory.
The Rev. Canon A. Gordon Baker is a former editor of the Anglican Journal.