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what endures after movements come and go

I have found some striking thoughts from a book that D A Carson co-authored almost 25 years ago.  It’s a novel that consists of letters from an older pastor to a younger pastor.  I was struck by the timeliness (and timelessness) of the following paragraphs.  The movements he is referring to are the various American religious movements on the rise among Evangelicals at that time, like the health and wealth gospel, a return to high church, and the Vineyard movement.  The “rapidly changing society” he speaks of is America in 1993, before the Internet really takes off...

But there is another sense in which these movements are reaching
out to people and giving them a sense of spiritual reality often missing
in formally orthodox but rather dead churches. In no country in
the English-speaking world are churches fuller and the sermons emptier 
than in America. Of course, there are magnificent exceptions. But
I am not surprised by the flight from evangelical orthodoxy into
high-church ritual on the one hand (Webber's Evangelicals on the
Canterbury Trail -- at least they have aesthetics) and into the
Vineyard movement on the other. If people are not nurtured by the
spirituality of the Word, they will try to locate "spirituality" elsewhere.
A desperate hunger for spiritual experience is abroad in the
land. It is not altogether surprising that in this day of fast food,
microwave ovens, ten-minute tune-ups and drive-up banks, many
will opt for what they perceive to be the fastest, most efficient doses
of spiritual experience available. Nevertheless I judge that the
strongest impetus for such movements lies in the spiritual anemia of
so many evangelical churches.

So "preach up" and live out full-bodied Christianity without fear or 
favor. It is better than all substitutes, which are inevitably reductionistic.
Insist on the spirituality of the Word; insist that Christianity
be public as well as private, corporate as well as personal, pious as
well as doctrinal, self-denying as well as orthodox, passionate as well
as thoughtful, evangelistic as well as Biblical, spiritual as well as
creedal, joyful as well as serious, worshipful as well as enjoyable. And
in this day of over-realized eschatology, work hard at making people
homesick for Heaven, for only then will they be of much use on

If I were you, I would not worry too much about the popularity
of this or that movement. I will probably sound old when I say it,
but I have seen a lot of movements come and go. The ones currently
with us will be around for quite a while, but I suspect they will crest
rather soon. Just as the political liberalism of the '60s triumphed in
1968 and immediately crashed, losing the confidence of the
American people and giving Nixon his strongest majority, so the rising
profile of evangelicalism during the past few years is cresting, and
in its moment of triumph (a charismatic TV evangelist running for
President!) it is about to crash. There is simply not enough substance
to sustain it.

But always remember that what endures after various movements
come and go is the local church. At this stage in your life and ministry,
do not worry too much about what is happening at the national
level. Simply build the people to whom God has called you. Feed
people the Word of God, pray for them, love them, convey the reality
of God's presence to them by word and deed. What is important
at the end of the day is the church-ordinary churches trying to live
faithfully in a rapidly changing society. Ordinary churches pastored
by ordinary people like you and me, knowing that we cannot do
everything, but trying to do what we can and seeking God's face for
His presence and blessing so that His dear Son might be honored and
His people strengthened.

~ D. A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge, Letters Along the Way (Crossway, 1993), pp 225-27. 

This book is free as a PDF from here


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