I appreciate Brad Littlejohn’s dispassionate report on our conversation about the future of Protestantism. I most appreciated his recognition that my argument rested on a reading of the biblical narrative.
I learned from Jim Jordan long ago that the Bible presents a narrative of repeated creations, repeated deaths, repeated rebirths. Everyone sees it in the first chapters of Genesis: Creation, Adam’s fall, corruption of the earth, diluvian return to formless void, new creation with new Adam.
But it doesn’t stop there. The Bible treats the call of Abraham as God’s act to form a new social world, and the exodus, and the conquest, and the end of the period of judges, and the fall of Judah, and the restoration from exile.
Paul summarizes history by speaking of two Adams (Romans 5), but Paul knows that there were many Adams between. Jesus is not the “second” but the last (eschatos) Adam.
Because Jesus is the last Adam, history has entered a climactic phase, but the rhythm of Old Testament history continues. A world came to an end with the conversation of Constantine, with the great schism, with the Reformation.
When Israel came from Egypt, God instituted a new system of worship and life. When the tabernacle fell, it was not rebuilt; instead, Israel waited a century until a temple was built by a king. Post-exilic Israel was different in myriad ways from what came before - not just in the obvious lack of national independence and monarchy.
I think the post-Reformation world is coming to an end again. We old-fashioned Protestants think that the future of the church lies with us and our friends, or our historic enemies. But there are already millions of Christians in every corner of the globe who don’t fit our old categories. Philip Jenkins has called Pentecostalism the most successful social movement of the twentieth century. And there are many untraditional forms of Christianity in the South that don’t take their cues from historic Protestantism.
Whatever emerges from the rubble will be recognizable. But it won’t be another tabernacle.
Brad is correct: I think that what lies ahead is a “new, unpredictable work of the Spirit.” That, in fact, seems to me a redundant formulation, because we follow a Spirit who blows where He wills. He’s already begun.