Thomas Holgrave says that the old distinctions among conservative Christians have faded and that the new divide–evident among both Protestants and Catholics–is between what he calls “evangelical conservatives,” who are strong on doctrine, and “liturgical conservatives,” who seek a richer mode of worship. He calls for an approach that would bring these two together. There is such an approach. It’s called LUTHERANISM!
Young Christians today are in the middle of a sea change of opinion and practice in the church. The rhetorical tropes and divisions of a previous generation (Spiritual vs. religious? Reformed vs. fundamentalist? Liberal vs. conservative?) are beginning to fade in people’s perceptions, and new categories are taking their place. . . .
Younger Christians who are keeping the faith are often dissatisfied with elements of their parents’ churches, but the shift seems to be moving them in a more ’catholic’ direction, toward a more liturgical, roots-oriented Christianity. While their politics may not be those of the Christian Coalition, their religion may actually be more ‘conservative.’ . . .
We begin to see, especially among Gen-Xers, what I would term “evangelical” conservatives, who are primarily concerned with maintaining authentic Christian doctrine; and Millennials who tend to be “liturgical” conservatives concerned with a more authentic way of worshiping than what they experienced growing up.
Both of these are, in a sense, “reactionary” movements. Evangelical conservatives react against a lukewarm, rote “traditional” religion they remember from growing up, or else against a sloppy, undemanding, cheap-grace form of baby-boomer evangelicalism. Liturgical conservatives react against a church that has forgotten the importance of form and beauty in worshiping God, which tries to be relevant by eliminating any and all distinctions between itself and the world, whose deracinated warehouse Starbucks aesthetic has rejected altogether the beauty of historical Christianity.
What the future of Protestant Christianity requires, then, is an approach that will bring the two together. Theological conservatives need to learn to appreciate how the beauty of liturgy and tradition do not distract from authentic Christian belief but rather deepen and confirm it. Similarly, aesthetically-sensible liturgical conservatives need to understand how the beauty they rightly love grows from the same root as traditional Christian theology and ethics. We need young Christians who are both liturgically and theologically conservative.
I keep saying that confessional Lutheranism is the true “emergent church” for our time, but without the vacuous theology and shallow innovations of the movement that goes by that name. And yet I daresay many Lutherans are surprised to find that traditional liturgy is back in style, especially among “the millennials.” (Indeed, many Lutherans have been jettisoning the liturgy in a misguided effort to attract them, assuming that they want something new!) I suspect that the liturgy-hungry evangelicals are likely not even aware of what Lutherans have and do, and that is largely the fault of us Lutherans for not being visible beyond our own circles. (I would say, however, that as long as you think liturgy is just about “beauty,” you will just be playing around on the surface. Liturgy is about the SACRAMENTAL PRESENCE of Christ.)