I just finished Greg Thornbury’s outstanding biography of Larry Norman, Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music?, which I highly recommend.
If you have any interest in the history of Christian music, are puzzled as to how the Newsboys are still in existence 52 years after their inception, or wonder why most Christian music sounds pretty much the same, read the book.
As I read it, I couldn’t help but reflect on how so-called “revolutionary” movements come and go within the church, but always seem to burn out after awhile.
Larry was on the front edge of both the Jesus Movement and Christian rock.
He wanted to create something big. Culture shaking. Revolutionary. Something that would rattle the Christian landscape and achieve massive and unique things for God.
Larry felt like the church was full of hypocrites and a total failure, and so he wanted to spearhead something unique and new and big for God. A sort of, Jesus without all the trappings of the church, movement. Something “real” and “radical” that would achieve things for God that the church couldn’t. He thought of himself as a true Christian revolutionary, somewhat in the vein of Martin Luther (although he didn’t use that particular reference).
And while the Jesus Movement was certainly an amazing work of God (not Larry) that transformed thousands of lives (including my dad’s), ultimately it just kind of faded away.
I’ve seen a few movements come and go in my life as well. Both the Emergent Church and the Neo-Calvinism movements appeared around the same time, occupying most of my college years and a few years after.
Rob Bell was supposedly this new breed of pastor who didn’t preach so much as converse with his audience in artistic, story-driven ways. He wore cool glasses and wrote books that featured an odd amount of white space between the paragraphs.
Guys like Mark Driscoll, Francis Chan, D.A. Carson, Al Mohler, and Tullian Tchividjian gathered huge crowds as they preached old doctrines in new and engaging ways. Mars Hill (Driscoll’s, not Bell’s) appeared to be some sort new, edgy, punk rock, yet also orthodox Christianity that could be a model for other churches to follow. The kind of place where the worship leader might smoke cigarettes and everyone was cool with it.
I was never a fan of the Emergent movement, but I did dig what was happening in the Reformed world. Being young, restless, and Reformed (to quote Collin Hansen) was cool and it felt like I was part of something much bigger happening in Christendom. It felt like God was on the move. It also felt like we had discovered something new, which in hindsight is utterly ridiculous, but that’s a characteristic of every movement.
For the most part, both those movements have seen their heyday and passed. To be clear, there are loads of men and women still faithfully preaching and writing the same things (both good and bad), but it’s happening in the local church or, in Rob Bell’s case, on the Oprah Winfrey Network.
This is why I’ll take the local church over “movements” any day. Yes, God does unique things in history where he refreshes and revives his people. He sends revivals and awakenings. But in order for movements to keep moving, they have to keep pushing the boundaries, which often leads to problems.
Faithful ministry isn’t about pushing boundaries, for the most part. It’s about proclaiming the same gospel truths, again and again.
And ultimately, the manifold, saving, redeeming wisdom of God is displayed in the church.
Movements tend to be made up of people who are similar in age, preferences, etc. It’s not particularly difficult to get a group people riled up about a particular cause. With social media, it’s easier than ever.
Not so the church. In the church, God gloriously gathers people from all walks of life, unites them in Christ, and builds them together into a temple for himself.
There are a variety of movements happening now in the church, many of which are good. But I’m increasingly becoming a local guy. I’ve seen too many “revolutionary” things quickly spring up and just as quickly fade away. I’ve seen some of the leaders of these movements fall either into egregious sin or heresy.
I’ve also seen how true, lasting change happens primarily (not exclusively) in the context of the local church.
So yes, I’ll pray for revival and fresh moves of God. But the church is here to stay, and I’ll stay with it.