I am a man who is apparently living in two worlds, like a tree that lives its life in a realm of solid soil and fluid air. A tree’s roots are in a solid realm, where nutrients and moisture are absorbed for life. At the same time a whole other part of the tree lives in a realm of fluids – sunlight and air full of carbon dioxide is taken in and converted to oxygen and sugar for sustaining life. One thing stuck in two realms, both equally necessary to exist.
As I begin my life as an ordained minister in the Anglican Church, I have become increasingly aware of the distinct difference of realms in which my life and ministry are exercised. I spend a lot of time dwelling on thoughts and writings of men long dead for many centuries. I spend at least one day a week in robes harkening back to the sixteenth century. My mind is subject to a Book thousands of years old, and I serve in a tradition of liturgy hundreds of years old. The roots of my ministry are in a soil ancient and deep.
And yet I engage people in a world of electronic flickering madness, a fluid place where communication is done in a manner and at a rate so completely alien to the people and traditions of the soil of my roots as to be absurd. A self-professed sci-fi nerd, movie lines and concepts frequently appear in my sermons. I email, play video games with high schoolers, preach to Gen Xers, watch movies, and talk on a cell phone. This essay is being written on a 12 inch laptop with 37 gigabytes of memory (did Cranmer even have sweep of a giga-anything?). For good or ill, the air of techno-culture is as much a part of me as the soil of Reformed Cranmerian Anglicanism and the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion.
So what’s the point? A tree is not a tree without its roots; it will be blown away and lack the nutrients it needs. And yet that very breeze is also life sustaining to the tree. I am rooted in the past and stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before me. Without the sound teaching of Stott, Forde, and Allison, Cranmer and Luther before them, and St. Paul before them, I would wither and be blown away by slightest breeze of culture. However, while I am rooted in the past, I in fact do not live in the past, I live today and must be able to minister in today. As Garth once said to Wayne, “Live in the now!” A minister of the Gospel needs to understand the culture in which they are living, and trust in the power of the Holy Spirit that exposure to that culture will not destroy them, because righteousness comes not from culture but Christ, and from that the freedom to engage culture without fear of being tainted – in fact one will often find the Holy Spirit at work in parts of culture before they even get there. Nevertheless, there is a danger here, and there are some who would see the present culture as sufficient for sustaining a ministry, and on the other hand there are those who see the past as solely definitive. One could say the former is a more liberal view and the latter a more conservative position.
So, does good ministry spring only from roots or only from the wind of culture? Or is it both? I have heard it said that a good preacher of the Gospel has a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other – preaching that old, old story of “Jesus Christ died for sinners” to a new and present audience. Gospel ministry requires that the preacher knows his audience – as Proverbs admonishes, “Know well the condition of your flocks” (27:23). Thus, the “newspaper” aspect of my ministry in a very tangible sense it is vital to communicating the Gospel. However, it is important to know that the Gospel comes to us from the past – the message of Jesus Christ comes to us today through the witness of apostles, prophets, and martyrs, preserved and declared in Scripture, and if you don’t or are unable to tap into this, then you will ultimately have nothing to preach. Nonetheless, what good is it to pass on the Words of Life to an audience that has absolutely no idea what you are talking about? Therefore, good ministry, like a healthy tree, springs from both the roots of the past and the wind of the present, but I must bow to the priority of the roots, particularly the root of Scripture (a posture which is, after all, very Anglican!).
Perhaps this all may sound obvious to some and edgy to others, but it seems that today’s Anglican, by necessity of their heritage, needs to be ever so keenly reminded of the stiff and ever present wind of culture, and the vitality of a strong root system to make such a wind an asset and not an enemy. And perhaps this is the gist of what I am trying to get at. The wind of change blows (Scorpions), and much of what stands as Anglicanism today has chopped off its roots – for example, relegating such things as the Articles and Homilies to mere ‘historical documents’– and so finds itself caught up in the breeze of culture. It remembers its roots, but in fact no longer has them, and relies solely on its fluid environment for sustenance, no longer having access to solid nutrients. Such a tree can in fact live for quite some time, but ultimately it will blow away and die. Furthermore, such a tree will end up where the wind of culture blows it – a healthy tree remains firmly rooted, even in the strongest of winds. While some may not see culture as a ‘bad’ thing, the fact of the matter is that a culture is only as pure as the sinners of which it is composed.
I close by pointing out that my Christianity, my faith in Jesus Christ, will not wither and die, for He is the author and finisher of my faith. I am a Christian, a disciple and believer in the Lord Jesus by necessity of grace. I am an Anglican by preference and conviction, and it is within this chosen sphere that my ministry manifests. It is upon this Anglican life which I show concern, and it is this Anglican life which leads me to look at my calling as a man who lives not just in one world, but between two worlds.