When I first came to New Life I noticed so many different things from the churches I had been in. I did not always understand the differences, but I noticed them. One of those things I noticed was that when the men or women went away for their retreat—another interesting topic to consider historically and through the lens of revivalism, but we will save that for another time—they would return on Saturday night. The other churches to which I belonged never it did it that way. Pragmatically having a retreat that begins late Friday afternoon and requires a good distance of travel and then ends on Saturday afternoon is not really that great of an option. Hence, many churches go away for Friday night and Saturday night. Theologically, getting home on Saturday is genius because it gets the members home in time for church. But the divide between one group approaching this topic pragmatically and the other theologically is only half right. In fact, both approach it theologically, one revivalisitcally and the other not so much. And, as is always the case, the practice gives a view into the soul of the theology.
Tim Keller has a very helpful paragraph on this subject of pragmatism and theology. He frames the discussion similarly when he says,
How do seasons of revival come? One set of answers comes from Charles Finney, who turned revivals into a “science.” Finney insisted that any group could have a revival any time or place, as long as they applied the right methods in the right way. Finney’s distortions, I think, led to much of the weakness in modern evangelicalism today…Especially under Finney’s influence, revivalism undermined the more traditional way of doing Christian formation. That traditional way of Christian growth was gradual—whole family catechetical instruction—and church-centric. Revivalism under Finney, however, shifted the emphasis to seasons of crisis. Preaching became less oriented to long-term teaching and more directed to stirring up the affections of the heart toward decision. Not surprisingly, these emphases demoted the importance of the church in general and of careful, sound doctrine and put all the weight on an individual’s personal, subjective experience. And this is one of the reasons (though not the only reason) that we have the highly individualistic, consumerist evangelicalism of today.Dr. Timothy Keller
Hopefully these categories will give you a lens through which you can look to view our practices and the practices of others. As I said last week, we are not immune to our warnings and accusations. Thus we want to continue to think about everything we do and genuinely ask why it is we do what we do.