I love my church. But I also have been exploring the liturgy of more sacramental traditions. I am attempting to regularly use the Book of Common Prayer devotionally. And I would love it if there was a local church that did the morning prayer service daily so I could participate. (But as far as I can tell, there is not one in my immediate area.)
So I started the book already on Packiam’s side (especially since I had read his earlier book Lucky.) Over the past several months I have been following Packiam on twitter (since the article on his church in Christianity Today) and was interested (and pleased) to hear that he is pursuing Anglican ordination.
Part of what makes Packiam’s story interesting is that he was an Evangelical insider. He is a Pastor at a large megachurch (but has started a new site that mostly followed an Anglican Liturgy while still remaining a part of the megachurch.) He is a songwriter and was a part of the Desperation Band and has several solo albums. But he also studied theology (he pursuing a PhD at St John’s College at Durham University in the UK) and worked through issues around liturgy and leading worship. He (and many others) are realizing that modern worship has lost something in its attempt to modernize.
Discover the Mystery of Faith doesn’t have anything particularly new. Robert Weber was writing about some of these issues 20 years ago, James KA Smith has a philosophically oriented project looking at liturgy as a means of spiritual formation and there are a number of stories of conversion to Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy or Anglicanism that speak of the depth of the liturgy as an important feature of their moving from Evangelicalism to sacramental Christian stream.
What is helpful here is that Packiam is writing from the perspective of someone that is leading a church. And from someone that is heavily involved in an active and thriving Evangelical worship ministry. It is not that he has hit a crisis point, but that in looking for more this became an area he was interested in enough that he has continued to pursue it for a while now.
His church experiment is still new. The New Life Downtown site is just two years old. But I think it is a precursor to other similar experiments that will be happening around the country. Eddie Kirkland, a worship leader at North Point, as well as many of the other worship leaders at North Point have started planting a new Anglican congregation in the Atlanta area called The Parish. Scot McKnight, at Northern Baptist Seminary Professor and long time member of Willow Creek was ordained into the Anglican church recently.
As an outsider to all of these groups, I welcome this movement. But I am somewhat cautious. To the extent that this encourages a deeper look at Christian history and liturgy I am excited. I am also encouraged by the greater look at liturgy as an important part of discipleship. But I am concerned that it may be the new hipster fad of Evangelicalism. There have been a number of articles about ‘a vast movement’. That seems to over play what is really going on. What seems to be going on is a small movement of deeply involved (often somewhat intellectually oriented) Evangelicals that sees real value in the historical traditions of Anglican Book of Common Prayer but still have theological and/or ecclesiological issues with the Roman Catholic Church.
As a book (which I really haven’t spoken much about) Discover the Mystery of Faith is useful as one particular story in the real (but small) movement. And as such, it is a useful book if you are interested in this stream of Christianity. When he is talking about his own journey and worship he is at his best. As with anyone that is trying to correct a movement, he spends some time critiquing modern worship. And he does this from the perspective of an insider, but some of the critique I think is stronger (or maybe more particular in context) than warranted.
There is also a couple of historical and other minor errors (Nicene Council did not confirm or close the biblical canon, although that one is so popular a misconception it has its own sub-article on Wikipedia.)
I did like this summary toward the end of the book of why corrective movements are both necessary and often problematic, which gives a sense of desire for the book:
These movements were probably the necessary correctives in their day. Like the reforms in worship that took place in the late medieval Church—from the Protestant Reformations to the Catholic reforms that followed—these movements had as their aim a revitalized spiritual life for local congregations. Just as Latin liturgies in rural Europe in the fourteen hundreds were strange and unintelligible to the laity, so cold, prewritten prayers felt worlds away from the turbulent realities of the ’60s and ’70s. Let’s write our own prayers, someone said. Better still, let’s write our own songs. After all, songs are just prayers set to music, right? There are always unintended consequences that come with every movement, even a revival. Decades after the first pure flames of earnest passion, generations after the inspirational leader, come the bastardized versions of things, a cheap imitation of the ideal or the theology that began the revolution. Someone will miss the heart of the movement and build a theology out of a tangential theme, like a bad cover band playing a reggae version of a classic rock song.