One of the most fascinating and vigorous sectors of protesting Protestanism has been “restorationism” — a belief held by a succession of groups through church history that, by finally getting the last or lost detail right, they now represent a full-fledged restoration of “New Testament Christianity.” – A Generous Orthodoxy, p. 128
Like Brian, I was raised with such an ethos. And my experience jives with his: “if you are part of a restorationist group, the group dynamics of your group will be nearly identical to those of every other restorationist group.” And while I no longer identify with the “group dynamics” of my spiritual heritage, I appreciate and share the kind sentiments with which McLaren describes the individual Christians within it:
Fortunately, beneath these squabbles over distinctives, one nearly always finds an idealism among restorationists, a belief that Christianity should be and can be better than its common manifestations. This is a good thing, and needed….One often finds a beautiful, sincere, childlike desire to follow Jesus whatever the cost and however lonely the road.
I am not sure where Brian is headed with his search, now that he appreciates the strengths and weaknesses of many different spiritual streams. At times he seems to envision a sort of ecumenical fusion — gaining a kind of institutional strength from many people who, it would seem, would have to miraculously lay down their points of difference and grow silent on the areas that up till now have been their sources of identity.
For myself, I think the model will be more like WIKI — devoid of institutional frameworks and fully free to embrace individual distinctions of thought and action.
I agree with McLaren, though, that the revolution must embody kindness, not as a surface gloss but as a defining, foundational principle. And in so doing it will radically depart from constant “protest”-isms.
Thus I expect that the Lord’s people who Barna says are now leaving the institutional church in droves will gather around Jesus, will sense the spirit of Christ in each other, and will be driven by humility rather than sectarian pride toward common understandings of the kindness of God and his happy plans for the human race.
It seems to me that the processes which will serve this gathering will incorporate both the rational, evidential tradition of Protestantism and the poetic, visionary disposition that is emerging through post-modern influences. Both isms are dangerous and extreme. But we do not need to choose either extreme, or lukewarmness either. We can, in Brian’s gracious words, find a balance that through generosity and humility walks that edgy middle road of Christlikeness — and honors what has been good in both the orthodox and heterodox thinking of preceding generations.
The only restorationist movement that will ever work is the inclusive, broadminded, and kindly one that God fuses together from every corner of His world.