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January 21, 2018

A Quest for Ashes

I don’t know anything about cricket. But I knew a guy in college from Australia who said he was a cricket bowler. He was the first guy who told me about what in my frame of reference was the Stanley Cup of Cricket: The Ashes. But like England’s historic quest for the Ashes of its cricket reputation, there has been a quest for the ashes of evangelical spirituality.

Credit: Praying Man by Vittore Carpaccio (1466-1525), Wikipedia

Credit: Praying Man by Vittore Carpaccio (1466-1525), Wikipedia

This spiritual quest has lead Evangelicals into the practice of observing Ash Wednesday. Carl Trueman gets to the heart of it when he says:

I also fear that it speaks of a certain carnality: The desire to do something which simply looks cool and which has a certain ostentatious spirituality about it. As an act of piety, it costs nothing yet implies a deep seriousness. In fact, far from revealing deep seriousness, in an evangelical context it simply exposes the superficiality, eclectic consumerism and underlying identity confusion of the movement.[Read the rest]

What is troubling is that the Protestant tradition has a great depth of spirituality, yet it is almost entirely ignored.

Is it me, or is the Reformed Resurgence/ Young, Restless, Reformed moving away from an awareness of what even the previous Calvinistic generation was reading and feeding on?

I may be wrong, but I don’t hear as much about the Banner of Truth’s Puritan Paperbacks, or a memoir like Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s. The preference seems to be for distillations from modern authors and bloggers.

A void develops in Protestant Evangelical spirituality if the resources of one’s own tradition are ignored. Into that void the mysticism of medieval Roman Catholic practice finds a welcome home. Trueman called it an ‘eclectic consumerism’ and many of the most pious Protestant believers through the ages would likely say the same thing.

Is the advocacy of Lenten observance a bellwether of ignorance in Protestant spirituality? I think so. But it may mark a marginalizing of preaching. Consider the thought of Martyn Lloyd-Jones in Preaching and Preachers:

It has been illuminating to observe these things; as preaching has declined, these other things have been emphasized; and it has all been done quite deliberately. It is part of the reaction against  preaching; and people have felt that it is more dignified to pay this greater attention to the ceremonial, and form, and ritual (24).

We are like the shallow planted tree when the west wind blows. The rapidity of change is so great that the slender connections to deep things are exposed.  With cords and braces we try to prop up what will eventually come down.

Only sending down a vigorous taproot can stave off the winds of change. Without it, we will be only have our Ash Wednesdays and a disconnected scaffold of traditions devoid of life and fruit.


About Clint Humfrey

Pastor of Calvary Grace Church in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. I'm married with three sons. Views expressed on this blog are my own.