The Ancient Future movement is all about taking inspiration from the past and translating it into now, moving forward to the future. It’s associated with (post)postmodernism and Gen Y and manifests itself in everything from fashion to art to worship.
In the Christian world, it’s often associated with the emerging church or other churches that seek to engage with cultural trends. For example, see Mars Hill’s ads for their 1 John series. Getting in touch with ancient Christian heritage is seen as both a rich aspect of being part of the body of believers throughout history, as well as a good way of engaging those who are fascinated by the past. It comes in a variety of forms: everything from interest in the church fathers and their theology to a re-introduction of ancient customs that may have been devalued, for example, using the church calendar and having more ritual in church services.
There are pros and cons to the whole ancient future thing: its strong aspects are also its weak ones. Here are some that I reckon:
Pro: Ancient Future works really well for those who have a feeling of connection with the Christian faith – the de-churched and the disillusioned. It’s familiar to them and can enliven that which lay dormant in them.
Con: non-churched Australians, being non-churched and living in a secular society have little connection to Christianity. For them, the ‘ancient future’ is more likely to have something to do with Buddha, the occult, or even Islam.
Pro: The most attractive feature of Ancient Future is often the rituals. They can be incredibly powerful ways of connecting with truth and with God.
Con: On the other hand, they can just be ‘religion’, a great way to feel spiritual without having to connect with truth and with God.
Pro: Ancient Future means we can use a wealth of church tradition and experience in reaching out to people. In many ways, these traditions are what the church knows how to do.
Con: Because we know how to do it, we can slip into simply doing things ‘the old way’ without thinking about how to make it meaningful for this generation.
Our church has started putting a table with a tablecloth, brass cross and candles on it at the front of the hall where we have church – apparently to try to tap into this idea. I’m not convinced this is actually doing ‘Ancient Future’ well.
I’d be interested to hear of Ancient Future approaches that work. I know Trinity in Adelaide taps into a similar vein by conducting history tours of its site. On the other hand, most churches I’ve heard of who’ve started outreach services in the Ancient Future vein have failed to see unbelievers come to faith.
What’s your experience of it? Are you more persuaded by its pros or by its cons?
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.