From Toronto, Canada, comes a new initiative within the Christian Church to revitalize and remake the church into an institution relevant to the postmodern age. As theological student, Chris Lewis, and four of his friends from Tyndale University College and Seminary realized, they were learning things in school they hadn’t learned while growing up in the church, “things like the kingdom of God and an integrated view of justice.”
“Like any keen, young, white evangelicals,” he said, “we decided to start an organization, which we called Epiphaneia (Greek for epiphany), and began to plan what became a series of annual events meant to challenge the church.” Although he describes his group as white evangelicals, they were nurtured on a very diverse campus in Toronto, Canada’s most ethnically diverse city. As Tyndale describes itself in its advertising, it is a “trans-denominational, evangelical university college that has more than 30 different ethnic groups represented and over 40 different denominations.”
Chris Lewis wrote in the introduction to the book Letters to a Future Church that they based their event on the tradition of Revelation. They asked people to write their own letter to the church in North America. Because Revelation is composed of letters by “John of Patmos” to the seven churches of Asia (90 A.D.), they organized an event called the Eighth Letter Conference. The question was asked of church leaders around the world, “If you had one thing to say to the church ... what would it be?”
After organizing four events known as “The Evolving Church Conference,” Eighth Letter was the event they were waiting to create. On October 1-2, 2010, over twenty-five of today's leading Christian thinkers gathered at the Eighth Letter Conference in Toronto to present their answers. The culmination of the conference and the letters that were written was the book, Letters to a Future Church, Words of Encouragement and Prophetic Appeals. It is edited by Chris Lewis, the cofounder of Epiphaneia Network in Canada and an organizer of the Eighth Letter Conference.
They took some of the best letters and invited the writers, “people we had only known through their letter submission,” to share at the event with better-known authors.
Letters To A Future Churchis made up of four sections: Mission, Truth, Art, finally Hope, and it concludes with four letters written to "the future church from the end of a millennium." Included in the book are letters written to the church by Tim Challies, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Shane Claiborne, Eugene Peterson, John Ortberg and others.
One of the contributors, Rachel Held Evans, writes, “Let's share the reputation of Jesus and dine with those who the religious love to hate—gays and lesbians, divorcees, single moms, junkies, dreamers and doubters. Let's squeeze in a little tighter to make enough room for people of all political persuasions, all religious backgrounds, all ethnicities and all denominations.”
“Let's eat a little less so that everyone has enough, and let's linger longer so that everyone gets a chance to share what's on their mind. Let's invite the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame so that our house will always be full.”
Much of the success of the book is due to its democratic premise, welcoming the voices of people from all walks of life as well as famous authors and bloggers.
In Mission (chapter two), Sarah Lance’s letter "On No Longer Counting The Cost," is a deeply heart-felt and passionate appeal to the church to reach out and minister to the poorest of the poor, the least of our brethren, and people who desperately long for love, human connection, and compassion.
Shane Claiborne’s letter offers words of warning as well as words of encouragement. You can hear his letter on a YouTube video at www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lf0ghU01KF8.
Four letters in the appendix, written to four different types of churches in North America: "The Church Which Seeks Seekers," "The Church Called Mainline" "The Inner-City Pastor and Church" and "The Suburban Church," each have a unique message of encouragement and "prophetic appeal."
An early church leader, the author of the Epistle of James (thought to be the brother of Jesus), once wrote to persecuted Jewish Christians, “Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves, (James 1:22).” And so, as it is expressed in the book, "Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches".