What would have to happen, humanly speaking and “under the sun”, for the Christian Right and the Christian Church in America to recover a clear and present cultural mission? Is there some kind of contemplative vision that could possibly give roots and unity to the furious but desultory evangelical activity in the modern Church?
That’s an interesting way to put the question – “some kind of contemplative vision.” Without denigrating contemplation, I’d say that liturgical action rather than a contemplative vision should be at the heart of the reformation of Christian mission. That distinction is based in part on an anthropological point: We are embodied beings, and so preparation for Christian mission and ministry must not only be contemplative but also a matter of bodily training and discipline. A “vision” of life is worked into bodies and not just into minds and hearts; Christian pedagogy takes form in action, ritual, and gesture as well as in teaching and thought.
So, rephrasing the question more to my tastes: What liturgical reform should give roots to evangelical activity in the modern church? Here, the traditional answers are the obvious and right answers. Liturgy centers on Word and Table, and what the American church needs is a return to those basics. I could elaborate on all the flaws of contemporary evangelicalism – preaching that has minimal connection with Scripture and reduces to self-help and moralistic exhortation; narrow “methods” of biblical interpretation as opposed to the richness of medieval and Reformation exegesis; infrequent or non-existent Eucharist, which means infrequent or non-existent enjoyment of the hospitality of God; etc. I’m heartened by increasing interest in liturgy among evangelicals, but it could degenerate into traditionalism, with people obsessing over the quite secondary ornaments of worship instead of recovering the driving force of Word and Sacrament.
If talking about liturgy in answer to a question about the Christian Right and the church’s “cultural mission” seems odd, well, I see that as part of the problem. Christian mission certainly isn’t exhausted by what we do in liturgy, but the trajectory of mission is set by the liturgy. We are as we worship, and if we never enjoy God’s hospitality at His table, it’s not so surprising if we’re a greedy and grasping people.