Should Evangelicals observe Lent? Keith Miller of MereOrthodoxy.com says no. In an article entitled, Young, Restless, and Reformed Homeboys on Lenten Fasting, Miller writes:
…Evangelicalism is a tradition with attendant folkways and liturgical practices. One of the practices low-church Evangelicalism has long embraced is not participating in lenten abstention. As a traditionalist, I walk in the steps of these historical homeboys and am the richer for it.
Citing Calvin, Owen, Edwards, Spurgeon, and Lloyd-Jones, Miller argues Evangelicalism has long and wisely disdained the observance of Lent. Between the lines, he insinuates the Evangelical interest in Lent stems from a liturgical inferiority complex but a proper understanding of Evangelical history would reveal our rich Lenten tradition, namely, that we don’t do it.
I appreciate several of the quotes and concerns Miller shares. Christians can certainly get liturgy and tradition wrong. We naturally drift towards law and legalism, will-power and man-made requirements. But while I welcome Miller’s balancing critique, I believe he overstates his case. He throws out the good with the bad.
A few concerns with Miller’s thinking…
Quoting the Reformers on Rome
Okay, quoting the Reformers on Rome…what shall I compare this to? Quoting the Red Sox on the Yankees? Quoting Republicans on Democrats? Quoting liberals on fundamentalists? There is no shortage of vitriolic quotes from Reformers on the practices of Rome, but finding a quote is not the same as making an argument or engaging the topic properly. We do not take the Reformers wholesale on everything. I bet Miller wouldn’t quote Calvin or Luther on the modern evangelical understanding of the eucharist. Evangelicals, if we are anything, are Biblicists first. Let’s start with the Bible as we consider Lent and it’s place in modern faith.
Arguing Against Tradition with Tradition
Miller, with his Reformer entourage, says Lent is a bunch of man-made rubbish. It’s tradition. So he condemns Lent as superstition and tradition, but he invokes Reformed tradition to do so. He rubs the lucky rabbit’s foot of Calvin and Edwards quotes to make his case. Obviously, a great irony exists here. Again, I gladly accept Miller’s cautions. Perhaps Evangelicals should not participate in Lent, but I struggle with his logic and mode of argument.
So my thoughts on observing Lent…
The Lenten Principle
Must we strictly observe Lent? No. But is there a Lenten principle here worth keeping? Yes! Lent is a time of marked personal reflection and repentance in preparation for the joys of Easter and resurrection. It is not the only time for such reflection and repentance, but it is a season in the year when we deliberately consider these things. This is analogous to many practices in Evangelical churches. At Christmas, we more deliberately reflect on the incarnation for a season. On Sunday, while free from strict Sabbath regulations, we observe the Sabbath principles of rest and worship.
Understood properly I believe we can likewise accept and observe a Lenten principle. I believe we can observe a season of soul-searching and even abstinence for the good of our faith and the glory of God. Of course, we can certainly do this with wrong motives and means. We can do it for our glory and by our own strength, but this kind of sin potentially taints every Christian discipline. It is not reason enough to cancel all practices that risk such abuse.
So let us embrace a more nuanced and gracious approach to Lent then what Keith Miller has proposed. We will be richer for it.