Yes, according to Bradley Nassif in a recent article published in Christianity Today. An Eastern Orthodox theologian, Nassif is Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies at North Park University. He says that, by and large, our churches don't embrace and act on a "maximal gospel ... with cosmic implications that embraces the whole of creation." Opting for easier, softer ways, we fail to take up our crosses "to fashion the old creation into the new—to seek the redemption and renewal of our fallen human nature by the power of the risen Lord." Drawing on the wisdom of the Desert Fathers and Mothers, he diagnoses our problem as "the poverty of love."
Here are some excerpts from his article:
The desert fathers and mothers heard Christ's call to deny themselves, take up the cross daily, and follow him (Luke 9:23) in a time similar to our own. Under Emperor Constantine, large numbers joined the church for the social privileges it bestowed. Many sought status and prosperity more than the cross. This influx of nominal Christians made the church a spiritually sick institution, and a radical illness called for a radical remedy. Ordinary men and women, most of them illiterate, heard the death-call of the gospel and responded by fleeing to the desert to live out their calling—either alone or in community. Peasants, shepherds, camel traders, former slaves, and prostitutes were the first to go.
The desert was not a place of escape as much as a place of countercultural engagement. The desert was the front line of spiritual warfare—as in the Bible, a place of testing and death. It was where the heart was purified, the passions conquered, sin destroyed, and humanity renewed.
Like the prophets of old, the desert dwellers reminded the church that the kingdom of God is not of this world. They insisted that if we confuse the gospel's values with our culture's values, it will have lethal results. They exposed the underside of a form of religion that fuels our hunger for self-centered living. Still today, their lives stand against the easy assurance of a too-inculturated gospel. They offer an alternative spiritual order, one based on Trinitarian divine love and human freedom. They offer an alternative portrait of what being human really means. And perhaps most radically, they call us to engage our external challenges by first conquering our own inner passions through the lordship of Christ.
The monastic movement was a response to the church's spiritual poverty—the poverty of love. The monks protested that knowledge wasn't the problem; the problem was love. Their perspective is all the more surprising when we compare the low literacy rate then (perhaps 4 percent) with the high literacy rate now (75 percent). There is more Bible knowledge available now than at any other time in human history. Yet we are still asking, "Is our gospel too small?"
If these desert dwellers were alive today, I believe they would tell us that our gospel is too small because our wills are too big. The core battleground, they argued, is the human heart. They would counsel us to declare war on the inner adversaries that hide secretly in our hearts, and to be watchful of their stealth attacks. We're wisest, they taught, when we concentrate our energies on the source of all our problems, the inner person—its selfish orientation, dark impulses, sexual preoccupations, greed, lust, anger, unforgiveness, hatred, and other "works of the flesh" (Gal. 5:19–21). Every believer still has a powerful attraction to sin. So the monks took decisive action in their reliance on God, engaging in the hard work of holiness, something they called ascesis, or spiritual training. Some monks were such great trainers, they acquired the name "athletes of God" or "soldiers of Christ."
At the heart of their training was repentance. They were convinced that their inner natures were so out of sync with the will of God that nothing but a strong dose of God's grace could fix them. Only repentance could clear away the stony rubble in the soil of their hearts so God's grace could take root and grow. The gospel was so alive in the monks because repentance was a lifestyle for them, not a single event. Even after spending a lifetime in repentance, we hear them on their deathbeds encouraging the younger ones not to give up: "I'm only a beginner," they would say. "I've just begun to repent!"
All this talk of repentance may sound neurotic, but the fathers and mothers specifically avoided the "deadly thoughts" of depression and gloom. Nor was it their habit to keep dwelling on past sins, as later medieval piety would encourage. They simply knew the depths of their own disobedience, and they took steps to deal with their hearts. The lives of the great desert fathers and mothers of the 3rd through 6th centuries show us how big our gospel can become in each of us when we obey Scripture. The more we keep company with these delightful people, the more they lead us away from relying on external remedies. They tell us that our gospel is too small not because we need to hear more sermons, or do more Bible study, or attend more church services, or create new programs. Nor is it too small because we have not followed modern theological scholars into a nearly idolatrous reliance on the intellect. The monks interpreted the Scriptures not just through study, but also by putting them into practice.
Serapion lamented, "The prophets wrote books. Then came our ancestors who lived by them. Those who came later understood them from the heart. Then came the present generation who copied them but put them on their shelves unused." I imagine that those reading this article have more Bible knowledge than they will ever put into practice in their lifetime. Yet it's not more knowledge we need; it's more love and obedience.
Read it all.