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Engaging with God : A Biblical Theology of WorshipDavid PetersonInterVarsity Press / 2002 / Trade Paperback$14.49 Retail:
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The Phoenix Affirmations: A New Vision for the Future of ChristianityEric ElnesWiley / 2006 / Trade Paperback$11.66 Retail:2 Stars Out Of 5 1 Reviews
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Rooted in historical models and patristic church studies, Ancient-Future Worship examines how early Christian worship models can be applied to the postmodern church. Pastors and church leaders, as well as younger evangelical and emerging church groups, will find this last book in the respected Ancient-Future series an invaluable resource for authentic worship.
There is a crisis of worship today. The problem goes beyond matters of style--it is a crisis of content and of form. Worship in churches today is too often dead and dry, or busy and self-involved. Robert Webber attributes these problems to a loss of vision of God and of God's narrative in past, present, and future history. As he examines worship practices of Old Testament Israel and the early church, Webber uncovers ancient principles and practices that can reinvigorate our worship today and into the future.
The final volume in Webber's acclaimed Ancient-Future series, Ancient-Future Worship is the culmination of a lifetime of study and reflection on Christian worship. Here is an urgent call to recover a vigorous, God-glorifying, transformative worship through the enactment and proclamation of God's glorious story. The road to the future, argues Webber, runs through the past.
This particular book by Webber is not as concerning as the first volume as he puts a face on the actual worship methodology found in A-F, which Webber defines as, the common tradition of the churchs worship in Word, Table, and song, practiced faithfully and communicated clearly in every context of the world (p. 168). In light of the challenges facing modern evangelicalism, Webber is calling for a recovery of the faith as expressed in the worship practices of the ancient church and its guardians of those traditions, the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches.
Webber sees the necessity for returning to these ancient worship liturgies because of the breakdown of true worship todayand he has a point. He believes that most worship in evangelical services today is presentational worship which has turned worship into a program, a show, and entertainment (p. 25). Preaching has been reduced to the therapeutic or inspirational (p. 70, cf pp. 116-118). Webber correctly sees through this model of worship: Seeker-oriented contemporary churches argue that worship does not need to present the whole gospel. The purpose of worship, they say, is to get people in the door. Then, after they have gained a hearing, they present the gospel in small-group settings. This argument may be good marketing but it fails to understand the biblical purpose of worship (p. 85). Instead, biblical worship gathers to sing, tell, and enact Gods story of the world from its beginning to its end (p. 40).
To Webber, the missing link in todays theological thinking on worship is reflection on the incarnation and its connection to every aspect of Gods story (p. 35). In this vein Webber criticizes the evangelicals emphasis on creationsinredemption and replaces it with creationincarnationrecreation (pp. 37, 86, 169). This is important to Webber because he believes the evangelical emphasis, traceable to Augustine, over concentrates on the sacrificial view of the atonement to the exclusion of the Christus Victor theme in which the incarnate Son of God triumphs over sin, death and the powers of evil (pp. 169-170). In Webbers mind this has led to an individualistic form of Christianity in which people are concerned too much about redemption from sin and not enough about the rescue of fallen creation in the new heaven and earth (the new creation).
This sounds like a useful adjustment in our theological thinking until we learn where it leadsthe redemption of the whole world (p. 37). What does Webber mean by this? It has to do with Gods rescue of the entire created order and the establishment of his rule over all heaven and earth (pp. 57-58). Deliverance, Webber states, is for the sake of the world (p. 59). He complains that worship now places greater attention on the individuals condition before God. The vision of God to reclaim the whole world and redeem all flesh and matter through the victory of Christ over sin and death scarcely appears (p. 77, cf. pp. 90, 94, 96-97, 121 emphasis his). These statements are problematic, especially in light of the fact that Webber never clearly defines the gospel. Is he saying that all mankind, along with all matter, will be redeemed and re-created? If so, then the message of personal redemption is indeed an individualistic over-emphasisin fact, not the point of the cross at all. However, if only the true believer in Christ will be redeemed because of the sacrificial death of Christ, then is this not the central purpose of Calvary?
While there is much worthy of comment in Ancient-Future Worship, I will limit myself to thoughts on two areas: Scripture and the Lords Supper. Concerning Scripture Webber clearly accepts the Roman Catholic position, I affirm the Bible as the final authority in all matters of faith and practice However I draw on the foundational interpretation of the Church Fathers and the creeds and practices of the ancient church (p. 19, cf. p. 68). In other words, final authority in reality does not rest in Scripture but in the church. Of further concern is Webbers postmodern approach to Scripture. He calls for us to resist intellectual analysis that he believes stems from the Enlightenment and read the Bible as true but not for truths (p. 124). In the context of the Lords Supper this approach is observed as we are encouraged to free our thinking from reason and science and embrace mystery (pp. 146-148). We are to read the Bible holistically, relationally, and passionately (p. 125), rather than intelligently and rationally, for, the intellect always dissects, makes judgments, analyzes, and sifts, but the heart listens, sees, feels, loves, fears, and believes (p. 127). This is at best a false dichotomy between head and heart, and certainly an overreaction to those who might over systematize the Scripture to the exclusion of life applications.
Webber believes that ancient worship (and he strongly prefers Eastern over Roman liturgy) centered not around Scripture but around the Lords Table; he writes much on this subject. Webber rejects all the major positions on the purpose and nature of the Table (pp. 134, 142, 148) and claims that the ancient view is, When bread and wine are received in faith, we are transformed. Bread and wine nourish our union with Jesus. It transforms us into his image and likeness (p. 140). He turns to quotes from Ignatius and Justin for support (pp. 137-140), but I could find little in these quotes that made his point. More importantly, to Webber the Table is simply a mystery (p. 142). His position is well represented as he quotes a note sent by one of his students, Would you consider explaining and defending your view of the doctrine of real presence?...If it is to serve as the foundational assertion from which you deduce the meaning and value of the Eucharist, it would be helpful to me to read some discussion and support of it before Im asked to build on it (p. 134). This seems like a most reasonable request, however, to Webber it is apparently too modern and is simply rejected: What this student is looking for is a rational explanation of Christ enters us and we him, in taking of bread and wine (p. 134). Later he writes, We are called, not to understanding, but to the fixed gaze of contemplation and to an active participation in the life of Christ (p. 148).
While I will agree that there will always be much that we never totally comprehend about our God and His ways (mystery), Webbers approach abandons the clear approach of Scripture itself and leaves far too much to imagination and subjective mysticism. Webber is asking us to accept a form of Christianity not emerging from Scriptures but from the practices of men years after God had spoken His final word in the New Testament. This is the very approach that led to corruption in the ancient church and ultimately necessitated the Reformation. Why should we follow the same mistaken paths of the past? -- Gary Gilley, www.ChristianBookPreviews.com
Rick Shipley4 Stars Out Of 5April 25, 2008Rick ShipleyWebber's book has an appropriate subtitle, "Proclaiming and Enacting God's Narrative." This is the trust of the book, and Webber uses it as the continuous underlying driver for Christians joining in God's story, as opposed to modern thoughts of God joining our story. As would be expected, as significant amount of time is spent explaining the epistemological differences in the early church and the modern "Enlightenment" approach to God. He is legitimately concerned about the modern (or post-modern) tendency to make worship self-centered, presentational, and entertaining. He calls us to find a balance in our worship between the Word, the Table, and Prayer. A very well written, challenging book for today's church.
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