Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative

Robert E. Webber Baker Books, Grand Rapids April 1, 2008
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At the time of his death Webber was Myers Professor of Ministry at Northern Seminary in Lombard, Illinois, and served as the president of the Institute for Worship Studies in Orange Park, Florida.

This posthumously published volume is the final installment in the acclaimed Ancient-Future series. Here Webber examines worship practices of both Old Testament Israel and the early church. His thesis is that the problem of worship in today’s churches goes beyond the “worship wars” of “organ versus guitar” and “handbells versus drums” and instead goes deeper to the matter of content and forms of worship.

The work cites historical models and patristic church studies in examining how early Christian worship models can and should be applied to the modern-day church. Webber attributes the current worship crisis to a loss of vision of God and of God’s narrative in past, present, and future history. Webber emphasizes that the road to the future runs through the past. “Worship makes this connection between past and present because worship celebrates God’s saving deeds in the past that culminate in the future” (p. 58).

Webber’s emphasis on early-church developments in worship forms is to be commended. For in undertaking research on early worship forms a clear-cut emphasis on the Savior emerges. For example Webber notes, “The apostolic way of reading and preaching Scripture is to see Jesus Christ as the subject of the entire Bible, the subject of all history. . . . He is the meaning of the entire narrative of human history” (p. 119).

Some readers will disagree with Webber’s emphasis on communion as engaging what he terms a “real presence” of Jesus Christ. After explaining the Roman Catholic view of transubstantiation, the Lutheran view of consubstantiation, and the Zwinglian memorial view, Webber posits, “Real presence makes no attempt to explain what happens at bread and wine. It affirms the mystery of God’s presence at bread and wine even as it affirms the mystery of the union of human and divine in incarnation. 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 contemplation and even participation are commendable, this reviewer also believes understanding and explanation are necessary means of reaching a watching world.

In this work Webber urges a new generation to look both forward and backward—forward to the eschatological glory awaiting the redeemed creation and backward to the very roots of that same eschatological hope, Jesus Christ Himself. For this Jesus-centered, historic-renewal emphasis the work is especially commended “to all who long for His appearing.”

—Paul E. Pettit

October 1, 2009
 

Biblotheca Sacra

This review appeared in the Oct-Dec 2009 vol. 166 no. 4 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.

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