You Gotta Read This

My wife gave me a good idea. I recently visited her site and found that she posted a link to an article in the latest issue of Christianity Today titled, “The Future Lies in the Past”. This article is about the movement among evangelicals toward a recovery of roots, tradition, and history, particularly as this is seen in a turn toward the early Church Fathers. One of the leading figures of this movement, Robert Webber, was a professor of mine while I was at Wheaton. Sadly, Professor Webber passed away a few months ago, but his legacy lives on in the lives of many including myself.

At times, I have felt that my brothers and sisters in Christ find it something of an oddity that Paula and I are Anglican (understood as semi-Catholic). This article does a pretty good job of explaining what led us into this tradition, and why developing and expressing our faith through liturgy, sacrament and symbol is so powerful.

Below is an excerpt from the article:

In Younger Evangelicals, Webber discerned three phases of evangelicalism since 1950, each dominated by a different paradigm of church life and discipleship. Each group continues in some form today, but the first two have been superseded by the third: “traditional” (1950-1975), “pragmatic” (1975-2000), and “younger” (2000-?).

Traditionals focus on doctrine-or as Webber grumps, on “being right.” They pour their resources into Bible studies, Sunday school curricula, and apologetics materials. The pragmatics “do” church growth, spawning the culturally engaged (and hugely successful) seeker-sensitive trend, with full-service megachurches and countless outreach programs. Currently, the younger evangelicals seek a Christianity that is “embodied” and “authentic”, distinctively Christian. In this they follow Stanley Hauerwas’s and William H. Willimon’s widely read 1989 manifesto, Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony, which calls the church to reject individualism, consumerism, and a host of other modern malaises.

For the younger evangelicals (Webber’s tag refers to “emerging,” if not Emergent, evangelicalism), traditional churches are too centered on words and propositions. And pragmatic churches are compromising authentic Christianity by tailoring their ministries to the marketplace and pop culture. The younger evangelicals seek a renewed encounter with a God beyond both doctrinal definitions and super-successful ministry programs.

So what to do? Easy, says this youth movement: Stop endlessly debating and advertising Christianity, and just embody it. Live it faithfully in community with others-especially others beyond the white suburban world of many megachurch ministries. Embrace symbols and sacraments. Dialogue with the “other two” historic confessions: Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Recognize that “the road to the church’s future is through its past.” And break out the candles and incense. Pray using the lectio divina. Tap all the riches of Christian tradition you can find.

If you want to learn more about this movement or Robert Webber’s ideas, check out the links below:

Ancient-Future Worship
Robert Webber’s Ancient-Future Legacy

3 Responses to “You Gotta Read This”

  1. Sam  

    Thanks for the excerpt and the links, Anthony. This is something I’ve been struggling with for years, in particular because we worship where Tom’s job takes us. And I’ve found that where God sends us isn’t necessarily where I personally would choose to go.

    I started writing more of my personal thoughts on this, but I’m moving them to my own blog – they got a little long for a reply. I’m still disappointed I didn’t get to see you guys over the holidays because I’d wanted to dig into your knowledge and experience of high church. It’s something that is calling me quite strongly right now.

    Well, that I just like hanging out with the Velez family in general =)

  2. Scott  


    I did not know the news about Webber. He will be missed. You will recall – I believe it was in his class that we met. Perhaps in another’s class we would have missed each other – but Webber’s classes were engaging, and I think he tapped into something that we were both hungry for spiritually and theologically at the time. Webber’s appeal to the historic and sacramental roots of Christianity has stuck with me more than about anything else I have taken with me from my time at Wheaton.

  3. Anthony Velez  

    Sam – I wrote a comment on Tom’s blog recently where I pointed out that I have heard of a liturgical revival among Methodists. For some in that denomination this would seem weird, but historically it makes sense, since Wesley came out of Anglicanism and had a strong sense of sacramental grace. So, perhaps you could begin where God has placed you and see what you can uncover there. Along with this pick up some works from Robert Webber, as he wrote across denominational lines, and so you would find a lot that you could apply right where you are.

    Scott – Yes, it was the Webber’s Xian Traditions class that you and I met and I want to affirm that Webber certainly did tap into something that you and I (and many others as well) were hungry for spiritually and theologically. I think that the embodied nature of our existence (a reality affirmed by the incarnation) means that we are deeply symbolic creatures. Moreover, the Xian faith is both revelation and mystery, which is to say that we have a burden to proclaim the truth, but in a manner that maintains the mystery of God becoming one of us. This means that our proclamation must go beyond rational propositions and into the realm of sign, symbol and sacrament.