Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Robert Webber, RIP

I'm saddened to report that author and lecturer Robert Webber, the pioneer of "Ancient Future Worship," has passed away. Here is an obituary from Northern Seminary, where he founded the Institute for Worship Studies (which now bears his name).

Webber was known in those circles for his advocacy of more traditional forms of worship. His book and program, Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail, brought many "snake-belly-low" independent Christians into the Episcopal Church, pre-1979. I know some of these "Bob Webber Episcopalians" made their way into Orthodoxy (usually in the Byzantine rite), whether Antiochian or otherwise.

Webber did not enter Orthodoxy (nor, as some of his followers did, Roman Catholicism), because he seemed more than content as an evangelical. I was never terribly comfortable with his call for evangelicals to adopt, add, or amalgamate older worship patterns into their hymnfests and sermon-a-thons. Webber, who understood the mechanics of worship, seemed never to confront the fact that those varying ancient rites 1) were not "adopted" for human convenience; 2) were not intended to be adapted to human whim; and 3) were inextricably tied to a theology and ecclesiology with which they were meant to be accepted in toto. Evangelical Protestantism may well beautify its worship with bits-and-bobs of ancient liturgy, but ultimately it leaves the pastor in a position of absolute autonomy in matters "liturgical" and theological.

Shortly before his death, Webber admonished evangelicals to rediscover “the faith articulated by the consensus of the ancient Church and its guardians in the traditions of Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, the Protestant Reformation, and the Evangelical awakenings,” as though these bodies were interchangeable. (This has been much analyzed elsewhere.)

However, in the theological and doxological fog of 20th century Evangelical Christianity, Robert Webber raised a vital standard for his Christian brothers and sisters: make worship, not education or infotainment, the central component of your church service. In that capacity, he deepened the spiritual lives of many, reintroducing them to parts of their lost heritage. Orthodox must now give his followers "the rest of the story."


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Blogger Fr John said...

Just reading the blog and saddened to hear of the falling asleep of Robert Webber. I studied under Dr. Webber at Northern Baptist and his influence was crucial in estanblishing my journey towards Orthodoxy. May his memory be eternal!

9:19 AM  
Blogger Ben Johnson said...

Fr. John, that must have been some experience. He sent many on their way to Orthodoxy; may he, too, find his way Home.

Father bless,

9:55 PM  

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