Robert Webber produced the really excellent two-video set titled Ancient-Future Worship (Institute for Worship Studies, PO Box 894/821 Pinegrove Crescent, Wheaton, Illinois 60187). And this book gives the rationale for this surprisingly new evangelical approach.
He tells us "I was raised in fundamentalism, educated at a fundamentalist college, and graduated from three conservative seminaries in the Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Lutheran traditions. And since 1968, I have taught at Wheaton College."
Fifty years ago Wheaton and the college that took its name was the heart of Bible belt conservatism. The children of many well known evangelicals were sent there to be taught the narrow way. But Wheaton College astonished us by giving a home to the C.S. Lewis Library Collection. They must have known Lewis smoked a pipe, drank beer, and hated hymn singing. And now I am even more surprised to find a Wheaton College professor of theology arguing for a recovery of what he calls the classical Christian vision of reality (24) as the only hope for evangelical survival in a sea of postmodernism.
The classical vision he adopts belongs to the period from 100 to 600 AD. It goes back to our roots in the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds, the church's role in developing the canon of Scripture, their Trinitarian concept of God, ecclesiology, ministry, sacramental life, lectionary, architecture, ethics, ceremony, worship, and much else (28). The vision is needed because "people have come to the end of their patience with the modern version of evangelical faith and with current innovations that have no connection with the past (29). And many sense that the Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical traditions have the Classical Vision in common.
Why does Webber think his Classical Christian vision makes sense in our postmodern world of "competing narratives, none of which are universal truth" (37)? One reason is that he espouses the Christus Victor understanding of the atonement as "central to the classical Christian vision of reality" (31, 32, 43,49-60). "There is the need to recover the emphasis that Christ's death is a victory over the powers of evil" (150). That contrasts with the Reformation idea that "sin has offended God's honor and therefore requires a satisfaction" (44).
Another reasons is that the heroic evangelical effort to convert others by "evidential apologetics" has missed the mark. But now we no longer need to cover our flank by "objective propositional proofs" based on the doctrine of innerancy (45) bolstered by archaeology.
Our postmodern world is very similar to the Greek world in which the Classical Christian vision was very appealing. It was embodied in a community nourished by metaphor, mystery, image, liturgy, and the power to overcome evil forces. And those are precisely the ingredients that are needed to articulate the good news in our generation.
Evangelism is moving from techniques for the rational persuasion of individuals to welcoming them in a worshiping community. "The inquirer needs to be immersed within a space that bespeaks the Christian faith" (108). And in that space the Eucharist is of supreme importance. "Thankfully, evangelicals are rediscovering the arts in worship and using them effectively" (113). That includes drama, storytelling, liturgical dance as part of a procession, banners, environmental hangings, artistically designed bulletins. Wow. I can't wait to be involved.
I lost interest in Part 5 on spirituality and Part 6 on Mission, which
unhelpfully recycled the points Webber had already made so well. A good
editor would have pruned them. But the first 120 pages were a very good
read. They clarified my mind to see that Wheaton College Evangelicalism
is alive and well, and gave me hope for the year 2,000.