Monday, July 2, 2007

A "Biblical Theology of Worship"

I've recently learned, via Books & Culture, that worship guru Robert Webber died this spring. It's a big loss for those of us who take the God-hungry imagination seriously. It was Webber who identified for evangelicals the "biblical theology of worship" inherent in the ancient liturgies (see his Ancient-Future Church series); and it was Webber who, in the 1990s, began to track the strange migration of evangelical, free-church college students towards such things as high Anglicanism, Orthodoxy, and Catholicism (The Younger Evangelicals, 2002) --which means he was tracking me and many of my Wheaton College friends.

During those exhausting undergraduate years, my soul yearned for the timeless, the ancient, the predictable, the predictably beautiful. I found it in the Anglican-Episcopal liturgy and The Book of Common Prayer. I found it in worship settings where the Eucharist, not the sermon, was the focal point (I was getting plenty of sermons every day in class anyway). I found it in churches that weekly rehearsed a Story which began long before I got there and would continue long after I was gone. When everything around me seemed hyper-missional, as if the lost could only be saved by our energy and ingenuity and the latest trends, it was reassuring to rest on an older liturgical foundation that didn't need any of us to hold it up.

And this wasn't just about our personal spiritual health, either. It was about the health of the faith community as a whole. To rest in the ancient liturgy meant we could greet an aging grandmother with the peace of Christ and see her presence as relevant and meaningful rather than as a symbol of all that is obsolete and impotent in the church. Instead of lopping off the limbs of the Body along generational lines, we could be enriched by one another: learning from those who had gone before us, witnessing their lives and faith through the Story they told year after year, and finding our humble place within that Story--as mere players, not saviors.

So I'm grateful for Robert Webber, who validated those impulses in us, "the younger evangelicals," and reassured us we weren't abandoning our Christian heritage by refusing to take communion out of a Dixie cup.