In his final ancient-future sojourn, Robert Webber, who died in April from pancreatic cancer, took up the rich matter of ancient Christian spirituality. His aim was to fully tell "the story of spirituality from the ancient church to the present day." That would have been a terrific and singular book on its own—an appropriate focus for the impassioned father of the Chicago Call. Webber, however, built a full-bodied second book into The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life (BakerBooks). In it, he offers a bracing prescription for returning contemporary spirituality to its ancient source.

Webber is never better, in fact, than when defining Christian spirituality in terms of its ancient story. Or as he writes in this book: "Christian spirituality … does not fall into what Newsweek describes as a contentless 'transcendent experience.'" Instead, Christian spirituality "is the embrace of Jesus, who, united to God, restores our union with God that we lost because of sin."

That's the old story that gets buried by the church's accommodation of cultural and other influences, he argues. As a corrective, Webber invites evangelicals back into the story of the embrace. Then, with rigor, he prescribes how to do it.

Yet weaving in this other, prescriptive matter, he admits, is "a daunting task, a stretch you might say. It would have been easier in some ways to write a multivolume introduction to spirituality."

An interesting confession because The Divine Embrace, despite its strengths, is hard slogging in parts. Or as Webber writes of the historical material, "You can skip those two chapters if the details bog you down. But do come back to them later."

Then again, it might be better to enjoy the engaging introduction ...

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July 2007

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