Robert Webber's Ancient-Future Journey Was Our Journey
Worship teacher and pioneer died last weekend.

Theologian, scholar, and worship guru Robert Webber died Saturday, April 27. He was 73.

Webber will be remembered (and appreciated, mostly) as the man who gave a name to the quest to recover both philosophy and experience of worship that were endangered by contemporary evangelical practices in the late 20th century: He was the father of "ancient-future worship." His book by that title was followed by Ancient-Future Faith, Ancient-Future Time, Ancient-Future Evangelism. Webber wrote more than 40 books on worship. His most recent works are The Younger Evangelicals and, soon to be released,The Divine Embrace.

Remarkable about Webber is his spiritual journey, and how, a generation ahead of the emerging leaders he later chronicled, he created a new cutting edge in evangelicalism by leaving its "contemporary" expressions in search of older and more mainline ways of doing and being Church.

And he took a lot of heat for it.

In their obituary of Webber, our colleagues at Christianity Today online quote Edith Blumhofer, director of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College and affiliate professor of Church History at Northern Seminary (Webber taught at both of those schools): "If you stand back and look at his life, he represents one of the ways evangelicalism has changed and unfolded, [especially] if you think about [his journey] from Bob Jones University to the Episcopal Church to all of this focus on remembering the ancient as we move into the contemporary."

John Witvliet of Calvin Seminary adds: "In many ways, Robert Webber paved the way for many Protestants, especially evangelical Protestants, to take worship seriously as a primary occupation in both the church and the academy." And he called Webber "a real pioneer."

Webber died of pancreatic cancer at his home in Michigan.

April 30, 2007

Displaying 1–9 of 9 comments

Paul Litten

May 27, 2007  11:55am

Bob's writings and friendship while i was at Wheaton Grad school and beyond forever changed my understanding of God and his work in the world. He was a refreshing gift to the evangelical church in he midst of pragmatism and an ahistorical bent. I grieve for his loss and celebrate that he is with Jesus, the one he loved.

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Andy Chang

May 10, 2007  4:02pm

In response to David Gallaugher, there is a book manuscript for "Ancient-Future Worship" that was submitted to Baker Books according to Northern Seminary's press release. I had Bob Webber as a prof during his last year at Wheaton, and it certainly was memorable to see his passion for the history of the church and its broad traditions.

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Jim Hart

May 03, 2007  11:14pm

Bob was a dear friend, brother, mentor and father in the faith. He hated it when I called him "father." He only wanted to be a brother–no accolades or special honors. But the reality is that he WAS a father in the faith to a great number of us in this generation and in the generations to come through his writings, his schools at the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies and the Center for an Ancient Evangelical Future at Northern Seminary, and his years of teaching at Wheaton and Northern. He taught us that theology is not about the "what," but the "so what." And he lived the "so what" even as he showed us how to live and die in Christ. We love you, Bob, and pray for comfort for Joanne and the family (Steph, Lexy, John and Jeremy). Well done, thou good and faithful servant!

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David Gallaugher

May 03, 2007  3:42am

Interestingly enough, Bob never wrote a book entitled "Ancient-Future Worship." There are four key chapters on the topic in his first book of the Ancient-Future series, "Ancient-Future Faith." But in a real sense, the entire series is about Ancient-Future worship as it works its way out through the ministries of the church. "Ancient-Future" worship is all of life lived for God in Christ through the Holy Spirit in sync with God's ancient-future story of restoration. We are indebted to Bob for leading us "back into" the Story.

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Stephen Hulsey

May 01, 2007  9:07pm

I first met Robert Webber as a seminarian in the late 1970s through reading his book Common Roots. That book had an enormous influence on my theology and understanding of worship. Bob introduced me to a form of worship of which I was unaware. Then I met Bob personally in 2002 while auditing a D.Min. course at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, CA. I had the wonderul privilege of eating breakfast with Bob each morning for two wonderful weeks, during which we had conversations about theology, life, each other, our families, and of course worship. I discovered a terrific friend and mentor over bowls of oatmeal, buttered wheat toast, and steaming cups of coffee. I will miss Robert Webber! I am thankful that he is now with his Lord. Rest peacefully my friend.

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Don Hay

May 01, 2007  12:45pm

I had Bob Webber as a professor at Wheaton. He was fantastic! I still remember him jumping up on the desk and re-enacting some of his day's at Bob Jones University. He was a blast yet had tremendous insight I truly appreciated.

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May 01, 2007  7:41am

Peace be to his memory.

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Paul Engle

April 30, 2007  4:22pm

We feel privileged to have worked with Robert Webber on "Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches," what ended up being the last book of his released while he was still alive. Bob was a delight to work with on a project in which he pulled together a diversity of young leaders in the emerging church. To the end he remained conversant with some of the twists and turns of the emerging church and was able to connect with leaders many years his junior. It was fun to sketch out the vision for the book with him in a restaurant in Los Angeles on a warm spring day and then over many months exchange emails and phone calls until the final product was given birth in February of 2007. Bob's concluding assessment of the emerging church at the end of the book was vintage work that reveals his wisdom and warm Christian faith. His final words of the book say, "rather than perpetuate the divisions that exist between the traditionalists, the pragmatists, and the emergents, the best we can all do is to join the conversation and learn from each other, affirming that we all stand in the historic faith as we seek to understand it and apply it to the new world in which we minister. Who knows where that might take us?" Zondervan will be paying tribute to Webber at Emergence 2007: Seattle (June 1-2), the first of three events to open up the discussion started in "Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches" to regional audiences.

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Marshall Shelley

April 30, 2007  3:56pm

I first heard of Bob Webber from my dad, a church history professor. While my dad, a faithful Baptist, couldn't endorse Webber's then-almost-unprecedented (at least for American evangelicals) embrace of church hierarchy, my dad certainly was appreciative of Webber's introducing a whole new generation to the wonders of church history. Years later, when I met Bob myself, I appreciated the precarious balancing act he managed to sustain: to draw from the richness of early church practice to deepen the pragmatic worship forms of entrepreneurial and evangelistic American Christians. I trust that Bob is now reveling in the "communion of saints" that he so relished teaching and writing about.

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