The Real Old-Time Religion

Common Roots by Robert Webber (Zondervan, $8.95, 256 pp.) is reviewed by Jan Dennis, general editor, Good News Publishers, Westchester, Illinois.

Robert Webber, a professor in the Bible department at Wheaton College, has written Common Roots with the firm conviction that evangelicalism must be revitalized if it is to continue as a life-giving force in contemporary Christianity. Webber applauds evangelicalism for grasping the central message of Christianity (the necessity of conversion and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ) and for preserving it in what he calls the “evangelical spirit.” But too often this evangelical spirit has been prevented from receiving its full expression by structures that are deficient or defective. Despite signs of evangelicalism’s robust health, Webber isolates three deadly viruses within it: modernity—doctrinal, liturgical, and ecclesiastical innovation posing as apostolic belief; historical amnesia—neglect of the 1500 years of Christianity preceding the Reformation; and over-enculturation—an uncritical appropriation of secular methodologies and structures that tend to drive out biblical ones.

Where should evangelicals look for revitalization? To the historic orthodoxy of the church of the second through fifth centuries. Why there? Because, says Webber, “the best insights of the early church … were … apostolic” (p. 8). Initially, the early church completely identified itself with the teachings it had received from the apostles. Because of its proximity in time and outlook on the gospel events, the early church profoundly understood the significance of the redemptive activity of God in Christ and expressed this understanding in its faith and practice. Indeed, Webber ...

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