Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Ancient-Future Talk: November 2005

A Call To An Ancient Evangelical Future

I and others are putting together a document calling upon evangelical Christians to turn away from the cultural narrative and return to the Biblical narrative as the source of all Christian ministry.

The preamble is below as are the 36 areas of the "Call." I have also put the Chicago call of 1977 up on my website for you to check it out. The new call will update and expand the Chicago Call.

The current search is to identify younger evangelical (in age or spirit) who have an interest in being a participant through e-mail conversation. If you qualify as a younger evangelical academic (teacher, pastor, leader) and would like to participate in the formation of this document send me:
1) Your name, position and e-mail;
2) The area of your interest (one of the 36);
3) Names (with e-mail) of other people who should be included.

After the document has been written there will be an opportunity for everyone - seminarians, pastors, worship pastors, youth leaders - who share the convictions of the "Call" to be original signers through a website (not up yet): www.ancientevangelicalfuture.

Bob Webber
Myers Professor of Ministry
Director of M.A. in Worship and Spirituality

Northern Seminary
See Northern's M.A. in Worship and Spirituality and D.Min. in Worship by clicking on the website.



In every age the Holy Spirit calls the church to examine its faithfulness to God's story. We younger evangelicals recognize with gratitude God's blessing through the evangelical resurgence in the church. Yet at such a time of growth we need to be especially sensitive to our weaknesses. We believe that today evangelicals are hindered from achieving full maturity by a captivity to the cultural narrative. There is, therefore, a pressing need to reflect more deeply on the substance of the biblical narrative, its articulation in the historic faith and to a recovery of the fullness of this heritage. Without presuming to address all our needs, we have identified 36 areas to which we as evangelical Christians must give careful theological consideration: This call incorporates and expands the Chicago Call of 1977, and sets forth an Ancient-Future faith for a postmodern world.

Classical Foundations

1. A call to organic faith and practice
2. A call to God's story
3. A call to be the people of God
4. A call to biblical authority
5. A call to the historic hermeneutic


6. A call to theological reflection
7. A call to creedal identity
8. A call to ancient theology
9. A call to reaffirm the atonement
10. A call to confessional humility


11. A call to narrative worship
12. A call to ancient preaching
13. A call to musical ecclecticism
14. A call to sacramental life
15. A call to artistic integrity
16. A call to Christian time


17. A call to holistic salvation
18. A call to Christian formation
19. A call to catechetical teaching


20. A call to historic spirituality
21. A call to sacramental spirituality
22. A call to ethical integrity


23. A call to servant leadership
24. A call to women in ministry
25. A call to sacramental healing


26. A call to Biblical values
27. A call to family values
28. A call to moral absolutes

Life in the World

29. A call to the sanctity of life
30. A call to Christian community
31. A call to the new monasticism
32. A call to sacramental ecology

Roots and Continuity

33. A call to historic connection
34. A call to an ecumenical spirit
35. A call to interfaith dialogue

Ministry Formation

36. A call to seminary reform


We call the Evangelical church to the faith and practice of ancient Christianity in a time of tumultuous cultural transition and change. In this moment when a failed modernity is succeeded by the upheaval of the postmodern, post-Christian and neo-pagan world, we call the church back to the meta-narrative of God, and to its implications for a missional and countercultural witness. May the church not be formed by the world in which it lives, but by the narrative to which it belongs, the story of God. For it is only through God's story proclaimed, enacted and embodied by God's people that the world will learn its own destiny.

We offer this call as a reflection of the new leadership among the younger evangelicals and as a document to facilitate the theological thinking and applied theology of the next generation. Your signature does not bind you to the nuances of every call, but is instead an affirmation that you embrace the general call to return to the priority of God's story and seek to narrate the world out of God's perspective.


Hebraic table prayers for Thanksgiving

Deuteronomy 8:10 When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the LORD thy God for the good land which He hath given thee.

Advent begins in Thanksgiving

How does the Lord appear? The prophet Isaiah tells us that the glory of the Lord will be revealed…as the rough places of our lives are made smooth, our mountainous hardness of heart brought down, ‘every valley shall be exalted and the mountains and hills made low.’ Then shall the glory of the Lord be revealed!

The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill brought low; the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth; the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.’

Historically, Christians have emphasized Advent as a time of leveling the mountains, making smooth the rough areas of our hearts. But we have forgotten that such prophetic preparation comes straight out of our Judaic roots. And, little do we realize that it all begins in Thanksgiving.

Hebraic table as pattern of Thanksgiving

The Second Temple Jews understood that unless God was thanked in practice, He wasn’t thanked at all. So they would prepare their lives by bringing God to their very table, at formal meal in the evening. And this is one of the most moving things I’ve found in all my studies…

They would begin this “advent meal,” or meal of preparation, with a blessing prayer, praising God in creation and provision. Then they would bless the food to each person as it was passed, and the cup, praised to God for the fruit given of the vine, and then to the health of the family by name.

Following the meal then, after being filled, they would praise God in a three-fold pattern: a blessing for God filling the world with good things, a thanksgiving for God’s law and inheritance, and then a prayer for God’s city, God’s people.

Listen to a portion of early Jewish table liturgy, where the Holy God is welcomed into the home, at the sacred table…in accordance with Deuteronomy 8:10, et al.

Leader: Friends, let us bless.
May God be praised from this moment through eternity.
May God be praised from this moment through eternity. With your permission, friends, let us praise God for we have eaten of God's bounty.
Blessed is the One of whose bounty we have eaten, Whose goodness is our lives.
Blessed is the One of whose bounty we have eaten, Whose goodness is our lives. Praised be God and praised be God's name.

The Table Leader would pray:
Blessed are You, LORD our God, Ruler of the universe, Who sustains the whole world in goodness with grace, kindness and compassion. God gives food to all creatures because God's mercy is eternal…Blessed are You, LORD, Sustainer of all.

Thank you, L
ORD our God, for this good and spacious land that you have given our ancestors as an inheritance, and for the food that sustains us always, every day, every season, every moment. For everything, LORD our God, we thank you and praise you. May praise of Your name always be on the lips of every living being, as it is written, “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God Who has given you this good earth.” Blessed are You, LORD, for the earth and for the food.

Early Christians understood this table aspect of the presence of God…obviously, since they were all Jews! The first Christians understood that the real meal of faith was a communal meal in the presence of God. And they followed this pattern of table thanksgiving, powerfully.

What would happen if we recovered this integral aspect of thanksgiving, and again allowed God at our tables…not just in some rote prayer drowned out by the roar of TV football – Detroit Lions or Dallas Cowboys! – in the background…followed up by people gorging themselves beyond common sense, and then leaving the table not thankful, but overly-satiated and selfishly fed.

This Thanksgiving, what if we prepared for Holy Advent by thanking God with our table? What would happen if hundreds and thousands of families across America turned down the TV and again allowed the Holy One to feast with them in conscious remembrance at Thanksgiving…?

A recovery of Judaic-Christian prayers

For renewal of Thanksgiving and Advent, I offer a recovered 1st century Jewish-Christian table liturgy.

Here is a pattern of table liturgy faithful to the Judaic ‘meal of prayer.’ These come straight out of documents recovered from 1st century Christians and Jews. The basic pattern here is simple: communal prayers before eating, and then prayers following the meal. [The meal can be elaborated, as individuals are blessed by name at the pouring of the drink, and as part of the meal, but the simple pattern is shared prayer before and after.]

Table liturgy from 1st century prayers

Prayer before Eating

Leader: We give Thee thanks, O our Father, for this drink which you have provided us -- through Jesus Christ, the holy Son of David.
Group: Thine is the glory for ever and ever
Leader: We give Thee thanks, O our Father, for the life and knowledge which You bring us in this meal -- through your Son Jesus our Lord.

Group: Thine is the glory for ever and ever.
Leader: As Jesus Christ has come down from heaven to be the Bread for the world, so feed us now on this bread taken in your Name, through your Holy Spirit, blessed God forever, Amen.

Group: Thine is the kingdom, and power, and glory forever, Amen!

[individuals may be blessed by name during pouring & after eating]

Prayer after the Meal

Leader: Friends, let us bless.

Group: May God be praised from this moment through eternity.

Leader: May God be praised from this moment through eternity.
Friends, let us praise God for we have eaten of God's bounty.

Group: Blessed is the One of whose bounty we have eaten,

Whose goodness is our lives.

Leader: Blessed is the One of whose bounty we have eaten,

Whose goodness is our lives.

Praised be God and praised be God's name!

Leader: We give Thee thanks, Holy Father, for your holy name, which You have made to dwell in our hearts, and for the life in this food, given through your Son Jesus.
Group: Thine is the glory for ever and ever.
Leader: Thou, Almighty Master, didst create all things for Thy name's sake, and didst give food and drink unto humans for enjoyment, that they might render thanks to Thee: so we give Thee thanks, for Thou art great;
Group: Thine is the glory for ever and ever.
Leader: Remember, Lord, Thy people to deliver us from all evil and to perfect us in Thy love; and gather us into Thy holy kingdom --
Group: for Thine is the power and the glory for ever and ever.
ALL: May grace come though this world pass away.

Hosanna to the God of David! Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus, Amen.

How far would such a recovery of table liturgy go toward renewing a sense of the holy in our world?

Perhaps it would begin a natural repentance, a national preparation for Christ's Thanksgiving!

Your thoughts?

Note: This article is by Loy Mershimer, for discussion on ancientfutureworship blog. Please do not blame Bob for the writing of this article, but please blame him for its inspiration! Any similarity to thoughts of Bob Webber is strictly intentional; any dissimilarity is an unfortunate, heretical departure from the holy canons of St. Bob... :-)


Tuesday, September 06, 2005

From: Worship Leader magazine September 2005 issue.

God: The Object or Subject of Worship?
Many of you know that I have been struggling with the issue of me-oriented worship. Those of you who have walked this path with me- some agreeing, others disagreeing - are probably saying "Oh No, not another article on the same subject!" Well, yes, but with a completely different question for you to explore. The issue is this: In your worship planning do you view God as the object of your worship or the subject of worship?

The Right Question
It has been said that we don’t have answers to our problems because we do not ask the right question. In my years of struggle with narcissistic worship the question of God as the object or the subject of worship has never surfaced until recently. Maybe it has been articulated in your mind and you have settled the question. But for me the surfacing of the issue has clarified the fundamental dis-ease I’ve had with I-Me-My worship. I invite you to explore with me the difference between God as the object of our worship and God as the subject of worship.

God as the Object of Worship
I grew up with a three layered understanding of the universe. God is "out there" or "up there," the earth is here and below it all is Hell. Most Christians probably function with a visual world view with God seated on the throne in God’s heavens and down below is the earth where people dwell, and in the center of the earth or somewhere below the earth there is a raging fire where those who refuse to believe in God are consigned to eternal death and separation from God.
The three tiered view of the world is not only a spatial configuration in our minds, it is also a visual picture expressed in countless works of art. We have all seen depiction of heaven as that place "out there" where God is seated on his throne surrounded by the cherubim, the seraphim, the angels, and archangels and the countless saints who have gone before worshiping in eternal perpetuity.
This spatial and visual view of God results in a human language that expresses worship to God as the object of praise. I am the subject who worships God. God is the recipient of my efforts on his behalf.

God as the Subject of Worship
The concept of God as an object, an essence who, so to speak, "sits out there" is a Greek idea, not a biblical understanding of God.
The biblical God is the God who acts. He creates, becomes involved with his creation, calls Israel into existence to be his own people, makes himself known to them in Law, present to them in the Tabernacle and leads them into the future. In their history he gives types and shadows of his forthcoming involvement in history to redeem the world. He becomes incarnate in Jesus, dies for us, is resurrected for us, ascends into heaven where he intercedes for us, will return to complete his redemption of the world in the New Heavens and the New Earth.
If we are going to use the subject/object distinction, the scenario of God’s story clearly envisions God as the subject and the world as the object. God creates the world, loves the world, cherishes the world, and saves the world with his own "two hands", Jesus and the Holy Spirit. The incredible and radical story of God is that he loves the world so much that he enters into the suffering of the world so that through his death, sin is defeated, death is overcome, hell is conquered. And in his resurrection, life, the true life of the Spirit is recovered and man and the world is made new. Is this good news or what? In all these actions, God is not an object, but the subject who is at work in the world, redeeming it and restoring it to himself.

What, then, is Worship?
If God is the subject of worship, how then should we worship? Several things are clear: 1). We do not enthrone God or seat him in the heavenly places. He is not an object who needs us to add anything to his glory. He is most glorious in himself. 2). Worship remembers, enacts, and lives out the story of God. We sing, preach and enact at the Table the wonders of the God who as subject creates, redeems and makes all things new. This worship involves the mind, evokes the emotions, engages the body and all the senses. 3). Doing God’s story, impacts us, the objects of God’s actions. Our true worship then, is to tell and enact how God the subject rescues the world, the object of his love. In worship, God the subject, shapes us the object, into the image of his Son so that we offer our lives to God by living into his death (dying to sin) and living into his resurrection (rising to the new life in the Spirit).

Now, for the question: How would your worship change if we once again saw God as the subject and ourselves as the objects of his love. Plan a worship service like this and let me know the difference it makes.

Write me at:

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Ancient-Future Talk: June 2005

I've got a question for you!

Hello again! Before I ask my question I want to thank the many of you who respond to my monthly newsletter. At first I tried to respond to everyone, but I receive far too many responses to be able to do so. However, I do read every response and find most to be stimulating to my own mind. So, while I don't write to each of you personally, please regard my AFT as a kind of continuing response to your e-mails, a means by which to engage our hearts and minds together.

This month's question arises out of my continued thinking about much modern and contemporary worship. Here is the question: Is God the object of our worship or the subject of worship?

Note that I ask "Is God the object of our worship? If God is an object "up there" and "out there" who wants us to praise, worship, and adore Him, then worship arises from within me. It is something I do. I praise God, I honor God, I reverence God, I exalt God.

Or, on the other hand, if God is the subject of worship, it is God who works and acts in worship. God chooses to initiate a relationship, to become present to us through the words and in the enactment of God's story at bread and wine. The worship or response of God's people, then, is to be formed by the story of God into the people of God. Worship is not what I do to enthrone God in the heavens. It is rather an active present memory of God's work to restore creatures to fellowship with the community of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and to renew all creation. Worship rehearses the truth about the God who not only creates, but re-creates through his own two hands-word and spirit-and bids us to worship 24/7 through an entrance into the new life that God himself brings. It is living into the new heavens and the new earth, under the eternal rule of Christ in the Kingdom of God.

I am anxious to hear what you have to say. If you embrace this very old ancient paradigm it will revolutionize the way you think about worship and the way you plan worship from week to week. (I've also addressed this same matter in the next issues of Worship Leader magazine.)

Bob Webber
Myers Professor of Ministry
Director of M.A. in Worship and Spirituality
Northern Seminary

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Ancient-Future Talk: May, 2005

Worship - Spirituality - Formation

Most of us who lead in the church, whether in worship, preaching, or some other ministry, make plans in the summer for the next year. In this issue of Ancient-Future Talk I want to introduce an integrated process of worship, preaching, and Christian formation that can affect everybody in the church. It is called Lectionary-based Christian Education.

Lectionary comes from the ancient Latin lectio, which simply means "the act of reading," and refers to a predetermined set of Scripture readings. Ancient Jews followed this practice, the early church continued the Jewish approach, and the liturgical church has always followed it. Today many churches of the free tradition are adopting the lectionary, especially for the season from Advent through Pentecost.

What I like about the lectionary is that it has the potential to form the corporate spirituality of the entire congregation through the year (see Ancient-Future Time).

A group known as Living the Good News has taken what is known as the Common Lectionary and developed an extraordinary study that involves the individual, the family, Sunday school, the weekly worship, and preaching around the weekly texts. Those churches that follow this practice engage with the common text all week in personal and family devotion, study the text in class, and then do worship that focuses on the text. I urge you to consider this for next year. If not the whole year, at least give it a try from Advent to Pentecost (December-June). For more information go to Living The Good News at For services of the Christian year, examples of all Christian services, plus the lectionary texts, music selections, and environmental, look at The Complete Library of Christian Worship, Vol. V: Services of the Christian Year, available at

Blessings on your planning.

Bob Webber
Myers Professor of Ministry
Director of M.A. in Worship and Spirituality
Northern Seminary

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Ancient-Future Talk: April 30, '05

Worship and Spirituality

As many of you know, I've been writing Ancient-Future Spirituality over the last fifteen months. I appreciate the many responses I received to my preliminary outline, some of which I've been able to integrate into the text. I've finished the preliminary draft and will now spend the next six months crafting the final draft.

The writing of this book has resulted in an enormous clarification for me on the relationship between corporate and personal worship, as well as the way they relate to spirituality. Therefore, what I'm going to do over the next 18 months is summarize some of the insights I've gained from the ancient fathers (the earliest interpreters of the Biblical tradition). I've been so caught up in the writing of this book that I've neglected my Web site and the ancient-future newsletter, but I'm returning now with a new vigor and hope you will stick with me and correspond to me as well.

Let me start here:
The unique nature of Christian worship and of spirituality is their embodied nature. Worship and spirituality both affirm this world, this history, this life. Worship recalls God's actions in this world to redeem it. Spirituality contemplates God's actions in this world and participates in God's life in this world. In this way, worship and spirituality are grounded in the work of Jesus Christ incarnate in this history, who died on the wood of the cross, left the tomb empty, and ascended to heaven. He gave the church the calling to proclaim, sing, and enact his mighty saving deeds and to live in union with Him and His purposes for this world while we anticipate the new heavens and the new earth.

So how does Christian worship and spirituality compare with the religions of the world? The emphasis in New Age and Eastern worship and spirituality is on escape from this world. The material world is evil, brutal, constricting, imprisoning. So the goal of New Age and Eastern worship and spirituality is to deny matter, rise above it, and enter the realm of the spirit.

In Christianity the Spirit is, as the Nicene Creed says, "The Lord, the giver of Life." There is no dualism between spirit and matter in Scripture and among the early church fathers, and the implications of this for worship and spirituality are enormous. However, in actual Christian practice, the distinction is sometimes made between matter and spirit -- and where this distinction is made there is hardly any difference between Christian and non-Christian spirituality. The issue of embodiment goes to the heart of the difference between Christian and non-Christian worship and spirituality.

By the way -- one question -- do you think some evangelicals embrace the dualism of matter and the spirit, and fall into a "kind of" pagan worship and spirituality?

Bob Webber
Myers Professor of Ministry
Director of M.A. in Worship and Spirituality
Northern Seminary