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