When I first began reading Webber’s book, which was written several decades ago, I was worried that it would be a bit dated, only in terms of its evaluation of the current attitudes and dynamics in Evangelical Protestantism. Turns out, most of his insights about church culture and worship practice are still very relevant.
Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail : Why Evangelicals are Attracted to the Liturgical Church by Robert Webber
My past few weeks have been enriching in a way I never could have anticipated. I mentioned at the end of my last post that I would be sharing my thoughts on the ecclesiological and theological investigation I have felt the Holy Spirit calling me to undertake. This will be the first post in a series of reflections upon what I’m learning and the books I would (and would not) recommend.
First, I need to backtrack nearly two years to an article published by The American Conservative in January of 2014. It is entitled, “Why Millennials Long for Liturgy: Is the High Church the Christianity of the Future?” When I read the piece, my heart resonated with the sentiments about the yearning for liturgical, holistic, mysterious, beautiful, and <gasp!> sacramental worship. I was struck by the descriptions of Protestant Evangelical Christians making a gradual, thoughtful, and dramatic move to traditions that were very different (understatement) from what they were familiar with. Another interesting thing to note is that, when it comes to the many atheist-to-Christianity stories that I encounter, nearly all the converts choose liturgical, sacramental traditions. I wanted to better understand why this is.
I began asking some very specific questions about church traditions other than my own and my long-held assumptions about their practices and theology. Does it matter to God how we worship Him in the corporate and private setting? Should worship practice be fully incarnational by engaging all of the human senses–sight, smell, touch, sound, taste? Does tangible symbolism have an important place in worship? What was worship like in the early church, and what was the theology behind their ritual? To the extent that we can know how early Christians worshiped, should we emulate them? Is there a biblical basis for preserving early tradition? Is there such thing as a “worshiping community” that goes far beyond what I’ve always thought that meant?
The more I research and study, the more I’m beginning to suspect that the answer to many (all?) of these questions may very well be “yes.”
I’ve returned to the American Conservative article a few times over the past months, and I’m doing some in-depth theological and historical research, but I’ve also recently begun reading book-length accounts written by Evangelical Protestants who have made the move to liturgical, sacramental traditions (such as Anglicanism, Orthodoxy, and Catholicism). I’d like to offer a mini-reflection on the books I’m reading, each in a separate post. Please note that I will not be commenting very much on theological differences between church traditions at this point. I wish to be as responsible and thoughtful as possible by examining such issues from different perspectives prior to sharing my conclusions.