On October 12, 1998 in Glorieta, New Mexico, over 500 young leaders
came together in what was called The National Reevaluation Forum.
The objective was to train and listen to "leaders of the new
millennium's emerging church." A
Young Leaders Network article on the event described it as a
time to "discuss everything from restoring arts in the church" to
dialoguing about "worship, the use of story and the mystical, and
the experiential aspects of faith." Plenary speakers included
Brian McLaren, and Sally Morgenthaler. According to the article,
Sweet told the group: "The primary challenge in this
is navigational tools."
"In the emerging culture, darkness
represents spirituality. We see this in Buddhist temples, as
well as Catholic and Orthodox churches. Darkness communicates
that something serious is happening."--Dan Kimball, author of
The Emerging Church (foreword by Rick Warren)
Over the years, since that 1998 meeting in New Mexico, the emerging
church has defined many of these "navigational tools," and has
implemented them within the structure of emerging worship. The late
Robert Webber is recognized by many as one of the foremost
authorities on worship renewal. He regularly conducted workshops for
almost every major denomination in North America through the
Institute of Worship Studies, which he founded in 1995.
Before his appointment to his position at Northern Baptist
Theological Seminary, Webber taught at Wheaton College for 32 years
as Professor of Theology. He authored over forty books and was also
a regular contributor to numerous magazines and newspapers including
I first came across Webber's views when I read an article he had
written titled "Wanted: Ancient Future Talent." In that article,
"I am personally most gratified to see the shift toward a
recovery of the ancient. While many good choruses have been
produced over the past forty years, the rejection of the sources
of hymnody and worship by the contemporary church has resulted
in a faith that is an inch deep."
Webber listed a number of things he believed were necessary for
"talented workers" to become a successful part of this new movement.
Some of these he listed are:
* Rediscovering how God acts through the sacred signs of water,
bread and wine, oil and laying on of hands.
* Rediscovering the central nature of the table of the Lord in the
Lord's Supper, breaking of bread, communion and Eucharist.
* Rediscovering congregational spirituality through the Christian
celebration in Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter
Unfortunately, Webber's hope to return to "the ancient" was not
limited to reintroducing the great hymns of the past. In fact, many
of the practices he included in this call to "ancient-future worship
talent" cannot be found in the Bible.
Like his emerging church colleagues, Robert Webber was convinced
that Christianity needs to be revised for this new century. But in
order to go ahead, we must go back (thus the term ancient-future) to
the mystics and learn from them. While he acknowledged the Bible is
an important book for the Christian faith, he also believed that it
needed to be supplemented by the teachings of spiritual mystics from
the past. He wrote:
"The primary source of spiritual reading is the Bible. But we
now recognize that in our love of Scripture we dare not avoid
the mystics and the activists. Exposure to the great devotional
literature of the church is essential. More and more people are
turning to the great work of the mystics. Richard Foster has
called us to recover Augustine's Confessions, Bernard of
Clairvaux's The Steps of Humility, [etc.]."
Webber's list of recommended books written by mystics includes:
Thomas a Kempis,
Meister Eckhart, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Thomas
Merton and numerous others. You may not be familiar with all
these names, but they all have something in common--they are
Catholic mystics. Webber made the following statement about them:
"To immerse ourselves in these great works is to allow our
vision to be expanded by a great treasure of spirituality."
Webber was enamored by the writings of Catholic mystics, and he
admonished his readers to embrace them as well:
"The value of all these books as well as many not mentioned are
indispensable to spirituality. Those who neglect these works do
so to their harm, and those who read them do so for their
inspiration and spiritual growth."
This statement by Webber is quite strong: without the teachings of
these former mystics, our spiritual lives will suffer. Webber
explained that those willing to adhere to these ancient-future
teachers do not have to leave their own religious tradition. He
"A goal for evangelicals in the postmodern world is to accept
diversity as a historical reality, but to seek unity in the
midst of it. This perspective will allow us to see Catholic,
Orthodox, and Protestant churches as various forms of the one
true church--all based on apostolic teaching and authority,
finding common ground in the faith expressed by classical
Going back to the past to find experiences that will attract the
postmodern generation is one goal of the emerging church movement.
However, a serious question needs to be asked at this point. Why
only go back to the Middle Ages, the turn of the first millennium,
or the third century? Wouldn't this open the door for some devious
doctrines that may have crept into the church? Why not just stay
with Scripture in order to remain in the truth?
"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for
doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in
righteousness." (II Timothy 3:16)
Those convinced that great spiritual insight can be gleaned from
church fathers and mystics often overlook such definitive,
God-inspired instruction. The Bible is stable and eternal; thus the
truths penned in it centuries ago are still relevant today. I
propose it isn't biblical truths that emergents say we need to go
hunting for in previous historical periods, but rather unscriptural
methods, rituals, and mystical experiences to be gathered and
brought into the present time.
Vintage spirituality proponents have an apologetic for those who
question leaving scriptural doctrine behind for post-New Testament
extra-biblical revelation. Robert Webber wrote:
"I once believed that the church became apostate at the close of
the first century and hadn't emerged again until the
Reformation. I jokingly say to my students, 'We Protestants act
as though Pentecost occurred October 31, 1517, when Martin
Luther tacked his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenburg
church.' This attitude results in a negative view of the early
church fathers and Christianity prior to the Reformation. The
fact is that God's church has existed from the Pentecost
described in Acts. We belong to the whole church and need, for
our own spiritual health, to affirm every part of it."
Webber recognized some are suspicious about taking instruction from
the church fathers.... In order to answer this concern, he
"Because evangelicals fear that a respect for early church
fathers will turn them into Roman Catholics, a distinction needs
to be made between catholic and Roman Catholic. The early
Fathers are catholic in the sense that they defined the
classical Christian tradition for the whole church. This is a
tradition, as I have been presenting, common to every branch of
the church. Roman Catholicism, as such, is a tradition that has
added to the common tradition. I believe in the common tradition
and share that tradition with my Catholic brothers and sisters.
But I do not believe in some of the added traditions of the
Romanization of the church in the medieval era."
Webber, like many emergent leaders, was trying to differentiate
between Roman Catholic and catholic (as a universal body). However,
the Roman Catholic Church does not make this distinction because
they claim an apostolic succession of papacy (popes) beginning with
the apostle Peter. ... Some in the emerging church do not show an attachment
to the authority of the papacy but embrace the practices and early
history of the Catholic Church as described above by Webber. But
many Protestants who began by attaching themselves to the history,
teachings, and practices of the early Catholic Church have now taken
the natural next step of becoming Roman Catholic. (For more on this,
see chapter 5,
Reminder from Berit:
When we are "born again"
by faith in the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ on the cross,
we don't need "navigational tools" nor the world's strategies for
change. Instead, Jesus calls us to trust Him and
follow His way
He tells us that He is
the Vine and we, the branches, are part of that life-giving
Vine. When we "look to Him" rather than mystical experiences, He
will guide and strengthen us, enabling us to "abide"
in His loving wisdom.
1. Dan Kimball, The Emerging Church, p. 136.
"The National Reevaluation Forum: The Story of the Gathering"
(Youth Leader Networks - NEXT Special Edition, 1999), pp.
5. Robert Webber, "Wanted: Ancient-Future Talent" (Worship Leader,
May/June 2005), p. 10.
7. Robert Webber, Ancient-Future Faith (Grand Rapids, MI:
Baker Books, 1999), p. 135.
11. Ibid., p. 85.
12. Robert Webber, Ancient-Future Faith, op. cit., pp. 88-89.
13. Ibid., p. 89.
http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/ (excerpts from
Understand the Times)
Faith Undone and
from Lighthouse Trails at