Ancient-Future Faith: Rethinking Evangelicalism for a Postmodern World by Robert Webber (Grand Rapids: Baker Books 1999)
Robert Webber argues that the church is best equipped to meet the challenges of the postmodern era by recovering the resources of the ancient Christian tradition.
Webber sketches the shift from modernity to postmodernity in science, philosophy and culture and describes how this affects the contemporary search for faith. He shows how Christians have always struggled to articulate the faith in their own historical and cultural contexts, and traces these attempts from the early church through the medieval era and the Reformation, to the rise of modernity after the Enlightenment. In doing so, Webber argues that the modernist assumptions which characterize so much of Christian thought and practice today are not only discredited by postmodern thinking, but that they actually do a disservice to the faithful presentation of the good news of Jesus Christ. When we reclaim the perspectives and practices of classical Christianity, we not only attract the postmodern seeker but we recover a robust and authentic Christian faith.
Classical Christianity appeals to the postmodern seeker because it is holistic, directed toward every aspect of life, not just an interior “spiritual” plane. It is relational rather than individualistic, and communicates through images and symbols, not only through words. It incorporates mystery. Yet classical Christianity diverges from postmodernity at a key point. Where postmoderns distrust any claim to a universal truth, the Christian faith is based on the universal significance of Christ. To his credit, Webber acknowledges that classical Christianity is at odds with postmodern relativism.
Evangelism, according to Webber, is not directed to a mere assent to the articles of faith but to entry into a life lived under the Lordship of Christ in the context of the church community. His model of evangelism is based on the catechumenate of the early church, a process whereby seekers are gradually brought into a deeper understanding of and commitment to Jesus Christ as well as into the life of the Christian community. Such a model sees evangelism less as a push for an immediate commitment and more as a natural process of drawing others to the life of faith.
As its subtitle suggests, Ancient-Future Faith is written with an evangelical readership in mind. However, those in the Catholic Anglican tradition will find here a deep appreciation of the richness and theological integrity of liturgical expression, as well as confidence in what that tradition has to offer to the wider church and to the postmodern world.
Editor’s note: A sequel to this book, Ancient-Future Evangelism: Making Your Church a Faith-Forming Community, by Robert E. Webber, is to be published by Baker Book House in November 2003.