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Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality Through the Christian Year (Ancient-Future Faith) [Paperback]

Robert Webber

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Book Description

3 Dec 2009 Ancient-Future Faith
Millions of Christians worldwide follow the liturgical Christian calendar in their worship services and in their own personal devotions. The seasons of the Christian year connect believers of diverse backgrounds and offer the sense of unity Jesus desired. Robert Webber believes that we can get even more out of the Christian calendar. He contends that through its rich theological meanings the Christian year can become a cycle for evangelism and spiritual formation. He offers pastors, church leaders, and those of the "younger evangelical" mind-set practical steps to help achieve this end, including preaching texts and worship themes for Lent, Easter, Pentecost, Advent, and Christmas.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.6 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A helpful Guide for Observing the Christian Calendar. 27 July 2008
By Donner C. S. Tan - Published on
Robert Webber has written an inspiring guide especially for Christians who are learning to appropriate the practice of observing the Christian Liturgical Calendar. He does a good job in explaining how this ancient-future discipline is a great aid to spiritual formation and lays out the full Calendar of seasons from Advent to Pentecost and the special festive days such as Baptism of the Lord, Transfiguration, Good Shepherd, Christ the King Sundays. By reflecting on the themes of these special days and seasons, he helps us enter more deeply into the celebration. He also suggests the peculiar disciplines such as fasting, baptism, giving and cake-cutting (!) that go with the respective festivals as well as questions for our group/individual study and reflections. To be sure, it can be pretty exhausting trying to read it from cover to cover. It is better to be used as a reference as we move through the liturgical seasons like trekking the himalayas with a good map and an experienced Sherpa. I have found this approach to be extremely nourishing and formative. Webber is a wise guide in the area of spiritual formation and he writes with clarity and unusual eloquence. I thank God for his invaluable and lasting legacy.

P/S: For readers who have reservations about festive observance as a valid Christian discipline in view of texts like Col 2:16-17 and Gal 4:10, they should take heart that these texts have more to do with clinging back to the now, from the Christian POV, obsolete Jewish festivals which were a shadow of Christ, not the reality. Clearly the issue is not with the observance of seasons and times per se (which the early Church evidently practised such as the Lord's Day and plausibly Easter) but the failure to recognize the *Time* of God's inbreaking kingdom in Jesus the Christ. Further, Rom 14:5-10 gives at the minimum the freedom to observe sacred days as one is so persuaded in his own heart. And it certainly should be done in the spirit and context of Christian liberty and spiritual formation, than as a legalistic thing. Hope this helps!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A disciplined calendar 21 July 2008
By Jacob - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is written in the same vein and format of Webber's other ancient-future books: Christ is victor over the powers and Christians are now to live in terms of that victory. Webber takes that theme and applies it to the Christian year. In short, he argues for a return to the Christian calendar as a guide to spiritual formation.

The Christian year is thus: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, // Lent, Triduum, Easter. The two cycles mirror each other: Anticipation (Advent, Lent), Fulfillment (Christmas, Triduum), and Proclamation (Epiphany, Easter). The Christian is to anticipate the coming of Christ/the cross of Christ; The Christian is to celebrate the fulfillment of the Story (Incarnation) and the defeat of the powers (Easter). Afterwards, the Christian is to celebrate the proclamation.

The book is not hard reading but it is unusual for most Western Christians (be they of any tradition). We are not used to thinking like this so the book forces us re-read certain parts. And it raises some questions it didn't intend.

I did enjoy the book and to my ability plan to incorporate its spiritual formation. It wasn't on the same level as his Ancient-Future Worship, but it does provide much meat for the interested one. I appreciated his discussions on Christus Victor and his warning not to let apologetics eclipse the Easter message. I have one question that I would like to see someone in this model answer: Colossians 2 warns against Jewish festivals and asceticisms. While I love the idea of festival in AFT, how do we maintain festival without falling into the warning of Colossians 2? I am willing to be convinced.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's been a life-changing book for me. 24 Oct 2012
By Jeff Borden - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is actually my second time reading this marvelous book. I think more than reading this work by Robert Webber, one lives through it. This has been my experience...a life-changing experience.

I think one of the greatest gifts to Christian spiritual formation is the Liturgical Calendar or Christian Year. This claim says a lot coming from a Protestant Evangelical. I can say without equivocation that this observation and living into the seasons of the Christ life have done more to grow deeply in my faith than any other discipline I have observed during the course of my spiritual journey to date.

I have a number of resources teaching about this particular discipline and practice. I appreciate Dr. Webber's contribution among my favorites for several reasons. Reason One: He speaks from an Evangelical position. I like this not because of a particular disposition or doctrine, but because I am familiar with his language as he is my own. Our "family of origin" is similar. Reason Two: the book is written very clearly, concise, and linear. I did not have an innate sense of what the Christian calendar was all about, having never practiced living through the seasons. This book provided the framework and detail necessary to build out from; other books have been helpful in ways that added texture to the work Dr. Webber has provided here. Reason Three: The tables, charts, and recommended resources (additional reading suggestions), Bibliography, and Notes section have proved themselves invaluable in my continued learning on this great discipline.

I do not think I could provide better insight to the value of this book than the words of the author Robert Webber, who writes the following on page 22:

In the early '70s I came upon an ancient discipline for ordering the Christian life. It is the spiritual discipline of living in the pattern of Jesus' saving life throughout the year. This discipline is so filled with depth and so challenging to the spirit that I feel I have, after a number of years, only begun to scratch the surface of its potential. It has the power to call ethical behavior into conformity with the pattern left us by Jesus. It has the power to construct a view of reality that is thoroughly Christian. But more, it compels us to live, die, and be raised with Christ. Through the discipline of the Christian year, we can experience the power of Christ within the community of the church, through its worship and in our life twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

I think I noted that Robert Webber wrote those words thirty years after first practicing this ancient discipline--and he was only beginning to "scratch the surface of its potential" for Christ-like development. I would echo the same words, but feel embarrassed to put myself anywhere near the place of Dr. Webber. I have only been practicing this discipline in earnest for five years.

I cannot speak highly enough about this book or the others that have introduced me to this ancient practice. I would say that this should be one of the books that holds a prominent place on your library shelf.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Review of Ancient-Future Time 29 May 2012
By Warren T. Baldwin - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Robert Webber teaches ministry at Northern Seminary and is the president of the Institute for Worship Studies. He is the author of numerous books.

Webber wrote Ancient-Future Time "to introduce the Christian year and the spirituality it orders." (15) Chapters are organized around important events of the Christian year: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, The Great Triduum, Easter, and after Pentecost.

Other than special sermons or activities for Christmas, Webber's early church and worship experience did not deal with the other important events of the Christian year. It was only later that he became aware of the possibility for observance of the Christian year to shape and order the Christian life. (23)

Webber distinguishes between two different senses of spirituality. The first is objective spirituality which is imputed to us by God as a gift. The other is subjective spirituality which is our response to God. We can embrace spiritual disciplines to grow in our relationship with God. Baptism brings both forms of spirituality together, where God imparts grace to us (objective spirituality) and we rise to walk in newness of life (subjective spirituality). (20-21) While we can not grow and develop in our objective spirituality, we can in the subjective.

Many Christians experience frustration, even failure, in spiritual growth because the methods used to promote growth simply do not resonate with faith and devotion to Christ. Typical for many of us is a do/don't do mentality. Webber says his early experience and training included instructions about not doing anything that would bring him shame before Jesus, including smoking, drinking, playing cards, telling dirty jokes, etc. The dos included being honest, obedient and working hard. (22) Webber recognizes the good intentions behind a do/don't do mentality, but says eventually he wanted "something that went deeper than pious ideas on morality or intellectually stimulating thoughts about the meaning of human existence." (23) Webber found something deeper in observance of the Christian year.

Our spirituality is rooted in Christ's redeeming activity on our behalf: his birth, life, death and resurrection. These saving deeds are historical events that occurred in real time. But they are more than past events we can study intellectually; they are events we can experience afresh through observance of them. Just as the Jews participate in the Passover seder as a way to experience slavery in and deliverance from Egypt ("We were Pharaoh's slaves ..." Deut. 6:21-22), Christians can participate in Christ's redemptive activity through observance of the events of the Christian year. (24-5). The early church's participation in the Easter celebration (cf. 1 Cor. 5:7 - "Christ, our Passover lamb) "recalled an event to transform life." Webber sees participation in Easter celebration as a passage from the clutches of the evil one to Christ. "This transformation is a transition from allegiance to the evil one to an allegiance to Christ." (25)

While Christ is the source of Christian spirituality, the church is the context in which that spirituality matures. The church is the body of Christ, and our "worship is a celebration of God's mighty deeds of salvation culminating in the death and resurrection of Christ." Worship reminds Christians that we celebrate the historical events of Christ while at the same time we anticipate future eschatological events. "Through worship the worshiper enters into God's saving deeds through which the entire history of the world is revealed." (27) Unfortunately, the emphasis of many churches to teach in the assembly takes the emphasis off of celebrating the saving work of Christ. Churches celebrate by remembering, telling, and acting out God's saving deeds and anticipating the eschatological redemption. (28-29)

The Christmas season provides innumerable opportunities to celebrate God's redemptive activity. Christmas recalls "the divine presence in human form" and embodies mystery and incarnation. (56) The birth of Christ is light dispelling darkness, and this mystery can be experienced today with a candle lighting ceremony and narration. The narrator can say, "Light and peace in Jesus Christ our Lord" with the congregation responding with, "Thanks be to God." (58).

Webber says that the incarnation is the "starting point for our spirituality ... God united himself with humans in order for men and women to be united with God. The incarnation ... has everything to do with our spirituality - for the incarnation not only brings God to human nature but brings human nature to God." (62) Christ's birth is an act of God's grace, and we enter into that grace through our own conversion and birth at baptism. (64-5). Christ's incarnation was an act of humility, as he emptied himself to take on the form of man (Philippians 2:5-11). As we enter into and dwell in Christ, humility becomes part of our nature as well (Philippians 2:3). To provide a living example of what incarnational humility looks like today, Webber tells the story of a man with an M.A. in engineering who was also a successful businessman working as a janitor. He reason was to "learn humility and some day serve our Lord on the mission field." (70) This kind of humility is not learned by lecture or by a do/don't do approach to spirituality. It is learned by participating in God's redemptive nature and activity by remembering, telling and acting.

Maundy Thursday provides another opportunity to participate in Christ's redemptive activity by remembering, telling and acting out events that occurred the night before Christ's crucifixion. Worshipers today can experience the suffering of Christ by choosing to "subject our bodies and stomach to a meaningful discipline, the actual sense of experiencing Christ's suffering ..." We can do that by depriving ourselves of sleep and food. The discomfort we experience is "an empathetic way (of) creating a sense of our spiritual oneness with him." (130)

While recreating and participating in events surrounding Christ's death will bring about physical and emotional discomfort, recreating events celebrating his resurrection will bring about a corresponding joy and celebration. We can experience some sense of this simply by moving beyond rational arguments for the resurrection and acknowledging our existence as a "community of the resurrected people." (150)

Remembering the Emmaus Road experience is another way we can experience afresh Christ's redemptive activity. The Emmaus Road story has a four-fold structure: We gather; to hear the good news; to break bread together; to go forth and tell others. This structure is God's activity, and as we recreate it today in our worship, we are involved in God's story. (152)

The Christian year lasts from December through April. But, that doesn't mean the rest of the year is without significant opportunities to celebrate God's saving activity and promote spiritual growth in believers. Every Sunday expresses three important truths: "It remembers God's saving action in history; it experiences God's renewing presence; and it anticipates the consummation of God's work in the new heavens and the new earth." (169)

True remembrance can be a relief for Christians. Many of us have experienced worship as teaching (via the sermon), as "doing church" in the right away according to some prescribed rituals, and by self-effort. Self-effort is when we operate on the false assumption that we have the capacity to worship God. Webber said, "I can no longer sing those songs that ask me to go deep inside of myself and from within myself offer God praise. I am worn out by the self-effort." (170). To anyone else who is weary and discouraged from these attempts to worship God, we can experience relief and growth by engaging in worship as remembrance, remembrance of God and his good work on our behalf. If that interests you, this book will be worth your time.

Warren Baldwin
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shaping Life through Christian Calendar 18 Feb 2009
By Nindyo Sasongko - Published on
Grown up in Evangelical church and seminary, I was never taught about the necessity of the Christian Calendar. All and all, evangelicalism are more about preaching of God's word. The most favorite lectures for students are preaching and preaching. Yet in a world that demands a more holistic approach to shape Christian life, an auditory-focused Christian formation needs to be reevaluated. Without undermining the Word as sole foundation of Christian life, Christians particularly those who are in Evangelical wing needs to realize the shaping of spiritual life throughout the year.

A senior theologian as Bob Webber has changed the take-it-for-granted paradigm. Webber has been known for making dialogues with Catholic and Orthodox traditions. He moves a step further! Bringing back the long "buried" tradition of liturgy year for most Protestants, he makes it alive for the spiritual life of contemporary Christians. A must read for spiritual leaders, pastors and serious lay people! Particularly you who are engaged in Evangelical churches.
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