29 April 2007

Robert E. Webber (1933-2007)


Nearly 30 years ago I read my first book by the prolific Bob Webber. It was called Common Roots, an eloquent plea for free-church evangelicals to reclaim the church of the first centuries as their own and to recognize their origins therein. A few years later I reviewed Webber's The Moral Majority: Right or Wrong? for the old Vanguard magazine, published by the Wedge Publishing Foundation in Toronto. Then on to an edited volume, Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail, containing first-person accounts of evangelicals whose personal pilgrimages had led them to Anglicanism. This book inspired me to commit my own spiritual pilgrimage to writing, which, at the tender age of 31, I had the audacity to send to him. When I met him later, he told me he had actually read it, somewhat to my surprise.

In 1991 Webber was a guest speaker at a worship conference at Redeemer, and I had the opportunity not only to meet him but to spend time talking with him. Five years later he attended Nancy's and my wedding ceremony in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. Nancy had been teaching at Wheaton College up until then, so she and Bob were colleagues in the same department. I thus had more than one connection with the man.

Webber was best known for his writings on liturgy, including the edited multivolume Complete Library of Christian Worship, in which two of my own articles appear. He was less the scholar, along the lines of, say, Gregory Dix or Hughes Old, and more the popularizer, influencing Christians in a number of traditions to think more self-consciously about why and how they worship. He wrote in a way that was accessible to ordinary church-goers, and that's where his impact will be felt for some time to come.

Last autumn he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and, after enjoying a brief remission around Christmas, died last friday. He will be missed.

Later: Here is Christianity Today's article on Webber: Robert E. Webber, Theologian of 'Ancient-Future' Faith, Dies at 73.

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