Some of you might recognize Everything must change as the title to a rather poor book by Brian McLaren which I reviewed some time back. While McLaren – in my opinion – failed miserably in laying out a case for why everything must change, I think Webber does just that quite well in The Divine Embrace, although he doesn’t use those words. I am surprised, though, that evangelicals could read and say they agreed with what Webber says, but then go merrily on their way.
This post, by the way, is the 8th article in my Webber series that is discussing the book. These next 2 chapters are entitled My life in his and His life in mind. In My Life in His, he states:
The Christian life does not oppose experience of the transcendant, but the Christian spiritual life is not an experience out of this world, it is an experience of transcendant meaning here and now in this world.
This is a key, I think, in distinguishing between the spirituality of the past and that of the present. We tend to think of transcendant experience in a Platonic sense, where we leave the physical (the secular) and reach the spiritual (the sacred). However, this is to deny the incarnational aspect of God’s work. God did not only become incarnate once; he continues his incarnational work in his embrace of us and creation. Webber suggests, in fact, that few evangelicals really grasp the concept of the humanity of Jesus. The incarnation is so contrary to our modern sense of Platonic dualism that we have a hard time really accpeting it for what it is.
In Chapter 9, Webber deals with what he sees as the common misunderstanding that spritiual disciplines as the source of our spirituality. I would agree, from my own experience in dealing with various evangelical groups, that this is indeed the basic teaching: if you want to “grow,” you must pray, read the Bible, and so on. There is a constant tension in teaching that we are not saved by “works,” but that we require works to mature, or in some cases, even to continue being saved. However, Webber says that “our goal is never to become spiritual but to live out the spirituality we have” in continuing to live in the divine embrace.
Webber, however, lost me a bit in this chapter as he spends a lot of time discussing a Benedictine approach to the spiritual disciplines. As this chapter is drawing conclusions about how to respond to everything he has said in the prior chapters, I found this suggestion to follow a Benedictine approach a bit anticlimactic and disappointing. Even so, his points about prayer, study and so on are well-taken.
As I sat in church this Sunday morning, I was very aware of how far the evangelical church has moved from any sort of Biblical understanding of spirituality. The “worship” songs had very little worship content in them (most celebrated our emotions) and the sermon gave us ideas on things we could do to grow. There was no celebration of God With Us, no sense that God is able to do all that He has set out to do. Not too long ago, I just would have left disatisfied, not really knowing why. Webber has been beneficial in that now I can better see and understand what lies beneath these defects. It helps to know why… I didn’t leave angry. Sad, yes… disappointed, yes… but not angry. That’s progress.
Steve, thanks. I consider myself a Lutheran expatriate, having lived among the evangelicals for over 30 years. I also lived in Orange County for a while… I do miss Disneyland. 😉
I was fortunate for many years to also have a pastor who proclaimed “God with us” and the forgiveness of sins, which seems to be quite rare in the Evangelical world.
Thanks for commenting. You’re welcome anytime.
I enjoyed your post very much.
I am surrounded by Evangelicals (down here in Orange County, CA) that are constantly seeking to ascend to the spiritual… they are all about escaping the here and now.
And that schizophrenic “We are saved by grace (but now we gotta get busy)” attitude that prevails in those churches is enough to make you want to cry.
I am fortunate to have a pastor that proclaims ‘God with us’ and the forgiveness of sins at every opprotunity, but a few weeks back , we had a sub (pastor) sent from the synod, and he was all about this touch-feely emotions business. A load of horse-dung if you ask me.
The same people (95% of them) that nodd their heads approvingly when my pastor would say something, were also nodding when this sub-pastor (pardon the pun) was saying something directly opposite.
‘Tis a sad day in my Lutheran church.
Thanks for the chance to chime in.