Voices in Christian Formation: Robert E. Webber

Voices in Christian Formation is a series of posts to help introduce some of the contemporary authors and speakers we can learn from as it pertains to our Christian formation. The posts focus on critical components of our Christian formation and provide a short bibliography to investigate each topic further.

Robert Webber (1933-2007) was a popular theologian known for his work and writing in the area of worship and the early church. What streams through much of his writing is the endeavor to recover the theological, liturgical, and spiritual resources of the Christian tradition for today’s church. Webber’s is an important voice for us to hear in youth ministry since we often are focused on making the message pertinent to an audience often chasing the new, novel, and next.

The following is an example of Webber’s challenging and helpful writing:

The real underlying crisis in worship goes back to the fundamental issue of the relationship between God and the world. If God is the object of worship, then worship must proceed from me, the subject, to God, who is the object. God is the being out there who needs to be loved, worshiped, and adored by me. Therefore, the true worship of God is located in me, the subject.

If God is understood, however, as the personal God who acts as subject in the world and in worship rather than the remote God who sits in the heavens, then worship is understood not as the acts of adoration God demands of me but as the disclosure of Jesus, who has done for me what I cannot do for myself. In this way worship is the doing of God’s story within me so that I live in the pattern of Jesus’s death and resurrection.

Here is the shift: the biblical God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is not the God who sits in the heavens but the one who acts in this world. The Triune God creates, becomes involved with creation, becomes present in Israel, becomes incarnate in Jesus, dies for sin, is victorious over death, ascends to heaven, and calls the church into being by the Spirit to witness to his work of redeeming the world… Narcissistic worship is situated in the worshiper, not in the action of God that the worshiper remembers through Word and table.  

The Divine Embrace, pp. 232-233

Additional must-reads from Robert Webber:

Advent Reflections: Two Sides of Hope

As we approach this Sunday, we begin a new cycle of the Christian year. The Christian year begins in the season of Advent, four Sundays prior to Christmas. Each Sunday of Advent is often reflected by lighting a candle. As the year grows darker and darker (and the days grow shorter and shorter) with the approach of winter, we light up our worship with more candles in recognition of the coming of the Light of the world.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5)

The four Sundays of Advent focus on four themes that surround the anticipation and expectation of the coming of Jesus – hope, peace, joy and love.

As the first Sunday of Advent approaches, some thoughts about hope from Paul Sheneman’s Illuminate: An Advent Experience.

Hope is an odd thing to understand. We typically think of hope as a good thing. Yet hope is rarely found in places where good things happen regularly. Rather, hope is found in places where bad things happen, such as when we experience hurt and loss. So if you meet people who are hopeful, they can usually tell you stories of pain or suffering.

Christian hope embraces two truths. The first truth is that we live in a world of pain and suffering. Embracing the truth of a suffering world affects the way we view the world and interact with others. The second truth is that there is a good God who can and will heal the pain and suffering in the world. In Advent we retell the story of this good and powerful God who came in the form of a little baby to heal the hurting world.

Where do you see “the light of hope” in others, yourself, in our world?

Sharing a Feast



In the United States of America in November, one can’t think of the month without images of turkey and dressing filling the imagination. We associate the month with sharing a feast of good food with family and friends. Feasting is a word that can convey negative connotations of gluttony, excess, and waste. Yet clearly it doesn’t have to be that way. The Bible calls us to feast and celebrate, and we can do so in a way that is good, healthy, and helps form us into the likeness of Jesus.

One of the images that comes to mind when I think of a good feast is of our Lord in Bethany in John 12. In this instance, Jesus’s friends host a meal in his honor (perhaps out of gratitude for raising Lazarus). There is extravagance; Mary anoints him with expensive perfume. There are dear friends gathered around a meal; we can only imagine there must be laughter and sharing of stories. And we catch a glimpse of more than a bit of controversy.

This sketch of a feast shows us what is important about a good meal that helps form us and is more than formality. A feast worth having is:

–  focused (on gratitude, good news, honoring someone, etc.);

–  about relationship (it is about who is present);

–  out of the ordinary (it is made unique and special by the focus and the company);

–  about sharing and celebrating God’s mercy and grace that make our joy complete.

Feasts don’t have to be about perfectly cooked food, the most expensive place settings, or exquisite desserts (although that can be a part); they are about sharing our lives around a common meal and the inherent acknowledgment of God’s presence and provision in our midst.

Will you schedule a feast that looks like Jesus’s meal at Bethany, soon?

Beyond Thanksgiving to Giving Thanks



One day a year, many folks in the United States of America stop to celebrate their many blessings by partaking of too much food, around tables with folks they see only a few times (or once) a year, before heading off to Black Friday sales to acquire more stuff they don’t need for ridiculously low prices.

Okay, I admit that is a bit cynical. Yet it seems that Thanksgiving has devolved from giving thanks into a meal that serves as a prelude to crass consumerism. Doesn’t giving thanks and sharing our gratitude imply that we have more than enough, that we are satisfied and blessed with abundance? Yet it appears that too many of us are infected with a good dose of We Deserve Better—the foundational belief that underlies and drives greed and consumption.

The irony is that if we truly practiced the exercise of giving thanks and sharing our genuine gratitude, it would have the power to erode our need for more and better. Unfortunately for too many of us, greed and consumption have their way with us, and we are more infected with acquiring and updating than with reflecting and giving thanks in a routine way. We must break the cycle by treating our infection with the appropriate antidote, which includes:

  • honest reflection
  • taking inventory
  • acknowledging our benefactors
  • saying thank you
  • sharing what we have with others

Will we break the cycle? Take time as 2012 winds down to reflect, count your blessings, express your gratitude to the Father of light, and share your abundance with others.

Go beyond another Thanksgiving meal by expressing your gratitude, saying thank you and giving to those in need around you.

Voices in Christian Formation: Gary Thomas

Voices in Christian Formation is a series of posts to help introduce some of the contemporary authors and speakers we can learn from as it pertains to our Christian formation. The posts focus on critical components of our Christian formation and provide a short bibliography to investigate each topic further.

I met Gary Thomas during my days as a full-time youth worker; he was a guest speaker at our church. His book Seeking the Face of God became a constant companion for the next year of my life. During this year I made an important discovery about the place of Christian discipline, spiritual exercises and practices. Thomas helped me see through his reliance on the spiritual classics that prayer, fasting, Bible reading, etc., are not merely acts of obedience and works to please God; they are essential to our own Christian formation in becoming fully human.

Up to this point in my Christian journey, I had never heard of the likes of Francois Fenelon, John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, or Francis de Sales. It was through Gary Thomas that I became acquainted with and grew fond of these spiritual ancestors. This pivotal experience probably did more to transform my outlook on Christianity, the way I view the world, and my place in it than any other experience I can recall. I owe a great debt to Gary Thomas. If you haven’t met some of the folks I mentioned above, I encourage you to find a copy of Thomas’s Seeking the Face of God right away!

Other notable books I recommend that Gary Thomas has penned:


Union with Christ is at the center of what it means to be in relationship with God. The phrase in Christ occurs more than 200 times in the writings of the apostle Paul and more than 25 times in the writings of the apostle John. The idea of being in union with God is mysterious. Whatever this Christ living in me ultimately means, we can’t escape the fact that the New Testament writers state it as a given, a right-now reality. In other words, you and I, if we are in relationship with God through Jesus, are united with God (Christ is in me, and I am in Christ).

I have to remind myself of this reality, for I often live as if Christ is out there, rather than as near as my next breath. One of the doorways that helps foster our awareness of our union with Christ is the practice of listening, through stillness and silence.

Although this exercise can be anything but silent, the practice of being still and silent before God reorients our life to the realities happening within us. When we enter the doorway of listening to our life and for the voice of our God, we often become aware of just how noisy and chaotic our inner worlds are. Due to our own neglect, our inner lives become a mess of unsettled emotions, past frustrations, lists of things left undone, and unmet expectations, and when we slow down and become still, it all demands our attention.

We have to wade through the noise by turning each thing over to God, and slowly but surely, through perseverance and patience, we can arrive at a settled place to listen.

“Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10

Fun fact: Listen and silent are made up of the same letters.

Voices in Christian Formation: J. Philip Newell



Voices in Christian Formation is a series of posts to help introduce some of the contemporary authors and speakers we can learn from as it pertains to our Christian formation. The posts focus on critical components of our Christian formation and provide a short bibliography to investigate each topic further.

The voice being highlighted today for our series will probably be the one that pushes us the most. The Rev. Dr. J. Philip Newell is an ordained minister in the Church of Scotland and has served in a variety of posts, including as warden of Iona Abbey. He is a prolific author and has garnered international acclaim for his work in the field of Celtic spirituality.

When I first began reading Newell, I was often more frustrated and angry than encouraged and helped. For reasons I can’t completely explain, though, I was drawn again and again to his writing, and after a bit of struggle and a lot of thinking and evaluation, Newell’s ideas began to bring new light to the way I thought about our world, the One who made it, and my place in that order. Sometimes those who seem most challenging and different from us are most helpful in our formation as followers of Jesus. For me, J. Philip Newell is that person.

A taste of Newell:

God is to be found not by stepping aside from the flow of daily life into religious moments and environments, or by looking away from creation to a spiritual realm beyond, but rather by entering attentively the depths of the present moment. There we will find God, wherever we may be and whatever we may be doing. Our times of religious observation and meditative practice are not alternatives to encountering God in the ever-flowing stream of life. Rather they are moments of preparing ourselves to be alert to the One who is always and everywhere present, closer to us than we are to ourselves.  

– The Book of Creation, pp. 8-9

Recommended Works:

Why Pray?

It is a fair question to ask and one I ask myself: Why do I pray? If I am honest, at different times in my life, I have answered the question differently. There was a time when I prayed because it was just what you did before a meal and before bed. There was a time that prayer was a formality—giving God due honor and acknowledgment. There was a time that prayer was a way to acquire what I thought I needed or wanted.

But prayer is more than a form to follow, a formality to appease, or a function to acquire. Though prayer does touch on all these things, there is an art to praying. Its focus is God, and we are invited to come in prayer with our desires, but desire is not why I pray these days.

Prayer is a means for us to commune with God. Prayer is the way for us to be with God. Prayer is going through our lives being open to God’s presence, promptings, and provision. Prayer is more than words, more than communication; it is communion.

Prayer is not an end in itself or the magic means by which we appease God, meet our obligations, or get a blessing. Prayer is the natural language with which we are wired to be alert, aware, and attentive to God. Put another way, prayer is opening our lives to God.

Why do you pray?

What would our lives look like if we were open to God every hour of the day?

Photo: futurowoman

Barefoot Online Webinar | Register Today



Barefoot Online Webinar

Join us for a webinar on Nov 15, 2012 at 6:00 PM CST.

Register now! https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/1779867778960962304

Learn how to get the most from your Barefoot Online subscription by attending our first Barefoot Online webinar on Thursday, November 15 @ 6 pm CST.

Barefoot Ministries Manager and BFO architect Paul Sheneman will be presenting and available for Q & A’s at the end.

There is no cost for this event. In fact, just for attending, you’ll get a free copy of the ebook Dodgeball Theology: A Youth Worker’s Guide to Exploring Play and Imagination.*

* Kindle and iBook versions only

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

View System Requirements