Robert E. Webber. Ancient-Future Evangelism: Making Your Church a Faith-Forming Community. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2003.
In Ancient-Future Evangelism, Robert Webber explores the nature of evangelism in the ancient church hoping to discover patterns and analogs to our current social and cultural situation which might help to inform an evangelism strategy for the 21st Century. He asserts the rites and practices of the church were corrupted by Constantine. After that they were meant chiefly to serve the state. The assumption which underlies his entire work is that the distinction between evangelism and discipleship constitutes a false dichotomy. Therefore he argues for a kind of “holistic” approach to evangelism which assumes evangelism and discipleship are concurrent processes which are only truly effective when united. Part one of the book centers on understanding the stages and rites of the early church as they brought in new members, what their purpose and function was, as well as the resulting life change and church growth. He identifies four principles – evangelism, discipleship, Christian formation, and vocation – which must become four aspects of any process in any church if they want to do effective evangelism.
Part two of the book is focused on the particular ways in which the current socio-cultural situation might be addressed by a contemporary church informed by the ancient church. Webber’s vision is a church which transforms culture by resisting ethical, spiritual, and religious relativism. He argues this will not be possible if we dogmatically hold to outdated modes of evangelism which are too characterized by cultural accommodation. Instead the church must return to the countercultural vision of telling the story of God (he calls this method recapitulation) in a missional community which embodies the faith in God’s future and is committed to the transformation of their cultural context.
Robert Webber was an excellent writer and theologian. Every time I read his work I mourn the loss of this visionary leader. I resonate with nearly everything I read in Webber’s vision for the future of evangelism. His holistic approach is grounded in the ancient church, but also reaching toward the eschaton, attempting to embody the future reality in concrete ways which will transform not only individual lives, but whole cultural situations. Nobody should leave seminary without reading this book.