Introducing the Robert E. Webber Center

An Article by the Rev. Dr. Joel Scandrett

Greetings in the Lord! As Director of the newly established Robert E. Webber Center at Trinity School for Ministry, I’m delighted to extend my warmest greetings. The following is a brief introduction to the life and legacy of Robert Webber, and highlights the ways in which the Webber Center will contribute to the ongoing ministry of Trinity.

Bob Webber was a “missionary kid,” born in the Congo in 1933 and raised in the Philadelphia area. The son of a Baptist minister, he received his bachelor’s degree from Bob Jones University in 1956, a divinity degree from the Reformed Episcopal Seminary in 1959, a Th.M. from Covenant Theological Seminary in 1960, and a Th.D. from Concordia Theological Seminary in 1968. From 1968 to 2000 Webber served as Professor of Theology at Wheaton College (IL), where he retired as Professor Emeritus. He was then appointed William R. and Geraldine D. Myers Professor of Ministry at Northern Seminary, where he served until his death of cancer in 2007.
                   (Dr. Robert Webber)

Webber’s early theological interests were in Christian existentialism; but by the 1970’s his focus was shifting to the ancient Christian tradition. In 1978, he published a book that signaled a sea-change in the world of American evangelicalism. That book was Common Roots: A Call to Evangelical Maturity, in which Webber proffered a “new” theological agenda for American evangelicals: the recovery of the ancient Christian consensus of faith for the Church today. Webber’s “sequel” in 1985 was Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail: Why Evangelicals Are Attracted to the Liturgical Church, which chronicled his journey from fundamentalism to Anglicanism. Webber published extensively on these themes in the following decades, and his Ancient-Future book series (Baker) resounded his call to return to the ancient sources of Scripture and the Church Fathers. That call culminated in the 2006 Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future, a document drafted by Webber and signed by over 500 evangelical leaders.

Through his writing and teaching over four decades, Webber was instrumental in the awakening of American evangelicals to their ancient Christian heritage. Today, one can witness the use of ancient liturgical practices by many evangelical churches across a remarkable spectrum of denominations. Webber’s broader ancient-future orientation has been adopted by many younger evangelicals and churches. And a steady stream of evangelicals continue to follow Webber on the road to Canterbury and the Anglican tradition. In fact, many of the students and faculty at Trinity are here, directly or indirectly, because of the vision of Robert E. Webber.

That same vision informs the mission of the Robert E. Webber Center at Trinity School for Ministry. And Trinity’s decision to host the Webber Center points to the remarkable congruity between the Seminary and the Center. Trinity is an ideal location in which to house and develop the Center, and the potential of the Center to extend the global ministry and impact of Trinity is enormous. But what will be the features and functions of the Webber Center, and how will they contribute to the overall mission of Trinity?

Ancient-Future Orientation – The most obvious feature of the Center will be its ancient-future orientation. The central mandate of the Webber Center is to extend Webber’s vision of recovering the theological and spiritual resources of the ancient Christian tradition for the Church today.

Theological Formation – One of the key functions of the center will be to host a variety of events that contribute to the theological formation of students, pastors, lay people, and scholars. God willing, these events will one day include conferences, lectures, workshops, and courses of study. At present, the main event is the biannual Ancient Evangelical Future (AEF) Conference. This series of conferences is organized around Webber’s 2006 Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future, with each conference focusing upon one of the six points of the Call.

Catechetical Instruction – A second key function of the Webber Center will be catechetical instruction. From the outset, Trinity has identified the development of a rich collection of catechetical (teaching) resources as a key function of the Center. The goal of these resources is to inform the doctrinal and spiritual formation of a new generation of Christian teachers and disciples—both in North America and around the world. Rooted in Scripture and ancient Christian wisdom, these ecumenically orthodox resources will be produced in written and digital form and widely distributed. As a whole, they will present a pattern of Christian thought and life that is grounded in the Gospel and conformed to the image of our Lord (Rom. 8:29). Both Trinity and the Webber Center have high hopes for this important catechetical ministry.

Anglican, Evangelical & Ecumenical Scope – As should be clear from the points above, another feature of the Webber Center is the spirit of orthodox, “Nicene ecumenism”—or John Wesley’s “catholic spirit”—in which it will undertake its mission. While Anglican formation is its immediate focus, the Center’s vision extends directly to the broader evangelical world, and ultimately to the whole “household of faith.” As such, the Webber Center hopes to be a resource to the larger church, while remaining rooted in its Anglican identity.
While much more could be said, I hope this brief description is sufficient to convey the vision, mission, and immense potential of the Robert E. Webber Center at Trinity School for Ministry. As a former student of Dr. Webber, I’m thrilled by the opportunity to direct and develop this new endeavor. And I solicit your prayers! Please pray that the Lord will both bless the Center’s ministry and provide the much-needed financial support to ensure its future.

Article taken from the 2012 Summer issue of Seed & Harvest.
Available online here.

Photo of Joel Scandrett by Christopher Klukas
Photo of Robert Webber by Jim Whitmer

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