THE DIVINE EMBRACE: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life
Robert E. Webber
Though you wouldn't know it from the title, this is the fourth book in Robert E. Webber's excellent and highly acclaimed Ancient-Future series, one of the most significant contributions to the discussion of the relationship between postmodernism and Christianity. In light of that, emerging church leader Brian McLaren, an admitted fan of Webber's writing, considers THE DIVINE EMBRACE the author's "best and most important book to date." I fully agree, and given that his previous books were all good and important as well, that means McLaren and I place this one in the exceptional category.
One element that makes this book so important is Webber's clarification of the word "spirituality" --- specifically, Christian spirituality as defined and experienced by the ancient church. Webber rescues the word from its ambiguous, anemic use in contemporary society and restores to it all the vibrancy and God-centeredness that is inherent in genuine Christian spirituality. "God has put his arms around us in the divine embrace and has restored our fellowship to him," Webb writes. The book, he explains, is the Christian story of that embrace, "the spirituality that proceeds from it, and how this spirituality can be recovered in a relativistic, postmodern world where spirituality is viewed as a common, contentless experience of otherness." If that postmodern view of spirituality leaves you cold, dissatisfied and more restless than ever, THE DIVINE EMBRACE not only explains why that is but more importantly shows what you can do about it.
Part of Webber's genius lies in his ability to articulate a thorough study of spirituality in a warm, reflective tone. There is plenty of research and information here, particularly about how the Christian view of spirituality was manifested throughout history. But Webber speaks to the heart as well as the mind, and you're likely to find yourself worshiping God right smack in the middle of a section about the devastating effects of scholastic theology on medieval mysticism. And because the concept of the incarnation is central to the entire book, Webber keeps it real and down-to-earth by frequently reminding us that God came to us in the flesh and lived among us.
"Spirituality is grounded in God's embrace of our human condition and the reversal of human life accomplished by God's two hands [the incarnate Word and the Spirit] and modeled for us in Jesus," Webber writes. "Jesus is not only the sacrifice for our sin, the victor over death for us, he is also the perfect example of the one who lives in full union with the embrace of God." He emphasizes that the authentic Christian life is neither a superspiritual one nor a rejection of everyday life on earth: "It is, rather, an intentional living into the purposes of God."
Readers familiar with Webber's other books, including the groundbreaking THE YOUNGER EVANGELICALS, can rest assured that THE DIVINE EMBRACE measures up to the high standard those other books set. And new readers can't do better than to discover the richness of Webber's wisdom, knowledge and insight, as well as his considerable talent as a writer, in this latest volume in the Ancient-Future series.
--- Reviewed by Marcia Ford. You may contact Marcia by email (email@example.com) or through her website (www.marciaford.com).
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