Monday, July 25, 2011

LHP Review: Contending with Rivals

Webber, Robert E. Who Gets to Narrate the World? Contending for the Christian Story in an Age of Rivals. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2008. 137 Pages. Paper. $15.00. (LHP)

Who has the right to tell the world how it really is?

Who gets to narrate the world?

The late Robert Webber believed this question to be the most pressing issue of our time. Christianity in America, he preached, will not survive if Christians are not rooted in and informed by the uniquely Christian story that is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This is the burden of Webber's final book, Who Gets to Narrate the World?: Contending for the Christian Story in an Age of Rivals. Convinced that American evangelicals are facing the demise of their entire way of life and faith, Webber challenges his readers to rise up and engage both the external and internal challenges confronting them today. This means that Christians must repent of their cultural accommodation and reclaim the unique story--the Christian story--that God has given them both to proclaim and to live.
(publisher's website)
I know Robert Webber only by reputation and his books in print. I was fascinated by a used copy of Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail as a seminarian. My surprise since has been how widely he thought and wrote.

Case in point: Who Gets to Narrate the World?  I had no expectations going in other than I thought it would be about worship. And it was, but not how I expected. This book is an indictment against false worship, an internal challenge for modern western "evangelical" Christians, and the external challenge of Islam to get to God other than through Jesus Christ.

The book was very timely for me, as I was leading two identical sessions of a midweek Bible class on Islam through Christian and Biblical eyes. Webber contends for a vigorous Christianity rooted in the whole Biblical narrative "and a rediscovery of the cosmic nature of the good news" (19). He holds that Christians have been far too accommodating to culture, and our place within our culture as Christians (and Christianity's place in it) is disturbingly similar to a culturally-declining Roman Empire (cf. 54).  Rome's power may have been at or near its peak and its borders at their most expansive, but mighty Rome was soon dominated by a formerly-illegal religion, Christianity.

Webber's call to stand up to Islam is similarly passionate (Chapter 6). "Radical Islam is really the emergence of the older, warlike Islam that sought world control. Like ancient Islam it is convinced it is on a mission to rid the world of all infidels and establish the law of Allah throughout the world" (113).


Introduction: A Wake-Up Call

1. God's Narrative

2. God's Narrative Emerges in a Pagan Roman World
3. God's Narrative Influences the Foundations of Western Civilization
4. How the West Lost God's Narrative
5. Our Postmodern, Post Christian, Neopagan World
6. New Contenders Arise to Narrate the World
7. A Call to Narrate the World Christianly

Conclusion: A Challenge     (publisher's website)

The author's challenge from 2008 is more timely now than ever. He wrote with such insight that he was ahead of his time and will continue to be a blessing to readers who discover him through his books.

Who Gets to Narrate the World lives out its subtitle, Contending for the Christian Story in an Age of Rivals, as it...
  • Describes the history of the Christian narrative in Western history and culture
  • Spells out the external and internal challenges facing the church today, including Islam
  • Critiques today's increasingly postmodern, post-Christian, Neo-Pagan culture
  • Challenges contemporary Christian readers to rediscover the centrality of the Christian story in faith and life


God's Word. 

The Gospel. 


Worldview formation. 

And A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future (118). 

Together, these are Dr. Robert E. Webber's long-term and substantial solutions for worldwide Christianity as it contends for truth--God's Truth--for the life of the world.

The late Robert E. Webber (Th.D., Concordia Seminary, St. Louis) was Myers Professor of Ministry at Northern Seminary in Illinois, and founder of the Institute for Worship Studies in Orange Park, Florida. He is the author of many books, including Common Roots, Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail, Ancient-Future Faith, Together We Worship and Listening to the Beliefs of Emergent Churches.

The Rev. Paul J Cain is Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School, a member of the Board of Directors of The Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education, Wyoming District Worship Chairman, and Editor of QBR.