The Divine Embrace - Review
Many of us who grew up in the church were taught a song as children. The familiar lyrics state that Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so… yes Jesus loves me. This understanding of spirituality is enough for many who have entered into a committed relationship with Jesus Christ. They know that Jesus loves them and that the Bible is the authority on the matter. They know that Jesus is strong and that they are weak. They know that, yes, Jesus loves me. Robbert E. Webber has taken a historical look at the spiritual life and prescribes a more thorough definition. His book, The Divine Embrace, describes the story of God and his desire to be united with his creation. Webber states that spirituality has been separated from the story of God. This separation has not happened over night but has plagued Christ’s Church from the very beginning. The first half of Webber’s work is dedicated to the human influences that misaligned the Church via dualism, mysticism, intellectualism, experientialism, legalism, romanticism, New Age philosophy and Eastern religions. This historical perspective describes movements in culture from the time of Christ to today. We are going to take a closer look at Webbers description of the spiritual life and briefly describe some of its more prominent features.
The spiritual life is contained within the story of God. Webber summarizes this story in a hand full of words including, God, creation, fall, incarnation, death and resurrection, re-creation, new heavens and new earth. These epochs of human history express three views that show us how, “(1) repentance is continual, (2) baptism is the sign of God’s re-creative power; and (3) the Spirit is the living seal of God.”
Our continual repentance is evidenced in a turning away from ourselves towards God. In repentance we begin to find our identity in Him and not in ourselves. This new identity is exemplified in baptism. We understand water baptism as a finite experience but Webber sees it as a way of life. True spirituality lives each day under the influence of Christ baptism being fully united in death and life. Our baptism is not limited to water; Spirit baptism is also a crucial part of spirituality. When we are baptized in the Spirit we take residence with Him. This residence results in our passionate embrace of God and of the world. Baptism in Christ and in the Holy Spirit commits us in “participation in God’s vision within the life of the world.”
The nature of the spiritual life is united to God’s vision for humanity. When our spirituality becomes separated from God’s vision we fall subject to all kinds of fancies. Spirituality is the mission of God and instructs our pursuit of Christ-likeness. We become an extension of the body of Christ end embody God’s vision for humanity clearly spoken in the words of Jesus and visualized in concrete ways in his actions. What does the true spiritual life look like? Webber believes that it looks like Jesus. We can reason, therefore, that the characteristics of Christ are shared with the true characteristics of spirituality. This is why Webber states that spirituality is “an intentional living into the purposes of God.”
The practice of spiritual living cannot become reduced to the possession of knowledge disassociated from life itself. Webber believes that the story of God is to be embodied. This enactment includes a series of practices that serve to strengthen the spiritual life. These include vows of stability, fidelity and obedience along with the three disciplines of prayer, study and work. The final nature of spirituality that Webber addresses is found within the corporate life of the church. He asks the church to embrace God’s story so that it may produce nourishing ministry.
I think that the most important part of Webber’s definition of the spiritual life is the inherent call to action. It is impossible to accept The Divine Embrace as a model for spirituality without, “living out the purposes of God for humanity within community – proclaiming and living out the Good News.” His conclusion for the individual life in Christ is consistent for the communal living in Christ. The entire structure is outward facing; first towards God and second towards His creation. This call to action may be most beneficial for those who have become inward focused. Ultimately, Webbers description of the spiritual life is focused on Christ. This is the most assuring and greatest quality of The Divine Embrace.