Bob Webber (1933-2007) died Friday at 6:10 PM (Eastern time) in his wife Joanne's arms, after an 8 month battle with pancreatic cancer. Bob is best known for his numerous books published over the past forty years. He touched on so many subjects it is hard to know where to begin to enumerate his contributions as a writer. His more recent call for a positively framed ancient-future faith may have touched more young leaders in the North American Church than the work of any single person. A public memorial service in the Chicago-area is being planned, details will be posted on the Northern Seminary website: www.seminary.edu.
I will not compose a flowery oration about Bob. I would like to tell you why I loved and respected him as my friend and valued his counsel so profoundly. I first got to know Bob while I was a student at Wheaton College in 1969. My first remembrance was actually quite negative. Bob held views that I detested and I was pretty angry about the way he challenged students and faculty. He preached an "infamous" chapel address in which he suggested God was not dead, but silent! You could have heard a pin drop. I am still not sure we understood what he was saying but it was a sermon heard round the world. Bob was still a recovering fundamentalist at the time and he had a deep passion to help us all find true freedom in Christ. He rattled the administration deeply, protested the War in Vietnam openly, and in general represented the left on most issues. He made me so angry that I finally wrote him a personal letter in which I asked him for his forgiveness for how openly I had opposed him. His gracious response endeared me to him for a lifetime. Later, in a worship seminar, he served me the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper and when he offered me a unique and personal blessing the old feelings were melted and I began to love him like an older brother. That love only grew through the years.
Bob and I both changed a lot over the next 38 years. He began to study worship with growing interest and then to contribute to a worship reformation that will mark us all for years to come. (His multi-volume edited encyclopedia on worship is a treasure!) Added to this legacy was his joining of the ancient church's rich faith, and the writings of the Church Fathers, to the missional and future faith of the Church. This work, which was his most mature reflection for sure, deeply impacted me in ways I am still discovering. One could say it is Bob Webber who influenced me the most directly over the course of the last fifteen years or so as ACT 3 grew and developed. Bob and I spent many hours together sharing about these subjects. But more important to me than the intellectual stimulation I always got from Bob was his love for me and his winsome, warm and gracious spirit toward me. He always encouraged me and when I got something right he always let me know. He never took me on (directly) but he often corrected me, a rare trait as well. I think I learned about these people skills and graces from Bob. He was, in short, a true mentor.
Bob endured a painful divorce many years ago when his first wife left him for another man. In time he would meet Joanne, a wonderful soul mate who challenged Bob and loved him very deeply. She made him an even better Christian as he continued to grow in God's grace over the decades that followed their marriage. Joanne is intellectually sharp, able to hold her own in any context, and was a true "helper" to Bob in every possible way. Bob, who was open to change to the very end of his life, even shifted his views politically over the years, becoming far more appreciative of serious intellectual and social conservatism. I think Joanne influenced this rethinking process. Bob really was never a radical in the negative sense, just a man willing to think again and change his mind when he saw good reasons to do so. In this sense it was Bob, and a few others, who showed me the way to live as a Christian intellectual with a soul. Bob served me and ACT 3 as a formal adviser for many years. Informally, he was just "my friend Bob Webber." I will miss Bob like all of those who got to know him personally and admired him. He touched so many lives and showed us all how to live well. Over the past eight months he also showed us all how to die well. His private emails to a circle of friends regularly spoke of "living in two realms" and daily experiencing healing while he trusted God one day at a time. He continued to write, working on two final books, and spent much precious time with his beloved Joanne till the end. Please keep Joanne and the family in your prayers.
In reporting Bob's death on Friday the email list of his friends received this fitting prayer for Bob's passing:
"Depart, O Christian soul, out of this world; in the name of God the Father Almighty who created you; in the name of Jesus Christ who redeemed you; in the name of the Holy Spirit who sanctifies you. May your rest be this day in peace, and your dwelling place in the Paradise of God. Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant Bob. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive him into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen."