Review by Mark Liederbach
Worship by the Book, edited by D.A. Carson. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002. Pp. 256.
The contributors to this work have set out to provide a biblical/theological foundation for worship as well as discussion and present practical implementation patterns of corporate worship from the varying traditions they represent.
In the foundational chapter, D.A. Carson defines and expounds upon a biblical notion of worship. The rather lengthy definition reads as follows:
"Worship is the proper response of all moral, sentient beings to God, ascribing all honor and worth to their Creator-God precisely because he is worthy, delightfully so. This side of the Fall, human worship of God properly responds to the redemptive provisions that God has graciously made. While all true worship is God-centered, Christian worship is no less Christ-centered. Empowered by the Spirit and in line with the stipulations of the new covenant, it manifests itself in all our living, finding its impulse in the gospel, which restores our relationship with our Redeemer-God and therefore also with our fellow image-bearers, our co-worshipers. Such worship therefore manifests itself both in adoration and in action, both in the individual believer and in corporate worship, which worship offered up in the context of the body of believers, who strive to align all the forms of their devout ascription of all worth to God with the panoply of new covenant mandates and examples that bring to fulfillment the glories of antecedent revelation and anticipate the consummation."
Carson's definition is self-admittedly long and cumbersome, nevertheless, he skillfully employs it as a "set of pegs" on which to hang the following discussion highlighting what he believes to he the crucial components of biblical worship. Of particular refreshing insight is his emphasis on the importance of understanding worship as a response in light of the person and nature of God. While the human elements of participation and experience are important aspects of worship, Carson emphasizes the important point that they are not central. They orbit around the nexus of who God is and Glory of His nature and being.
"In the same way that, according to Jesus, you cannot find yourself until you lose yourself, so also you cannot find excellent corporate worship until you stop trying to find excellent corporate worship and pursue God himself....The way you forget about yourself is by focusing on God-not by singing about doing it, but by doing it. There are far too few choruses and services and sermons that expand our vision of God-his attributes, his works, his character, his words" (31).
When the person and nature of God are made the central element of worship, then the human element takes on a clearly responsive nature. The good news of the Gospel is that Christ's work on behalf of humans was total and complete and serves as the basis of all ability to worship. Thus, because all of life and salvation begins and is completed in Christ, worship is best understood as a response to God in light of who He is and what He has done. Carson writes, "precisely because the ultimate triumph of God is a reconciled universe (Col. 1:15-20), our worship must therefore manifest itself in both adoration and action" (44).
The following chapters (2 through 4) are both informative and edifying discussions of how the Christ-centered worship Carson describes in chapter one should drive the corporate experiences of three different traditions of faith. As Carson points out in the first chapter, "the New Testament does not provide us with officially sanctioned public 'services' so much as with examples of crucial elements. We do well to admit the limitation of our knowledge" (52). Thus, these chapters seek to inform the reader as to a proper understanding of the foundation of worship as it applies to three distinct Christian traditions. They are edifying in that they help claritY the central person and purpose of worship in the method employed by each tradition. Regardless of the reader's chosen denominational affiliation, one cannot help but come away encouraged that so much of the intent of differing worship styles seeks to lift up the person of Christ and glorify his name.
Mark Ashton's discussion in chapter 2 focuses on Anglican worship with particular attention given to archbishop Thomas Cranmer's aims and principles when he wrote the Book of Common Prayer that so shapes Anglican liturgy. Ashton's hope is to demonstrate how Anglicans can by-pass stilted traditionalism in favor of dynamic worship in liturgical form. The three principles guiding Cranmer's efforts to create a worship liturgy were: a biblical focus, accessible format and content, and a balanced approach. Ashton comments that, "if we are to follow Cranmer's footsteps, we must be as determined as he was to put the Bible at the center of our church services; we must be as committed as he was to making Christianity accessible to ordinary people; and we must have the common sense he had in judging between primary truths and secondary truths, knowing where to be inflexible and where to be flexible" (79). Regarding the former of these three principles Ashton comments correctly that "we will not have Jesus Christ at the center of our church services if we do not have his Word at the center.... So the service should not just contain extracts from the Bible. It should be Bible-driven" (82).
In chapter 3, Kent Hughes discusses worship in the Free Church tradition. His efforts center on the question "what does God think of the way we worship him?" Hughes's concern is that an over-emphasis on meeting the needs of those who are 'seekers' will result in shifting the locus of worship from God to person. This anthropocentric shift, he believes, will ultimately lead Christian faith in the direction of heresy. "Only when the question of God's glory and pleasure is addressed can the second question regarding humanity be pressed. Again, my concern is that the second question is the dominant force today in many circles and that this has a pernicious effect. A persistent focus on humanity could lead to a post-Christian, human-centered evangelicalism" (151). Of immense benefit is Hughes's discussion of what he considers to be the six distinctives of Christian worship: God-centeredness, Christ-centeredness, Word-centeredness, consecration, wholeheartedness, and reverence.
Tim Keller's discussion of Reformed worship seeks to illumine the reader to how biblically driven worship should neither favor contemporary forms nor historic forms, but rather seek to integrate them in the attempt to offer biblically driven praise both in corporate and "all of life" worship. He writes, [Contemporary worship] advocates consult the Bible and contemporary culture, while [historic worship] advocates consult the Bible and historic tradition. But. .. I propose that we forge our corporate worship best when we consult all three- The Bible, the cultural context of our community, and the historic tradition of our church" (197). When this approach is taken "the solution to the problem of the 'worship wars' is either to reject nor to enshrine historic tradition but to forge new forms of corporate worship that take seriously both our histories and contemporary realities, all within a framework of biblical theology" (198).
Even though the authors represent different backgrounds, points of theological emphasis, and worship styles, it is important to note they share at least three important convictions worth noting here. First, the encompassing nature of worship-there should be no ultimate division between understanding that all of life is to be an act of worship and the practice of corporate worship that takes place on Sunday morning. Second, the link between worship and morality properly understood and practiced, adoration should lead to action; love should lead to justice. Third, biblically driven, God-centered worship will by its very nature have an evangelistic thrust as it presents before the world the recognition of the One to whom all glory is due. Worship by the Book comes highly recommended. Not only does it edify the reader with the centrality of the Gospel in worship regardless of denominational affiliation, it also informs the reader as to the reasons why, and the influences for, denominational differences in worship methods and emphases.
Dr Mark Liederbach (Associate Professor of Christian Ethics, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary)
This review first appeared in Faith & Mission 20 (2003), 119-21 and is used here with permission. No part of this review may be copied or transmitted in any form without the prior permission of the the publisher.
- 1 Corinthians
- 1 John
- 1 Samuel
- 1 Timothy
- 2 John
- 2 Kings
- 2 Samuel
- 3 John
- Biblical Theology
- New Testament
- Old Testament
- Old Testament Theology
- Song of Songs
- Wisdom Literature