Do you ever think about the things that we do as we gather as a church on a week to week basis? Why do we sing the songs we do? Why do we order the gathering in a certain way? Why do we take communion? Why is the preaching of God’s Word such a central part of our gatherings? These are just a few questions answered by the book that is the subject of this review.
A few months back a good friend recommended a number of book titles on the subject of worship for me to look through. As I browsed through the list I found that many of the authors and specific books were well-represented on my bookshelves already. So I’m working through the list one by one with Tyler (our music pastor here at LPC). This weekend we both finished up the first of these books, Worship by the Book, a volume edited by D.A. Carson.
This title was a great read. The book is a compilation of four contributor’s views on worship, all of whom I would not hesitate to call “experts” on the subject. They represent a diversity of denominational traditions, and the material is headlined by an opening chapter from Carson. After Carson defines the issue from a broad and academic approach, there are three chapters focusing on the more practical side of applying the principles of biblical worship in a church setting. Contributing in these areas are three pastoral voices: Mark Ashton (Anglican), Kent Hughes (Free Church tradition), and Timothy Keller (Presbyterian).
One question I received about this book was: “How did these four distinctive streams of church tradition come together in a united format?” Carson deals with this in the preface:
“What unites us is our strong commitment to the ministry of the Word; our respect for historical rootedness; and our deep commitment, nevertheless, to contemporaneity and solid engagement with unconverted, unchurched people. We are as suspicious of mere traditionalism as we are of cutesy relevance. What we provide is the theological reasoning that shapes our judgments in matters of corporate worship, along with examples that have emerged from our ministries. In each case we have tried to interact with our respective traditions without being padlocked to them.”
Some of the many takeaways for me included:
1) A solid biblical definition of worship.
“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-worshippers.”
2) The differentiation of worship in the Old Testament vs. New Covenant worship.
“Worship is no longer something connected with set feasts, such as Passover; or a set place, such as the temple; or set priests, such as the Levitical system prescribed. It is for all the people of God at all times and places, and it is bound up with how they live (e.g., Romans 12:1-2).”
3) A sound reason for corporate worship in a church community on a week to week basis.
“New covenant worship terminology prescribes constant “worship.” Peterson therefore examines afresh just why the New Testament church gathers, and he concludes that the focus is on mutual edification, not on worship. Under the terms of the new covenant, worship goes on all the time, including when the people of God gather together. But mutual edification does not go on all the time; it is what takes place when Christians gather together. Edification is the best summary of what occurs in corporate singing, confession, public prayer, the ministry of the Word, and so forth.”
4) A respect for various Christian traditions that differ from my own experience.
I found every section really informing and challenging. From the Anglican liturgies that Ashton provided to the Puritan history in Hughes section, to Keller’s insightful perspective on “Reformed Contemporary” vs. “Contemporary Reformed” worship, all the sections were challenging and helpful.
5) A call to sound theology of worship that informs practice, including our vocabulary and mindset as we gather together in a church setting.
[In the New Covenant]… “de-sacralization of space and time and food—or better a re-sacralization of all things [occurs] for the believer. There are no longer any sacred times or sacred spaces. Under the new covenant Christians are thus to worship all the time—in their individual lives, family lives, and when they come together for corporate worship. Corporate worship then, is a particular expression of a life of perpetual worship…Since Christ is the temple, “sacred spaces” and consecrated grounds are a delusion.”
The entire book was informative and worth the read, but I personally found the opening section by Carson and the closing one by Keller to be the most helpful and applicable to my specific ministry setting. I think this is a book that is a necessary read for those involved in pastoral ministry, especially if you have a role where you are regularly leading (music or otherwise) corporate worship. For the Christian concerned with this subject, I think you will find the entire book educational, but you’ll probably find yourself drudging through some material in certain sections that you’d rather skip over. Overall, a solid read, and one I highly recommend.