Book Review: Christ-Centered Worship, by Bryan Chapell
In his recent book Christ-Centered Worship Bryan Chapell writes, “Worship cannot simply be a matter of arbitrary choice, church tradition, personal preference or cultural appeal. There are foundational truths in the gospel of Christ’s redeeming work that do not change if the gospel is to remain the gospel. So, if our worship structures are to tell this story consistently, then there must be certain aspects of our worship that remain consistent” (85).
If boredom overtakes you before the end of this review and you don’t finish, I want these three outstanding sentences to remain embedded in your mind. They are the sum and substance of Bryan Chapell’s excellent book Christ-Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape our Practice.
I can’t count how many times I have heard a Christian answer the question “How did you like the church you visited?” by saying, “I really did (or didn’t) like the music.” Without realizing it, the person insinuates that what really mattered about the so-called “worship” part of the service was whether or not it suited their musical tastes. Sadly, too many pastors feel an unbiblical pressure to make the music appealing so that the people will be engaged.
Into the midst of such confusion about the basic purpose of corporate worship enters Bryan Chapell, President of Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. Chapell is not interested in an esoteric, abstract discussion about a topic that’s important for an hour or two every Sunday. Instead, he understands that worship is fundamental to understanding the Scriptures and therefore reality. Worship is at the core of who we as image-bearers are. It’s vital for us to understand it rightly.
Chapell divides the book into two parts: “Gospel Worship” and “Gospel Worship Resources.” From the outset, Chapell is clear that nothing less than the gospel is at stake in our worship. He states, “We tell the gospel by the way we worship” (19). You might think of how the architecture of church buildings changed during the Reformation from cathedrals to something else. Their planners wanted to say something through structure. So it is with how we structure our worship in the local church today: “Structures tell stories” (15).
As in every other area of life, we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us when we worship the living God. With this in mind, Chapell gives a brief and helpful historical sketch of the liturgical developments in Roman Catholic worship and a few of those who reacted against the liturgy of Rome: Luther, Calvin, and the Westminster divines. He describes how the Protestant liturgies moved away from sacerdotalism and back to gospel truths.
Further, Chapell demonstrates that regulating worship by the Scriptures is the surest way to help the worshiper see what he or she needs most: the gospel.
Chapell also provides an overview of the evolution of worship in the modern church. Characterized by a desire “to connect with people” (70), churches in the twentieth century began to elevate connecting emotionally with people over engaging with God on the terms he alone has the authority to set and by which his people are graciously invited to respond. There have been a number of corrective reactions to this movement, and Chapell focuses on Robert G. Rayburn’s 1980 publication, O Come, Let us Worship, which “sought to reintroduce evangelicalism to its history and liturgy” (72). Rayburn’s correctives sought to bring the traditions of the Reformation to bear on contemporary evangelical practice.
Synthesizing his historical survey, Chapell argues that there has been a consistent pattern of gospel-driven worship from the early church to the Reformation to the present: it follows the sequence of adoration, confession, assurance, thanksgiving, petition, instruction, charge, and blessing. Chapell repeatedly demonstrates how this gospel structure naturally manifests itself throughout the Scriptures.
Chapell devotes the second half of his book to walking the reader through these various components of the corporate worship service and listing resources that will enable the church to biblically carry out each one. He walks through the Call to Worship, Affirmation of Faith, Confession of Sin, Assurance of Pardon, Rubrics (Transitions), Historic Components, the history and practice of Scripture-Reading, the Sermon, and Benediction. To top it all off, Chapell provides several examples of worship services that accord with the gospel structures seen throughout Scripture.
GOSPEL, GOSPEL, GOSPEL
Do you remember the theme of President Clinton’s presidential campaign in 1992? “It’s the economy, stupid!” If there is a single theme that undergirds Chapell’s book, it would be, “It’s the gospel…”—well, you get the point.
Nothing other than the gospel and the structures it yields must propel corporate worship, and Chapell drives home this point with precision. He realizes that the structures of our worship not only reveal what we value, but shape us. So he goes to great length to demonstrate how the gospel carries within itself a worship-shaping structure, and a structure that’s revealed throughout Scripture.
If, as the Bible teaches, worship is our supreme need, and God has met this need in the gospel, we can rest in God’s sufficient care for us to teach us how to maximize the power of the gospel through worship. Chapell includes several such examples of gospel structures from the Scriptures (Isaiah 6, Deuteronomy 5, 2 Chronicles 5–7, Romans 11–15, Revelation 4–21). He states, “Where God intentionally provides models, they consistently echo the gospel patterns the church will later practice” (102). These corporate patterns then teach God’s people each week how to understand “the progress of the gospel in the life of an individual” (99). And this means that God’s people are repeatedly taught that the gospel is every bit as necessary for sanctification as for justification.
In short, the gospel that saves is the gospel that propels and orders worship.
FROM CONSUMER-DRIVEN TO GOSPEL-DRIVEN
The worship wars that have too often characterized churches have sadly been driven by stylistic preference rather than the desire to be faithful to Scripture. Bryan Chapell rightly argues that the only solution for such battles is the gospel.
When gospel-empowered, Christ-centered worship is embraced, it carries with it priorities that “make it plain why worship choices must be made and give a rationale for those choices” (133).
It is only when believers “see that the main concerns of worship are about meeting biblical priorities rather than personal expectations [that] leaders can unite behind a worship style that does not entirely match their preferences because they are convinced it advances the gospel” (133).
Only the gospel has the power to enable us to give up our preferences and to prefer others above ourselves (Rom. 12:10), and Bryan Chapell directs the church to embrace such worship.
GET THIS BOOK!
Christ-Centered Worship is theologically sound, historically rooted, and biblically driven. In this book, Bryan Chapell pushes church leaders to shape the corporate worship of God’s people with the paradigms and structures found in the gospel.
If you are a pastor or church leader with responsibilities for worship or want to better understand this massive topic in Scripture, read this book! Chapell is a sure guide who provides a solid tool for the pastor’s toolbox.