Book Review: Perspectives on Christian Worship: Five Views, ed. by Matthew Pinson
How do we remain biblically rooted in our corporate worship of God without becoming culturally irrelevant?
That’s the question Perspectives on Christian Worship: 5 Views seeks to answer.
Editor Matthew Pinson introduces the book with a brief and insightful historical overview of Christian worship. Then we’re offered five different views (and responses) of public worship today: liturgical (Timothy Quill), traditional evangelical (Ligon Duncan), contemporary (Dan Wilt), blended (Michael Lawrence and Mark Dever), and emerging (Dan Kimball).
POINTS ON THE SPECTRUM
The book admittedly fails to cover the full spectrum of worship practices and traditions today, and Duncan, Dever, and Lawrence seemed to agree with each other a lot, as did Kimball and Wilt (maybe it should have been three views?). Still, there’s enough variation here to provide food for substantive conversations about how the corporate worship in your church could be more biblical and culturally impacting.
Timothy Quill, a former Lutheran pastor, tries to persuade us that the Liturgy of Word and Sacrament has “sustained the church and reached the lost for the past two thousand years” (21). While that may be overstated, I agree with Ligon Duncan who, in his response, says that Quill is “thoroughly Trinitarian, Christocentric, theological, and biblical in his understanding of worship” (82). Quill highlights worship as God’s gift of grace to us, rather than our gift to God, a point he reiterates in most of his responses.
Quill admits early on that the Liturgy belongs to the adiaphora, matters neither commanded nor forbidden by Scripture (19), but you get the impression he feels more strongly than that. Thus, his justification for liturgical worship is ultimately more pragmatic and historical than biblical. In response, Duncan points out that, “Liturgy can…create complacency and simply going through the motions in worship” (83). As edifying and educational as his chapter is, I don’t think Quill sufficiently addresses this point.
Duncan’ s chapter on traditional evangelical worship focuses less on forms and more on the meaning, elements, goals, and qualities of biblical corporate worship. His values are similar to Quill, with forms being more negotiable, but not irrelevant. He alerts us to the “law of unintended consequences” (112) with respect to the mediums we use. “The minute a service is called ‘contemporary,’ we have just conveyed, whether we like it or not, that the most important thing about it is the featured musical style” (111). He also warns that using music to attract people encourages participants “to view themselves as consumers rather than as worshipers” (113). Like all the contributors, Duncan says “worship is all about God” (149) and that conviction comes through in his chapter. He roots his views of worship in scriptural principles and commands, and says the Bible is to be read, preached, prayed, sung, and seen in public worship (105).
Wilt and Kimball affirm Duncan’s chapter, but wonder if his practices are at times more influenced by his own tradition and experiences than he realizes. I think they make a good point. Wilt stresses that cultural accommodation is very different from cultural connection (133).
Dan Wilt’s chapter on “contemporary worship” focuses more on contemporary worship music, which raises obvious conflicts with Duncan’s chapter (although he graciously avoids them in his response). Wilt takes engaging with the culture seriously and emphasizes the importance of the heart and authenticity in worship. While he is an appreciative student of historic traditions, Wilt says the contemporary worship movement “is a significant force that is shaping the discipleship life of average believers around the globe” (197). Wilt’s case seems stronger for the values of biblical worship than contemporary music itself, but his passion to see people truly encounter God when they sing is admirable.
Lawrence and Dever express concerns about Wilt’s over-emphasis on cultural relevance and personal authenticity. They write, “Certainly we must worship our Savior from within our culture. Yet just as certainly worship must take its cues not from its context, but from its subject, not from our changing culture, but from the unchanging character of God” (215).
Regulative Principle adherents might be surprised to find out that Lawrence and Dever wrote the chapter on “blended worship.” But after making clear what blended worship is not, they define it simply as “using various forms for invariable elements.” They offer some helpful guidelines and some great quotes. They say our worship is to be intelligible, orderly, edifying, unifying, and reverent. “To the saved heart, the richness of the gospel will always exceed even the most impoverished music that celebrates it” (252). “No one church, much less one public service, can incorporate and blend every biblically informed tradition” (256). They astutely observe that, in contrast with our own, the worship wars of previous generations were always an attempt to answer the question, “What is most faithful to the Bible?”
In his response, Kimball takes issue with Lawrence and Dever’s understanding of the Word in worship. “As much as there is a desire to protect the church using only ‘Word-focused’ worship, we must remember that the subtle stylistic things we do in addition to words also communicate” (284). Wilt questions viewing the “Word” simply as preaching, and says “the thought that to preach is to transform is magical and lacks substance” (278). In seeking to heighten our awareness of how words are received, both Dans run the risk of minimizing the preached word, despite their claims to the contrary.
In the final chapter, Dan Kimball makes a case for “emerging worship,” which he defines as “expressions of worship that are relating to how people in today’s culture communicate, learn, and express their love to God” (297). It’s evident that Kimball loves the church, the lost, and the Lord. And he’s concerned about the criticism emerging churches have received for not taking the Bible seriously. His eight guidelines for “emerging worship” on pages 297-298 would be helpful for any church.
That said, his references to a Chinese proverb, nine spiritual temperaments, and worship as a “multisensory experience” muddy the waters. Dan Wilt humbly comments, “The random and sometimes cavalier use of Scripture must continue to be eradicated from both contemporary and emerging worship patterns” (346). Lawrence and Dever sound a similar alarm: “We are on safer ground biblically if we assume that culture’s default effect will be to misshape our worship, and that what is needed is to allow the Scriptures to constantly reform and reshape our worship according to the pattern of the Spirit rather than the pattern of the world” (351).
HELPFUL, EVEN WITHOUT A CHARISMATIC VIEW
I would have appreciated a chapter that reflected a more charismatic or continuationist perspective, but I still found the interaction between the authors to be helpful and stimulating for my own thinking about worship. The authors agree in more areas than they disagree, and if you focus on those areas, you’ll be well on your way to worship that is more in line with what God desires and has made possible through the gospel.