Book Review: True Worship, by Vaughn Roberts
Vaughn Roberts, True Worship: What Is the Nature of True Christian Worship? Image Media, 2010. 106 pages. $9.99.
Ask Trey, a college student in your church, what he thinks it is. You might hear, “It’s kind of like…well, you know…I mean—I don’t know. It’s private—a me and God thing. It’s like love – hard to define but you know it when you’re in it.”
Ask Granny Susie, who’s led the church choir longer than you’ve been alive, and you might hear, “Well, it’s Sunday mornin’ praise, baby!”
Ask Steven, the church band’s guitarist, and you might hear, “It’s the surge of God’s presence that I lead people into.”
The question of course is, What is true worship? Many in our churches define worship however they please.
But does God’s Word grant such freedom? Does it define worship, and if so, how? These are the questions Vaughan Roberts, rector of St Ebbe’s Church in Oxford, answers in his short book True Worship. He wrote it out of concern “that much of our thinking about worship is confused and often unbiblical” (Loc. 46).
Pastor, let me be frank: this book is excellent. I think you should buy 30 copies and pass them out like lemonade on a summer day. Folks in your congregation are thirsting to worship God in a way that pleases him; surely, many people think they already doing this. But thoroughly working through Scripture, Roberts draws heart-checking implications like this: “there is such a thing as false worship that does not please God” (Loc. 46).
Those words would probably surprise and offend many folks in our churches. But they’ll challenge some to test their own worship. Here are a few types of people this testing would serve.
THE “CHURCHED-SINCE-CHILDHOOD” WORSHIPPER
Many people who grow up in churches assume worship as a standard part of life. It’s one more thing they do, like Vacation Bible School, communicants’ class, or Christmas pageants.
Roberts grants that Christian activities and behaviors may be a part of worship, but he clarifies that they are not all of worship. Consider this sobering statement, “It may be that you have been going to church for years. You’ve been baptized and received the Lord’s Supper often… You love to sing Christian songs. But it’s still possible that you have never begun to worship God” (Loc. 175). Roberts serves readers by biblically defining true worship: it’s “submitting to Jesus Christ in every area of life” (Loc. 135).
THE “WRONG WAY!” WORSHIPPER
Giving clear definitions, Roberts also serves those who confuse the direction of worship. We wake up. We get in our cars. We drive to church. We naturally think we’ve come to worship God. The direction of our worship, then, begins with us going to God’s certain residing place, the church building, to worship him.
But Roberts employs rich, concise, and accessible biblical theology to explain why this direction, man-to-God, errs by disregarding Christ’s work; it’s closer to how the Old Testament understands worship (Loc. 469). But the need for holy places and priests’ mediation was “fulfilled by the worship of the Lord Jesus, when he offered himself as a perfect sacrifice to his father” (Loc. 551). So “true worship now depends on a person (Christ), not a place…it never begins with us; it is always a response to…who God is and what he has done for us in Christ” (Loc. 116, 216). The book’s heavy reliance on Christ’s blood serves the misdirected worshipper like red “WRONG WAY” signs serve those who turn into oncoming traffic on one-way streets.
THE “IT’S JUST ME AND GOD” WORSHIPPER
Roberts shows worship’s biblical definition and direction; he also shows its dependency. Misdirected worship is birthed by misplaced dependency. Every sinner leans toward self-reliance, and this shows in our worship. Yet Roberts reminds us that we need “God’s help, by his Spirit, to worship him properly…it takes a miracle of God to make a worshipper” (Loc.135, 155).
Roberts also makes clear why we need God’s people (Loc. 892). With great compassion, he explains the fundamentals of why Christians must gather together in local churches. For example, “It’s hard being a Christian while we wait for [Christ’s coming]. That’s why we need to meet together: to spur one another on” (Loc. 651).
Roberts doesn’t ignore our gatherings’ music, either. He explains music’s significant part in corporate worship and ties this into the body’s service of one another. “When we sing, we’re not simply a collection of individuals praising our God. We are a community addressing one another” (Loc. 1104). Lone-wolf “Christians” beware—this book will call you out.
THE “SNORTING, FEELING DRIVEN” WORSHIPPER
It’s good and helpful to desire intimacy with God and to know how you might best serve his people, but it’s harmful to base this intimacy on your emotions and to compare your spiritual gifts to others’. Roberts comments on how Christianity has been affected by the culture’s desire for a spiritual high, “as if worship was something you snorted through your nose” (Loc. 317). Often people who crave spiritual highs plummet to spiritual lows. Roberts encourages those who feel far from God by reminding them to remember that “our assurance of God’s love does not depend on our feelings. Our assurance depends instead on the finished work of Christ” (Loc. 1002). The book humbles and uplifts.
CALLING ALL WORSHIPPERS
You might not be one of the types listed above. Maybe you pick the songs your church sings. Maybe you’re wondering how to explain what it means to worship “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). Maybe you’re tired of me guessing where you are. But regardless of where that is, I think this book will bless you and those around you.
The book doesn’t offer an exhaustive account of what does and doesn’t belong in a Christian worship service. And Roberts’ approval of taking the Lord’s Supper in small groups, not as the entire church, makes me a little uneasy (Loc. 1382). But I’m happy to recommend the book. The fundamentals of the gospel, the church, music, and worship are so easily confused today; this book offers much-needed clarity.
It will take you an afternoon to read it. Maybe your afternoon is free?
 All citations refer to location in the Kindle edition.