Harold M. Best. Unceasing Worship. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2003. 226 pp. $18.00.
Harold Best served for more than twenty-five years as dean of the Conservatory of Music at Wheaton College as well as a president of the National Association of Schools of Music. The premise of his work, Unceasing Worship, can be found in the introduction, “Salvation is the only way our continuous outpouring- our continuous worship- is set aright and urged into the fullness of Christ” (p. 10). The book is divided into two main sections: unceasing worship as continuous outpouring and unceasing worship and the arts. The first section focuses on the foundation of Best’s premise expounding on the idea of continuous outpouring with relation to faith, hope, love and its implications for our concept of worship. It defines authentic worship and displays the importance of authentic worship in our corporate gatherings and our witness. The latter section is devoted to continuous outpouring and how this concept impacts the role of arts in worship and the Christian artist in society.
Best develops the analogy of continuous outpouring completely throughout the book. Of particular strength is his linkage of “Christian witness as overheard worship” (p. 77). This concept is prodigious because it seamlessly connects two basic purposes of faith by demonstrating one as simple observation of the other. Another ideological discovery is explained when referring to the Christian artist stating, “(they) must understand from the start that their art, whatever its kind, venue or quality, is as much an act of worship as is preaching the gospel” (p. 112). Not only are our lives acts of worship, but also those things we create, whether as works of art or for pragmatic usage. With this in mind we are prodded to reflect on these questions: “What is the quality of our work when the surface is scraped away and we can look down into its inner workings? What is God’s opinion about the contradictions between the inside and outside?” (p. 133). With our personal answers to these in mind, Best goes on to further challenges us to love God so much that “(we) cannot avoid the pursuit of quality whatever (our) present condition” (p. 200).
As previously stated, Best develops the idea of continuous outpouring throughout the book, “nobody does not worship” (p. 17), and his arguments all rest on this thesis. If one were to disagree with the basis of his thesis, many of the discussions within the confines of the book would be disputable. His entire discourse on witness, for example, is based on this idea of continuous outpouring, “Witness is the fragrance of continuous outpouring” (p. 85); if one were to argue against the foundational principle the remaining discourse would be useless. Some might argue that worship is an intentional act. By being intentional, you cannot worship continually because you are not intentionally worshipping continually. Another might argue atheist worship nothing. We must be prepared to engage on these issues and Best’s book gives us a starting point. The book is intentionally not prescriptive in that it does not give a methodical process for reforming our views of worship, rather Best raises issues and questions for reflection and allows the reader to formulate their own theology of worship from his principles.
Given the misguided theology of worship that is present in the evangelical church, Best’s book is an invitation for those from all traditions to think and reevaluate their own philosophies. The principles contained therein are especially prudent when evaluating the current landscape of church music. Best moves the focus off music and the weekly service and puts the focus back onto our ongoing dialogue with our creator. That is not to say that Best discounts the weekly gathering of believers, which he encourages- “we might find out how much deeper we could go when people of all ages, bound together by something deeper than cultural preference, are found in each other’s company.” With a proper understanding of authentic worship, corporate worship is appropriately viewed as a place for worshipping believers to unite and seek to enter the “paradoxical condition of hungering while being filled” (p. 72).
The book is accessible to those with varying degrees of study on the subject of religion and worship because of the way Best orders the principles giving supporting evidence to his premises. Although the second half of the book would seem to be written for the benefit of the artist, we are all artists of some kind and therefore would be beneficial for anyone to study. Particularly the first section would be of great usefulness to anyone studying to develop a theology of worship or as a text for classes dealing with the philosophy or theology of worship. Unceasing Worship should be read as a whole since each new principle builds on the developing principle of continuous outpouring. This is an inspired effort that further develops the biblical concept of worship as a lifestyle.