The Great Commission to Worship: Biblical Principles for Worship-Based Evangelism, by David Wheeler and Vernon M. Whaley. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2011. 204 pp. $19.99.
David Wheeler and Vernon Whaley, colleagues at Liberty University, combine their knowledge in the fields of evangelism and worship to pen a book that seeks to define the primary focus of the New Testament church. The first chapters of the book lay out the philosophical framework for the practical application that comes in the latter chapters. Those chapters seek to construct a model of worship that can be qualitatively evaluated.
The concept of Great Commission worship is that “many times in Scripture it appears that while God is always our object of worship, the concept of obtaining salvation (evangelism) appears to be the motivation” (11). From this supposition, the authors dispel common myths about evangelism and worship while giving scriptural support to better communicate how evangelism and worship are interwoven. The focus then shifts to becoming a Great Commission worshiper, which is “a person who is so much in love with Jesus, so committed to worship of Jesus, and so devoted to being obedient to every command of Jesus that he simply cannot restrain himself from telling others about his incredible relationship with the Son of God” (30). It is then necessary to construct a model for Great Commission worship influenced by our calling, experiences, education, and opportunities. The model should provide worship that is formational, transformational, relational, missional, and reproducible. Worship can then be further evaluated based on that model.
The desire of the authors is to inseparably pair worship and evangelism. “If the heartbeat of worship is obedience, then it is impossible to be a true worshiper without being directly involved in the command of evangelism as expressed in Acts 1:8” (13). Although discipleship is mentioned, emphasis is given to the insufficient link between worship and evangelism on the one hand, and discipleship on the other, as a primary purpose of the Christian and the church. There is some confusion in the relationship of worship to evangelism that is prevalent throughout the book. Rather than letting John Piper speak for himself—“Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man” (120)—the authors reinterpret his words because of a fear for misinterpretation. Worship, however, should be the foundation on which discipleship and evangelism are built; they are all objectives, but may be best understood when worship is the foundation.
The other confusion stems from the book’s multiple thesis statements and multiple definitions of the same term. The introduction states the “aim of this book is to help God’s people recapture their Great Commission calling to once again be like the early worshipers in Acts 17” (6), and they present a different thesis three pages later: “to address this most basic issue of interpretation in reference to worship and evangelism and how they impact our obedience to the Great Commission” (9). The authors define worship as “a lifestyle of walking in submission to God and walking with God” (vii), “an act of unbridled obedience even when rational explanations are hard to find” (12), to “Love God” (27), and “the natural response to God’s revelation” (36). Although worship may be all of these things, it would be helpful to have a definition that encompasses all rather than different definitions for different situations. To communicate their principle effectively, the authors must be in agreement on the definition.
The book is relevant to Baptist life, particularly with the addition of the descriptor “Great Commission Baptists” to the Southern Baptist name in June, 2012. The authors describe hearing ministers “rationalize their disobedience to the Great Commission” (120) by placing worship as the ultimate goal of the church. This book is a reaction to that misapplication of biblical purpose rather than a call to correction. It uses copious Scripture proofs, which makes it easy to further research the truths derived from the Scripture passages. Each chapter includes questions for discussion and reflection. The Great Commission to Worship is a practical application book intended for use by ministers and their congregations.
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Fort Worth, TX