For the Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship, by Daniel I. Block. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014. 410 pp. $34.99.
Daniel Block is Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College and a world-traveled speaker on the subject of worship. Author of over fifteen books and several published articles and essays, his newest book, For the Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship, is vital to the study of worship. In recent videos filmed by Baker Academic to promote the book, Block states that he is concerned with the modern church’s “commitment to pragmatism” and is “convinced that we are far, far from the biblical view of worship.” His passion is to help others think in a biblical fashion regarding all aspects of the subject—recovering the entire Scripture as a resource and authority (personal email). Block submits the following not as a definition but as a “description of the phenomena”:
True worship involves reverential human acts of submission and homage before the divine Sovereign in response to his gracious revelation of himself and in accord with his will. (23)
The book’s thoughtful examination of the Scriptures fleshes out this statement, handling every major aspect of worship in the corporate gatherings of the local church and in all of life.
Chapter 1 challenges the reader to adopt a holistic, biblical understanding in regard to worship—in lieu of tendencies to form Christian worship almost entirely from the New Testament. Block states,
But why should we not study the First Testament to understand what true worship—even for Christians—might look like? To be sure, in the light of Christ, the forms have changed—the sacrifices, the Levitical priesthood, and the temple have all been declared passé through the death and resurrection of Jesus—but does this mean that God’s first instructions on worship have no bearing on contemporary worship? Hardly. If Jesus Christ is YHWH, the God of Israel in human flesh (Matt 1:23; John 1:23; Rom 10:13; Phil 2:11), and if Jesus Christ is eternally changeless (Heb 13:8), we should at least expect a continuity of principle between the Testaments. Jesus does not declare the old theology obsolete; rather, in him the theology underlying Israelite worship finds its fulfillment. (7)
Furthermore, he observes,
Although most assume that unless the New Testament reiterates notions found in the First Testament the latter are obsolete, we should probably assume the opposite: unless the New Testament expressly declares First Testament notions obsolete, they continue. (7)
Block reveals the actual words that define the meaning of worship in both the First and New Testaments. He divides the biblical terms into three categories—the dimensions of biblical worship. These are comprised of
- “Dispositional expressions (worship as attitude)”
- “Physical expressions (worship as gesture)”
- “Liturgical expressions (worship as ritual)” (8)
Chapters 2 and 3 discuss the object of worship and the subject of worship. Block outlines the problem of false worship by contrasting idolatry from the historical perspective of the idolater with the biblical perspective (32–35). He then gives the biblical picture of the true nature of the “God who would claim Israel’s exclusive worship and who now claims ours”: 1. God is the faithful keeper of covenants; 2. God is their “gracious redeemer”; 3. God “calls them primarily to a relationship with himself rather than to a code of conduct”; 4. “The God who calls Israel to worship him also calls them to obedience”; 5. God assigns to Israel “the mission of representing him to the world”; 6. God “reveals to them his indescribable glory and holiness”; 7. God “speaks to his people” (40–44).
In contrast to historic Trinitarian worship, Block discusses that the Holy Spirit is never the object of worship in the Scriptures—rather, worship is to God the Father and God the Son through the Spirit (46). Establishing that Hebrews 10:19–22 declares Jesus Christ as the glorious “basis of our access to God’s presence,” Block challenges us with these words: “However, having experienced the grace of Christ in salvation does not mean that we may be casual about worship or that our cultic expressions are automatically acceptable to God” (78). He then challenges us to the biblical prerequisite of holiness (80).
Chapters 3 and 4 discuss daily life, family life, and work as worship. Central to Block’s teaching in chapter three is the “normative Israelite ethical vision,” which “rests on three pillars”: “(1) the principle of imago dei: as images of God, human beings govern the world on his behalf; (2) the principle of imitatio dei: the people of God imitate his character and actions; and (3) the principle of conventio dei: God’s covenant people serve him and others rather than themselves” (82). Block describes the function of the Decalogue (Exod 20:1–17) in relation to the Book of the Covenant (Exod 20:22–23:19), the Guidebook on Holiness (Lev 17–26), and the Torah of Moses (Deut 5–26, 28)—highlighting vertical and horizontal relationships (85–100). Block’s writing challenges us regarding these passages and their relevance to Paul’s teaching in Romans 12:1–2 and Jesus’ words in John 14:15 (107) .
In chapter 6 Block gives an excellent discussion of the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper—relating historical views on each and encouraging pastors to take advantage of the ordinances as prime opportunities for instructing congregations (166). Block explains that the Lord’s Supper is linked to “at least three First Testament liturgical traditions: the Passover meal, the covenant ratification ceremony, and the sin offering” (157).
Chapters 7 and 8 discuss the hearing and proclamation of the Scriptures and prayer in worship. Further developing his teaching from chapter 3, Block urges church leaders to allocate more time to the public reading of Scripture accompanied by appropriate reverence and encourages expository reading of Scripture (191). Block comprehensively handles the biblical perspective on prayer with practical instruction.
Block opens his discussion on the subject of music in Chapter 9 by confessing the damage of the worship wars and propositioning, “perhaps it is time to ask what role the Scriptures expect music to play in worship and then reflect theologically on the matter, rather than grounding our decisions on tradition, pragmatics, or personal taste” (222). Block gives us a clear biblical picture of the importance and roles of music in ancient Israelite culture and worship, highlighting David as a musical leader both excellent and rare. (228) He describes music’s evolution in worship into the New Testament period including much use of the Psalter (230). He cites passages in Revelation (4:8–11; 5:9–14; 11:16–18; 14:6–7; 15:2–4) and the significance of the songs sung emphasizing their “pronounced Jewish flavor”; all are sung in “the presence of the One seated on the throne and the presence of the Lamb”; singing “includes instrumental music, prayers, and prostration”; and that “the singing is congregational” (234–35). Block expresses wisdom and discretion in his recommendations for music in the church today (236).
Chapter 10 covers sacrifice and offerings as worship. Block gives us a very well-defined understanding of how the faith in God demonstrated by the Israelites’ animal sacrifices enabled them to enter into the grace offered in the consummate sacrifice committed by Jesus Christ (257–59). He asserts that Christian worship should “offer humble homage and praise to Christ, the supreme sacrifice” (269). Regarding sacrifice, he urges, “Although New Testament believers are not obligated to keep First Testament sacrificial laws, the sacrifice required of Christians equals or exceeds that demanded of First Testament saints,” since we are called ourselves to be “living sacrifices” in response to the gracious work of Christ (269). This chapter also offers thought-provoking studies regarding our practice of tithes and offerings.
Chapter 11 discusses the drama of worship. Block encourages worship leaders to lead their congregations in “participation in God’s great drama of redemption” (271). He discusses significant points in the First Testament calendar, among which are the Sabbath and its contemporary relevance, as well as various festivals, Passover (which Christ converted into the Lord’s Supper), and the Day of Atonement. Essentially, Block implies that these celebrations may serve as examples for Christian celebrations focusing upon the “significant moments in the birth of the church: the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, as well as the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost”—as we seek to celebrate the story of our redemption in Christ (295). He stresses that in Galatians 4:8–10, “Paul is not talking about First Testament observances but about pagan rituals that stand in opposition to commitment to Christ.” He also discusses Colossians 2:16 (294).
Chapter 12 outlines the design and theology of sacred space. Beginning with John 4:21–24 (Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well), Block prods his readers with two questions: 1. “Do we betray Jesus’ vision by localizing worship?; 2. How should we think about the spaces where we gather for our audiences with God?” (297) Like an architect himself, Block carefully builds readers’ biblical understanding of sacred space. Acknowledging that “the New Testament speaks of Jesus as personally replacing the temple,” and that “Paul treats the Christian community as the temple of God” (318), Block leads us into a rich and practical discussion of the role of architecture in worship today.
Chapter 13, the final chapter, outlines worship leadership, including godly and ungodly leadership as recorded in the First Testament, complete with implications and outlines of what this means for worship leaders today.
This is an excellent book that needs to be carefully considered in conjunction with prayer by church leaders, laypeople, and those in the academy. Block provides excellent scholarship and meticulous notes throughout. Included are several helpful diagrams, charts, and illustrations—not to mention the appendices, which are an invaluable resource for worship planners and composers, including the “Doxologies of the New Testament,” “Hymnic Fragments in the Pauline Epistles,” translations of source documents regarding “Sunday Worship in Early Christianity,” as well as select bibliography and complete Scriptural Index.
Shawn T. Eaton
Cultivating God-Centered Worship