The Beginner’s Guide to Worshiping God, by Gary Kinnaman. Ventura, CA: Regal, 2013. 154 pp. $10.00.
As A. W. Tozer clearly states, “worship of the loving God is man’s whole reason for existence.” It is this importance of worship that Gary Kinnaman expounds upon in The Beginner’s Guide to Worshiping God. Kinnaman is a gifted communicator and writer who currently serves as the senior pastor at a large mentoring and networking church in Phoenix, Arizona. He has done extensive research on the topic of worship as well as other counseling related issues. In this book, Kinnaman seeks to help the reader gain a better understanding of what worship is and how it is carried out. He argues for his personal definition of worship: “encountering God, knowing and experiencing who he is, giving thanks and praise for what He has done, loving people he loves, and daily doing what he says” (12).
To support this definition, Kinnaman begins with the foundational truths that must be established before the “what” and “how” of worship is understood. These include such ideas as worshiping in spirit and in truth, the image of God, and a lifestyle of worship. He communicates the idea that worship is broader than what most people think. It is much more than the weekly “worship” service of a local church, but a lifestyle of service to God. After leading the reader to realize the broader spectrum of worship, Kinnaman gives his definition, which is then supported throughout the rest of the book.
Kinnaman explains early in the book that worship is a response to God’s revelation to us: “worship is not a catalyst of grace, it’s a response to God’s gloriously free gift” (13). After explaining how worship begins, Kinnaman goes deeper into truths concerning how worship relates directly to God and His character. These reflections of God then tie into how we experience God and the emotional responses that come as a result.
The second half of the book focuses on the effect that worship has on the believer and how worship is practically carried out, emphasizing the change that worship has on the believer. Kinnaman even goes as far as to claim, “teaching and studying the Bible are not, in themselves, enough to change people” (70). This leads to a brief discussion on the importance of the body of believers in worship.
In chapter six, Kinnaman answers the question of “how to worship” by stating that Christians are to worship with a pure, perfect, and whole heart. Practically speaking, he explains we are to worship with holy noise, with singing and musical instruments, with the whole body, and in truth. Kinnaman concludes by presenting five “Praise Principles” through which he further expounds upon what it means to praise God.
While this book is intended to be an introductory resource for the average church member, it leaves a lot of room for questions that are not addressed. Even Kinnaman’s definition of worship alone can be confusing. For example, he begins his definition with “encountering God,” yet somewhere in this definition of worship needs to be the idea that it is an act of response to what God has revealed. He does explain that worship is a response later on but never includes it in his underlying definition of worship. This is especially clear in his explanation of worship and the heart. Important issues such as the difference between passion and affection should have been addressed. Rather, the word “heart” is used more broadly to refer to both of those terms. He then makes an interesting statement concerning worshiping with the heart when he states, “you need to know that worship not only begins in the heart and in a pure heart it also has to start with your heart, that is, what makes you uniquely you” (93). This leads the reader to come to the conclusion that the focus of worship in this book is personal worship. While this is an acceptable focus, Kinnaman makes no distinction between personal and corporate worship. He also confusingly states that “worship is not a private affair” (73). He seems to be contradicting himself on this particular issue.
Another issue of Kinnaman’s viewpoint of worship is what he describes as the “experience of worship.” He presents a solid explanation that worship must be from the heart, but he begins to base the success or level of worship on the outward or visible expression. The very title of chapter six, “You Had to be There,” is an indication that Kinnman views worship more as an external experience.
Kinnaman commendably addresses some issues that can be potentially controversial but have much value in understanding worship. He goes deeper into the idea that worship is “who you are” (119) and avoids suggesting that those who work in the church or in “ministry” are more spiritual than others. There are some transformationalist viewpoints he adheres to, especially when giving the example of God using Moses’ rod to turn it into a snake and become the staff of deliverance for millions of Jews (154).
For a basic overview of foundational principle of worship, this book serves its purpose. Kinnaman helpfully includes many examples that relate his concepts to practical daily life. His list of “praise principles,” for example, helps the reader retain biblical principles that are important for worship. If one is seeking a more philosophical or more solid theological approach to the study of worship, this may not be the first book to consult. The advantage of this book is the ease of understanding and the creative ways in which worship can be understood.
People have many different definitions of worship. Most properly researched definitions may be worded differently but carry out the same idea that worship is all of life. Kinnaman makes sure to emphasize this point throughout the book and encourages us to take a deeper look into how we worship, why we worship, and how we can better worship our Savior in the future.
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Fort Worth, TX