Creating Missional Worship: Fusing Context and Tradition

Creating Missional Worship: Fusing Context and Tradition, Tim Lomax. London: Publisher’s Church House Publishing, 2015. 192 pp. $22.70.

“God is not found exclusively in the church—he is out there” (102). With his strong conviction on the importance of creating missional worship, Tim Lomax, a member of the Liturgical Commission of the Church of England and Chair of its Evangelical Worship Consultation, asserts that worship should be a blend of the liturgical tradition and the context of the worshipers.

The book outlines two sections in its eight chapters. The first four chapters explore the roles of context and tradition in worship. Each subject is examined separately after having addressed briefly the debate that is going on regarding the two matters. The second four chapters of the book present ways that the marriage between context and tradition might be kept alive. This section offers building blocks for creating missional worship, and it explains how these building blocks could be applied in practice.

The author makes his point through several means. First, Lomax anticipates the possibility to fuse context and tradition in worship. He states that “liturgical tradition is the liturgies, ritual, practices, and frameworks that we have inherited and developed over the years. The context is contemporary culture and local community” (3). By putting the natures of context and tradition in such a way that there are elements that the two could share, though they may be often held in opposition to one another, the reader can see the potential to tackle these two aspects of worship as one. Also, by mentioning the strong and weak points of both aspects (58), the author clearly states that neither of them is perfect, but a better solution could be brought about by fusing them together.

Second, the author provides reasons why worship should be contextualized. Perhaps, one of the most prominent reasons to support this would be his theological conviction on contextualization as it is found in the communal life of the Trinity (18-20). By illustrating the interpersonal relationships between the persons of the Godhead, the idea of giving space for particularity, while moving collectively toward salvation, is clearly highlighted. It also emphasizes the Church’s role in missions as reflecting the communal life of the Trinity.

Third, Lomax presents the advantages of keeping traditional worship elements in contextualized worship. He elevates the meaning of liturgical acts in the Church of England by pointing out the fact that God’s narrative lies in them (48). Also, by reminding readers that the liturgical tradition is heavy with the expression of mission (55), the place of tradition in worship is clearly established.

Lomax continues to assert that worship can be contextualized within the frame of the Anglican liturgical tradition. Creativity, he suggests, is an essential device for blending old and new. This notion is accentuated by the biblical truth that God is the Creator. Since everyone is made in God’s image, they ought to be creative in forming missional worship (97). The author also suggests keeping a balance to avoid worship wars. Terms such as “bend it like Beckham” (60) and “freedom within a framework” (62) are used to support the idea of keeping the context and tradition in balance.

Continuing the concept of fusing the two, the author writes on the concept of “worship that goes out” (77). By addressing the need to provide various worship acts for people with different learning styles (96), the idea of engaging with people from all kinds of backgrounds is emphasized. In opposition to worship that only serves church members, throughout the book the author frequently uses the terms “concert worship” and “one-size fits all worship” in order to avoid creating the kind of worship the terms represent. The idea of engaging with a diversity of people is also supported by several building blocks that will promote blending of context and tradition (78-103). Such building blocks include thoroughly Trinitarian, disciple-making, expressing generosity, inspiring creativity, attractively authentic, etc. All these aspects strongly reinforce the author’s standpoint that worship should draw individuals with different backgrounds to the church.

Finally, the author presents the picture of how missional worship should be in practice. A number of examples for alternative worship is provided within this content, the author claiming that “worship, prayer, and fellowship are by no means confined to our church building and services” (127). With such a strong conviction on reaching out to unchurched people, Lomax offers mission-oriented styles of worship, such as Liquid Worship (20), Eucharist in café-style worship (116), interview in worship (122), using movie clips (124), etc. These examples clearly reflect the author’s argument for creating worship that engages with people where they are.

The author puts a heavy emphasis on creativity in missional worship, and he does this very effectively. Throughout the book, several suggestions and examples of creative styles of worship are provided, some of which, if not all, appear to be usable and practical. An example of this would be an outdoor men’s retreat, which he calls “Band of Brothers” (69), that is designed for men to spend time learning about how they can meet with God in the wild.

Although a multitutde of creative ideas for worship are presented well, these ideas appear to be rooted in the author’s own suppositions. Focusing on the subject of Christian public worship, a book like this could have explored more on the biblical foundations of worship. Apart from stating that missional worship should reflect the characteristics of the triune God, the reader is not informed about worship according to biblical norms. Every time the issues rising from contextual or traditional aspects of worship are discussed, blending the two with creativity is taken as the sole solution for solving those problems. Again, the reader’s expectation to see what the Bible says about these issues is not provided.

One other concern is that the author seems to take inculturation to an extreme level in some of the contexts presented in the book. While creativity is given great weight in missional worship, some of the provided suggestions seem to be focusing too much on attracting people instead of leading people to experience Christian values through worship. One example would be worshipers texting their confessions to a central number and receiving back an absolution in the form of a text message (68). Even in outlining the contents of the book, only the question of how much weight should tradition be given in fusing the two is taken into consideration, but the same question is not raised for contextualization. This appears to contradict the important concept of balance between context and tradition in fusing them.

Despite the weaknesses mentioned above, the book is a useful resource for evangelism, and it is readable and very practical. An appendix includes programs of the worship styles presented throughout the book allowing for the service orders to be seen clearly. Because some of the subject matters discussed in the book appear to be revolutionary, it should be read with some caution. Other than this, many ideas displayed in the book can be a fresh insight for church ministers and worship leaders in creating worship that engages people from both inside and outside the church.

Ruth Aung
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Posted in Book Reviews

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