Worship in the Way of the Cross: Leading Worship for the Sake of Others

Worship in the Way of the Cross: Leading Worship for the Sake of Others, by John Frederick. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2017. 208 pp. Kindle. $10.79.

John Frederick, an assistant professor and the worship arts coordinator in the College of Theology at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona, argues in Worship in the Way of the Cross that Jesus, God’s cruciform love, is the agent who transforms the chaotic state of the world. His personal experiences as a full-time musician in secular settings and as music minister in churches have prompted him to write this book in the hope and conviction of a high applicability of Christian theological and doctrinal knowledge to present realities. Integrating the discussion of theological, cultural, and musical materials into personal stories and biblical narratives, he centers primary Christian doctrines around Jesus’ cruciform love, ranging from salvation by faith, to sanctification, to evangelism. God’s way for the restoration of the world is “paradoxically founded upon an instrument of death, the cross” (166–67). God has charged the church with the gospel task of the manifestation and embodiment of the cruciform love, Jesus’ sacrificial love the crucifixion, to make a transformative impact on the world.

God invites the church to participate in worship, the process of “communal conformity to the crucified God, Jesus, that is, cruciformation” (451–52). Spiritual formation, being transformed by Jesus’ sacrificial love on the cross, requires two primary conditions: the church, or a community, and worship. What he means by worship in this context takes on a broader meaning applied to everyday life beyond weekly corporate worship. The process of cruciformation consists of knowing God through cruciform love, worshiping Him communally, walking in His way, and building up a Christlike character. As Colossians 3:9–17 suggests, when taking off the old man, Adam, and putting on the new man, Christ, the church, as one united body under Jesus as its headship, becomes more equipped to purify and impact the polluted world. This intrapersonal sanctification should be followed by or coincide with a series of requirements for interpersonal sanctification.

The cruciform love of Jesus leads the church to develop interpersonal cruciformity and familiarizes itself with “applying the theology of cruciformational worship to actions as the people of God at worship through liturgy” (2207–8). Modeling after the Triune God, the church should hone relationships “between the worship leader and other congregants and between the worship leader and other ministry leaders” (1708–10). Whereas intrapersonal relationships may belong to vertical worship outside the corporate worship context, four liturgical elements, prayer, preaching, sacrament, and song, transpire in the context of corporate worship. Through the enactment and reception of Jesus’ love in the sequence of the four actions based on God’s Word, the church makes the presence of Jesus possible, which Frederick termed “the ecclesio-pneumatic ideation of Jesus Christ” (2230–31). The church armors itself in cruciform love through the sequence of intra- and interpersonal sanctification.

The fully cruciformed church should take the next step of cruciformission to spread the radical transformative love to the spiritual wilderness, the world. As a cruciformative agent and “holy troublemakers, the church manifests the cruciform God, which creates eschatological, transformational tension and collision” (2796–97). Representing a counterculture, it continues to march on with the empowering mediation of the Holy Spirit. Once part of the world but now reconciled by Jesus, a group of plural individuals, the church as His body, have turned themselves into reconciled reconcilers, building up “gospel inertia” (2809).

One of the peculiarities of this book derives from the way Frederick articulates his arguments, interweaving his own personal and experiential stories as well as biblical narratives within the academic, theological, and cultural discussion. In employing his own stories, he inclines his writing styles heavily toward colloquialism. This may facilitate the understanding of the academically focused book for readers who lack background knowledge, though his in-depth theological explanations of scriptural words made on an etymological, semantic, and grammatical level function as another facilitator for readers to “discover the implications and coherence of their various thoughts” (151) by engaging in narratives. Achieving rapport with readers depends on whether they have the same or similar cultural background, either direct or indirect. However, telling stories and engaging in stories can create ripple effects, in that both can serve as eyeglasses of clarity with which to understand his arguments better.

As opposed to other arguments of Frederick, the one about creating “cruciformational counterculture through the crucifixion of subcultural sameness” (1595–96) lacks substantial theological or academic support. The same is true of his suggestions for “improvisation and spontaneous Spirit-led creation” (1542) and “the initiation of a renaissance in the church with the best in art, culture, philosophy, and thought” (1587) for methodological approaches for contemporary worship. Those suggestions may entail some negative implications: a high variability in interpretations caused by improvisation and spontaneity in music, a semantic implication of the word “renaissance” as humanism countering theism, the propensity of the pursuit of high art to exclude artistic laity or amateurs in the church, and a high possibility of the compromise with worldliness. Nor does he articulate how they can result in cruciformational and counter-cultural impacts upon contemporary secular culture and present sufficient substantiation of his advocacy for why such a counterculture is, in his terms, cruciformational, worshiping in the way of cross. In addition to all these, the overall chapter under the title of “cultivating a counterculture of cruciform worship” may engender further controversies.

God calls His people through His radical love, reconciles them to Himself, blesses them to sanctify themselves in His image, and qualifies them to become reconcilers themselves on His behalf. This book can probably embrace a wide range of readership; regardless of their intellectual level, anybody who is a Christian or interested in Christianity can absorb it without much difficulty, in that it contains a variety of real-life stories related to the topics of his discussion. Particularly, church leadership, including pastoral leaders and musical leaders, will benefit from it most. However, those who are not familiar with American secular popular music culture may find some difficulties in understanding some stories. One of the values that readers can garner from this book lies in its exploration of God’s love represented through Jesus’ crucifixion with its integration into contemporary Christian religious practices, since it can work as a reminder of foundational and essential elements of Christianity to those who seek to place contemporary Christian worship practices on the right path as God prescribed.

Myunghee Lee
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Posted in Book Reviews

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