Ethnodoxology with Robin Harris


On February 26, the School of Church Music at Southwestern Seminary hosted Dr. Robin Harris who is an assistant professor of the Graduate Institute of applied Linguistics (GIAL) and the president of the International Council of Ethnodoxologists (ICE). She spoke on the subject, “Good music” and “good worship”: How understanding non-universals can inform the contextualization debates in the North American church and beyond.

Having grown up in Alaska as the daughter of missionary parents, Harris developed a passion for sharing the gospel and also for music.  Although she kept her passions separate in her own ministry with her husband as a missionary in Russia, the musical and cultural divide between the people groups they were called to reach caused her to seek training to combine missions and music with study in ethnomusicology.

Dr. Harris listed three historical approaches to arts in missions:

  1. Bring it—Teach it. This method teaches his/her art to a Christian community with relatively little influence from the indigenous music of the community. There was a general decline in positive feedback from the colonialist approach that led to
  2. Build a Bridge. This approach connects arts to the Christian and the non-Christian community. There is some influence from the indigenous music, which eventually leads to
  3. Find it—Encourage it. In this model, the missionary learns the arts community and assists the people in creating within their own indigenous musical style. This approach requires a long-term relationship between the missionary and the people to develop and flourish.

“Ethnodoxology” is a relatively new term (1997) that Dr. Harris defines as the “study of the worship of God by peoples around the world.” The goal is to encourage all people to participate in worship using their own culture without having to adopt the culture of the missionary. Worshiping in “spirit and truth” (John 4) is the ultimate goal of the missionary for the people they are trying to reach for Christ.

Contrary to the common thought that music is a universal language, Dr. Harris believes that while there are universals within music, it is not a universal language but a universal phenomenon. While every culture has their own music and arts, there is no universal definition for the meaning of the music and arts that can be translated across to all people. She played several musical examples to illustrate that the meaning of the music to the performers in another culture was very different from the meaning of the music to our western or far eastern ears. Contextualization is essential to understand the people and learn their “heart language.” It is optimum for the missionary to be able to work within the “heart music language” of the people to eliminate unnecessary barriers to the gospel.

Western music may be a detrimental influence on reaching the people for Christ because of their political and/or cultural attitudes toward the outside group of people. They may reject the gospel merely on the basis of the music and culture the missionary brings to them. At the very least, they are unable to worship God to the fullest in their spirit unless they are using their “heart language.” Dr. Harris pointed out that while contextualization is important, compromise on theology and scripture is not acceptable. However, it is essential to make sure theology is able to intersect with the cultural aspects of the community. Care must also be taken to insure the appropriateness of the music for worship in regards to the associations the music may carry from the culture.

Dr. Harris presented a 1998 case study by Kersten Bayt Priest of two North Carolina churches attempting to merge. It was discovered in the process that although many theological, socio-economic, and educational factors were similar, their theology of worship was very disparate, causing the merger to fail. Dr. Harris’s conclusion was that much more time and thought needed to be invested in their attitudes towards each other’s worship style and that one cultural style should not dominate the other style. This concept needs to be applied within the States as well as around the world.

For further study, Dr. Harris recommended:

ICE website –
Krabill, James R, Frank Fortunato, Robin P Harris, and Brian Schrag, eds. Worship and Mission for the Global Church: An Ethnodoxology Handbook. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2013.
Articles by Ron Mann, Robin Harris, and James Krabill

Lori Danielson is a PhD student in the School of Church Music at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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Creative Motion: An Application of the Use of the Breathing Process in Performance


In a recent meeting of the Doctoral Colloquium of the School of Church Music at Southwestern Seminary, Dr. Robert Smith presented his work in the field of creative motion. Smith addressed the common misperception that in discussing creative motion he would not be addressing movement, but rather using motion as an internal idea. Smith said to define simply, music is nothing but the sound of motion. Creative motion then is coordinating the performer’s inner self to the motion that exists within a piece of music.

The art of playing with creative motion cannot be learned through a series of exercises or rudiments, rather it must be learned through experience and in conjunction with other areas of musicianship. Human thought is characterized by expansion not linearly but in multiple directions with multiple starting points. It is in this non-linear manner that one must be led to discover the energy of creative motion. Although elements of creative motion may overlap with the Alexander method, Feldenkrais, and Dalcroze, it is its own method.

Those seeking more information on creative motion will find a host of resources on the Creative Motion Alliance’s website.

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Call for Papers


The editorial team of Artistic Theologian is pleased to extend a general call for papers for the third volume of our peer-review journal, due to be published in the spring of 2015.

We are looking for articles and book reviews on the subjects of worship, music, music ministry, culture, aesthetic, and related subjects.

Articles for the journal should generally be about 4,000 to 8,000 words and should be submitted to the Managing Editor. Articles should use clear, concise English, following Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, 7th edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007) for proper stylistic format. They should be submitted electronically as an email attachment using Microsoft Word (.doc or .docx extensions) or Rich Text Format (.rtf extension). Special characters should use a Unicode font.

Click here to download the most recent journal style guidelines for more detailed information.

Book reviews for the journal should be between 700 and 900 words.

We also accept essays, book reviews, and general commentary for the blog.

Please send your submission to the Managing Editor.

Submissions for Volume 3 are due September 1, 2014.

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Spring 2014 Worship Courses at Southwestern


Classes for the spring semester get started at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary this Thursday, and we’re looking forward to a great semester! We’ve got a great new group of students, and I personally am looking forward to getting to know each of them.

We in the Worship and Ministry department are gearing up to teach some great courses this spring, and I thought I’d highlight what we’re doing and even provide the syllabuses for the courses I’m teaching.

Congregational Song

taught by Scott Aniol

This is a course required of all of our masters students, and it covers the history of the congregational song from the Old Testament Canticles to the present. I also discuss the various philosophical debates that have arisen in the area of congregational singing through the history of the church in order to help the students address similar issues in their own ministries.

The course requirements consist of readings, two book reviews, three exams, planning a leading a worship service, and an online discussion component.

Here are the books required for the course:

Aniol, Scott. Worship in Song: a Biblical Approach to Worship and Music. Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 2008. (WIS)

Eskew, Harry. Sing With Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Hymnology. Second. Nashville: Genevox Music Group, 1995.

McAfee, Thomas, and John E. Simons, senior eds. Celebrating Grace Hymnal for Baptist Worship. Macon, GA: Celebrating Grace, Inc., 2010

Stapert, Calvin R. A New Song for an Old World: Musical Thought in the Early Church. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007.

Here is my syllabus for Congregational Song (MUMIN 4222), Wednesday/Friday at 8:30.

Philosophy in Worship Ministry

taught by Scott Aniol

This is the third of our basic, required courses (alongside Worship and Congregational Song). This course is a study of the philosophical and theological foundations of church music, culture, and aesthetics. Students are equipped to develop their own personal philosophy of music and worship along with a more general ministry philosophy that they would implement in their local church ministry.

The course consists primarily of reading, discussion, and essay exams. The students will also participate in a formal debate at the end of the semester.

Here are the books required for the course:

Aniol, Scott. Worship in Song: a Biblical Approach to Worship and Music. Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 2008.

Faulkner, Quentin. Wiser Than Despair: The Evolution of Ideas in the Relationship of Music and the Christian Church. 2nd ed. Simpsonville, SC: Religious Affections Ministries, 2012.

Johansson, Calvin M. Discipling Music Ministry: Twenty-First Century Directions. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1992.

Ryken, Philip Graham. Art for God’s Sake: A Call to Recover the Arts. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Pub., 2006.

VanDrunen, David. Living in God’s Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture. Wheaton: Crossway, 2010.

Wolters, Albert M. Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2005.

Additional required reading includes the following:

Aniol, Scott. “Toward a Biblical Understanding of Culture.” Artistic Theologian 1 (2012): 40–56.

Carson, D. A. Christ and Culture Revisited. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2008.

Corbitt, J. Nathan. The Sound of the Harvest: Musics Mission in Church and Culture. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998.

Kania, Andrew, “The Philosophy of Music”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).

Kivy, Peter. Introduction to a Philosophy of Music. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Makujina, John. Measuring the Music: Another Look at the Contemporary Christian Music Debate. Willow Street, PA: Old Paths Publications, 2002.

Myers, Kenneth. All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Christians and Popular Culture. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1989.

Snoeberger, Mark A. “Noetic Sin, Neutrality, and Contextualization: How Culture Receives the Gospel.” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 9 (2004): 345–78.

Here is my syllabus for Philosophy in Music Ministry (MUMIN 4312), Tuesdays/Thursdays at 11:30.

Seminar in World Cultures and Congregational Song

taught by Scott Aniol

This is a doctoral seminar that integrates cross-cultural studies with congregational song. It lays a foundation of fundamental philosophical categories necessary for articulating a biblical methodology of contextualizing congregational song in foreign context and equips students to evaluate current research and writing in the fields of global worship and ethnodoxology.

I’m particularly excited about this seminar, because I’ve decided to structure the course around the collaborative writing of a literature review and proposal for further research in the fields of global and worship and ethnodoxology that the class will then submit to Artistic Theologian for possible publication.

Here are the required texts that will begin the course. The students will be adding to this list other reading that they discover and use to contribute to the class discussion and literature review.

Hesselgrave, David J., and Edward Rommen. Contextualization: Meanings, Methods, and Models. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2003.

Krabill, James R, Frank Fortunato, Robin P Harris, and Brian Schrag, eds. Worship and Mission for the Global Church: An Ethnodoxology Handbook. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2013.

Here is my syllabus for Seminar in World Cultures and Congregational Song (MUMIN 7183), Tuesdays at 7:30.

Reformation and Postmodernism

taught by John Simons

This course is a study of the philosophy, music, and forms used in corporate worship during the Reformation as related to twenty-first-century worship issues.

Worship Resources

taught by Robert Pendergraft

This is a practicum course taught by one of our PhD students. It is a practical study and application of resources for personal and corporate worship.

Worship Arts

taught by David Toledo

This practicum, taught by one of our adjunct instructors, focuses on using various forms of art in corporate worship.

Doctoral Colloquium

I also have the opportunity to oversee our doctoral colloquium program. This course meets once per week and is required of all our doctoral students. The year is divided between guest lectures by our faculty and others and paper presentations from our own students. This is a great chance for our doctoral students (faculty and masters students often attend as well) to benefit from the work others have done as well as hone their own skills in research, writing, and presentation.

We have a great line-up of speakers this semester:

1/29 Dr. Bob Smith of our piano faculty will address the colloquium.

2/5 Dr. John Simons will speak on developing an undergraduate music curriculum.

2/13 Dr. Don Wyrtzen

2/26 Robin Harris, coordinator of the World Arts Program at the Graduate Institute of Applied Liguistics will speak about global worship and ethnodoxology

3/7-3/8 Our students will attend the regional meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society

3/19 I will speak on the relationship between worship music and denominationalism.

3/26 Our dean, Leo Day, will address the colloquium.

If you are in the Fort Worth area for any of these dates, you are welcome to join us at 11:30 in BL101 in the School of Church Music building!

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Receive a Master of Arts in Worship without having to relocate


This week I am in the midst of teaching an intensive block class called “Biblical Foundations of Worship and Culture.” Although teaching 8:30-4 each day is tiring, I actually enjoy classes like this that enable me to communicate a lot of big ideas in a short amount of time, which I think helps students grasp some connections that are often otherwise more difficult over the course of a semester.

I also enjoy it because it allows me to interact with and impact students who are not on campus during the normal semester since their current ministry position prevents relocation at this time.

This course is part of a degree called the Master of Arts in Worship, which allows pastors, church musicians, and other church leaders to pursue education in theology and worship without having to end their ministry and relocate to Fort Worth. Students take all of their theology and biblical studies courses (including Systematic Theology I & II, OT, NT, and Baptist History) online, and then they come for week long blocks in January and July to take their worship and practical courses.

The worship courses, which I am involved with teaching, include the following:

  • Biblical Foundations of Worship and Culture
  • Congregational Song: Ancient and Future
  • Dynamics of Worship and Philosophy
  • Worship Arts: Authentic Expressions and Faith

If you would like education in theology and worship studies, but cannot relocate due to current ministry or employment, I’d highly recommend that you consider enrolling in this degree! You can find more information here.

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Volume 2 of Artistic Theologian is now available!

AT Volume 2 (2013)

The School of Church Music at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is pleased to announce the publication of Volume 2 of The Artistic Theologian, a peer-reviewed journal of ministry and worship arts! The issue has seven outstanding articles plus sixteen book reviews. See below for descriptions of each article and links to them.

You may download the full journal as a PDF or doc (for importing into Logos Bible Software) by clicking below, or view each article individually using the links below.

Download Full PDF | Download Logos doc (help)

Call for Papers

We invite you to submit an article for our next edition (Spring 2015). Specific format and submission information are found here. Please join us, make a significant contribution to worship and artistic ministry, and engage in the tasks God has given to every believer. Submissions are due by August 1, 2014, and please send your submission to the Managing Editor.


Editorial: Worship Ministry: An Intersection of Ideas
Scott Aniol
Scott-thumb-300x300Worship and church music ministry is a complex and often challenging task, similar to (or, some would suggest, a subset of) pastoral ministry. Likely the most significant reason for this is that it finds itself at the intersection of biblical investigation, philosophical inquiry, historical reflection, and real-life practical realities. Yet few people (especially busy ministers) devote themselves to a thorough grasp of essential ideas in each of these critical arenas. Most ministers of music and worship recognize the importance of understanding what Scripture has to say about their work, yet they may have little time to wrestle through philosophical quandaries or trudge through the bogs of history past. On the other hand, students and scholars of worship and music ministry may relish the hours of research as they prepare to debate the finer points of aesthetic philosophy or pontificate about liturgical theory, but they remain chained in their ivory towers, unable to direct their efforts to the practical life of local church ministry.

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Jesus, Our True Worship Leader
Ron Man
In Galatians 3:3, Paul poses to his readers a rhetorical question: “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” To Paul the obvious answer is: Having begun by the Spirit (through “hearing with faith,” Gal 3:2), of course you’re not now perfected by the flesh! In fact, Paul declares that it would be “foolish” for the Galatians to think so. Having begun by the Spirit, the continuing work of being perfected will be undergirded by the Spirit as well. Paul is highlighting an important principle of the Christian faith: God commits Himself to complete the good work He has begun in us (Phil 1:6). The Holy Spirit comes alongside to work in us and with us in the process of living the Christian life.

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Why Worship Leaders Should Study Theology
David M. Toledo
In his article titled “Why Pastors Should Be Learned in Worship and Music” in volume one of Artistic Theologian, Kevin T. Bauder offered nine propositions outlining the necessity of musical and doxological training for pastors. The present work serves as a companion piece to Bauder’s thoughtful rationale and seeks to offer a similar argument for the theological training of worship leaders and church musicians. My observations and insights emerge from more than fifteen years of worship leadership in the local church and nearly a decade of graduate theological training. Whereas Bauder proposes the immense benefit of musical and worship instruction for a pastor without deeming it a necessity, it is my belief that a worship leader cannot possibly hope to have a long-term ministry that guides a congregation in worship informed by biblical principles, provides a vehicle for spiritual formation, and serves as a consistent Gospel witness without some level of theological training. The essential nature of theological training for the worship leader finds support from the witness of Scripture, the nature of worship itself, the structure and content of worship, the pastoral role of the worship leader, and the example of hundreds of years of Christian history.

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Biblical Studies

“Lifting Holy Hands”: Nuance, Nuisance, or Error? A Biblical Theology of the Practice of Lifting Hands in Worship
Calvin Pearson
PearsonWorship practices have dramatically changed in evangelical churches during the last two decades. Drums and guitars have moved from the Friday night youth services to Sunday morning. The choir has set aside its robes and hymnbooks and has shrunk to an ensemble called a worship team. Conservative evangelical members are clapping and lifting hands in praise. Even a well-seasoned pastor can be seen lifting his hands, though often in a discreet waist-level opening of the palms in an upward direction. Some people are uncomfortable with hands being lifted during worship services because it is new. Others are irritated because they see lifting hands in worship as a move towards rowdy behavior. While still others are distressed because they see it as a move toward a charismatic worship tradition that they believe might be theologically incorrect. However, those worshipers lifting hands are not trying to offend; rather, they are just expressing themselves. Some even justify “lifting hands” by quoting Scripture and saying that Christians are commanded to worship in this way.

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Liturgy in the Pastoral Epistles
Gregory J. Stiekes
The public worship of the first-century church has long been a subject of scholarly interest. However, we still know surprisingly little about what actually took place by way of formal order when the community of faith gathered. For one, gatherings took place mainly in house churches, away from the eyes of society at large. Second, although there is much to observe about the practice of the Christian community in the NT, there is comparatively little in the way of a detailed liturgy, and we should be duly cautious about the tendency to assume that a set order for public worship was practiced empire-wide in the early church. Third, we should be equally guarded about assuming the liturgy discussed by the Apostolic Fathers was practiced the first century, since we cannot establish for certain what traditions they represent, nor how widespread those traditions were. Given these challenges, the most that we can do toward establishing the liturgical content of first-century Christian assemblies is cull and examine those elements of worship discernible in the NT documents, where the authors address specific communities with individual issues or “crisis points.” With this goal in mind, scholars have given much attention to public worship in writings such as Acts or the Corinthian Letters—those portions of the NT that contain major evidence for early Christian baptism, the Lord’s Table, singing, and gathering in general. But the NT writings such as the Pastoral Epistles, in which the subject of worship does not appear to be a central idea, are often marginalized in the relevant literature. This is unfortunate, for if the NT authors address specific issues—including matters of public worship—in response to ad hoc situations as they arise in Christian communities, then focusing only on the major texts may cause us to overlook or ignore vital lessons of first-century Christian worship discernible in other contexts. The purpose of this essay, therefore, is to call attention to liturgical elements of worship in the Pastorals in particular, and to make observations about early Christian liturgy as seen within these epistles’ unique setting.

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Forging Musical Boundaries: The Contribution of 1 Corinthians 14:6-11 and Exodus 32:17-18 to a Christian Philosophy of Music
John Makujina
MakujinaAlthough references to music and musical instruments in Scripture abound, their appropriation in the ongoing music wars leaves something to be desired. Often texts are carelessly mustered to support the views of both purists and progressives, resulting in unrealistic polarities: the sacred music of the Bible is regarded as either a carbon copy of the hymns of Wesley and Watts or the bouncy forerunner of rock and roll. Neither position is sustainable. Scriptural witnesses to music seldom yield that level of correspondence and most have only limited value in the debate. When they do contribute, they most often do so obliquely. Nevertheless, it is necessary to call attention to two passages that furnish indirect but important insights for our evaluation of musical styles—bearing especially on the question of anti-music within Christian culture: 1 Corinthians 14:6–11 and Exodus 32:17–18. By means of these texts, this article will argue for the following points: 1) 1 Corinthians 14:6–11 and Exodus 32:17–18 provide normative guidelines relevant to current discussions of music and its parameters; 2) musical parameters can be violated, resulting in a concomitant deterioration of musical quality and integrity; 3) in extreme cases these violations can result in anti-music; 4) anti-music, which has both biblical and modern manifestations, is rebuked by these texts.

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The Martyr’s Song: The Hymnody of the Early Swiss Brethren Anabaptists
Preston Lee Atwood
AtwoodThe accessible scholarly treatment of Anabaptist hymnody in the past one-hundred years has been modest with respect to quantity, with some keynote publications appearing a decade or more apart. Published academic work has focused on broad categories of interest, such as A. J. Ramaker’s “Hymns and Hymn Writers among the Anabaptists of the Sixteenth Century,” and Harold S. Bender’s short yet often-cited “The Hymnology of the Anabaptists.” Characteristic of these publications and others is the historiographical trend to concentrate on those who penned the extant hymns, rather than the hymns themselves. A positive step in a more specific direction is the scholarly gravitation toward investigating the form and content of the martyr ballad, a particular and prevalent feature of hymnic expression practiced among the early persecuted Anabaptists. Some scholars have noted that further concentrated study of various categories of hymns and their authors, including both the historical occasions that birthed the hymns as well as their literary content, will help to achieve a deeper understanding of both the thought and passion of central Anabaptist figures and the spirit of the Radical Reformation movement as a whole. This essay, though far from exhaustive, is an attempt to fill some of the void unaddressed by those who have treated the subject of Anabaptist hymnology on a more general level. The attention herein is directed toward the early Swiss Brethren Anabaptists, namely, Felix Manz, George Blaurock, and Michael Sattler. Proposed in this paper is the thesis that the early Swiss Brethren hymns reveal much of the hearts of these men as well as the historical occasions these early Anabaptists experienced. This claim will be supported by examining and evaluating the provenance, purpose, and literary content of those hymns known to be written by early Swiss Brethren Anabaptists. An overall evaluation will highlight the emotional, historical, and theological continuity manifested in these hymns.

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William J. Reynolds: Extraordinary Church Musician
David W. Music
If the question were to be asked, “Who was the most influential Southern Baptist church musician in the second half of the twentieth century?” the answer would almost surely be William Jensen Reynolds. Reynolds served in music ministry in almost every conceivable capacity: as part- and full-time minister of music, as denominational leader, and as seminary professor. He was highly sought after as a choral and hymn director, was a prolific composer and arranger, served as a hymnal editor, and was highly regarded as a scholar and writer on hymnological subjects. In many respects, he represented the growth and maturity of church music as a profession and as a medium for worship in the evangelical world. The present article briefly traces Reynolds’s life and career and draws attention to some of his accomplishments in the field of church music. While church music, denominational life, and indeed the world itself have changed considerably since Reynolds’s time, his achievements provide an example of creativity, hard work, and faithfulness to the task that can serve as a model for church musicians today.

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Abstracts of Recent SWBTS School of Church Music Doctoral Dissertations

“The Mission of Worship: A Critique of and Response to the Philosophy of Culture, Contextualization, and Worship of the North American Missional Church Movement” by Scott Michael Aniol, PhD

“A Conductor’s Study of the Compositional Style of Dan Forrest As Illustrated by Analyses of in Paradisum… and Te Deum” by John Cornish, DMA

“Singing in San Francisco: Cultivating Choral Music from the Gold Rush to the 1906 Earthquake” by Ellen Olsen George, PhD

“Imaging God in Private and Corporate Worship: The Imago Dei as a Divine Call to All Believers” by David M. Toledo, PhD

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Gospel-Shaped Worship: A Review of Recent Literature
Scott Aniol

Christ-Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape Our Practice, by Bryan Chapell; Story-Shaped Worship: Following Patterns from the Bible and History, by Robbie F. Castleman; Rhythms of Grace: How the Church’s Worship Tells the Story of the Gospel, by Mike Cosper; Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works, by James K. A. Smith.

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TruemanThe Creedal Imperative
Carl R. Trueman



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Gospel-Shaped Worship: A Review of Recent Literature

Books reviewed: Christ-Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape Our Practice, by Bryan Chapell (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009); Story-Shaped Worship: Following Patterns from the Bible and History, by Robbie F. Castleman (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013); Rhythms of Grace: How the Church’s Worship Tells the Story of the Gospel, by Mike Cosper (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2013); Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works, by James K. A. Smith (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013). 

The gospel shape of Christian liturgy is receiving a decent amount of attention lately, including three volumes written in the past year. Each of these explores how the structure of Christian worship should follow (and, indeed, historically has followed) a similar outline that flows from a proper understanding of how we approach a holy God through the atonement of Christ by faith. These books follow in the tradition of other helpful treatments of the subject over the past several years, including Christ-Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape Our Practice by Bryan Chapell. This short essay will review Chapell’s work and the three most recent additions to the literature. ((Another example of a recent volume that articulates a gospel-shaped liturgy is Constance M Cherry, The Worship Architect: A Blueprint for Designing Culturally Relevant and Biblically Faithful Services (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010).))

ChapelBryan Chapell’s book is among the earliest of these recent treatments of gospel-shaped liturgy. ((This review of Christ-Centered Worship originally appeared in Themelios 34 (2009): 444–46.)) Chapell, noted homiletician, theologian, and author of the popular volume Christ-Centered Preaching (Baker, 1994), is president of Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO, the denominational seminary of the Presbyterian Church in America.

Chapell opens the book with a phrase that characterizes a presupposition true of each of the books under review: “Structures tell stories.” The underlying assumption of Chapell’s work is that the structure of our liturgy carries meaning, and therefore a Christian liturgy should communicate the message of the gospel. “Whether one intends it or not,” Chapell argues, “our worship patterns always communicate something” (18). He seeks to sidestep the prevalent traditional/contemporary worship debate by urging church leaders to allow gospel purposes to shape their worship—not only the content, but also the structure.

Chapell begins in the first six chapters by comparing and contrasting the most influential Christian liturgies in the history of Christianity: pre-Trent Rome (chap. 2), Luther (chap. 3), Calvin (chap. 4), Westminster (chap. 5), and modern (specifically Robert Rayburn’s; chap. 6). While demonstrating that these various liturgies certainly differ as they reflect the specifics of the theological systems in which they operate, Chapell’s aim is to show that “where the truths of the gospel are maintained there remain commonalities of worship structure that transcend culture” (8). He shows that no matter the differences, each liturgy contains common elements: adoration, confession, assurance, thanksgiving, petition, instruction, charge, and blessing (98–99). Not only are the elements common, but their progression also remains consistent among the liturgies. Chapell argues that this is the case because each liturgy “reflects the pattern of the progress of the gospel in the heart” (99). A person recognizes the greatness of God (adoration), which leads him to see his need for confession of sin. He then receives assurance of pardon in the gospel through the merits of Christ, and he responds with thanksgiving and petition. God then gives his Word in response to the petition (instruction), leading to a charge to obey its teaching and promise of blessing. This common liturgical structure, telling the story of the gospel, “re-presents” the gospel each time God’s people worship (99).

Chapell continues in chapter seven by demonstrating that such a liturgical structure is present not only in historical liturgies but also in scriptural examples. He surveys Isaiah’s worship (Isa 6), Sinai worship (Deut 5), Solomon’s worship (2 Chr 5–7), Temple worship (Lev 9), New Testament (NT) spiritual worship (Rom 11–15), and eschatological worship (Rev 4–21) to illustrate that in each case these same common liturgical elements appear in progression. Chapell is not arguing that with each case the liturgy was consciously meant to communicate the gospel or that such liturgies are prescriptive but that “there are regular and recognizable features to God’s worship because there is continuity in his nature and the way he deals with his people” (105). Thus, even historical liturgies contain common elements, not because any one authority or tradition has controlled how all churches should worship, but because a “gospel-formed path always puts us in contact with God’s glory, our sin, his provision, our response, and his peace. By walking a worship path in step with the redemptive rhythm we simultaneously discover the pattern of our liturgy and the grace of our Savior” (115).

This then leads Chapell to insist that “where the gospel is honored, it shapes worship. No church true to the gospel will fail to have echoes of these historic liturgies” (25). He summarizes the flow of his argument:

The liturgies of the church through the ages and the consistent message of Scripture combine to reveal a pattern for corporate worship that is both historical and helpful for our time. Christian worship is a “re-presentation” of the gospel. By our worship we extol, embrace, and share the story of the progress of the gospel in our lives. We begin with adoration so that all will recognize the greatness and goodness of God. In the light of his glory, we also recognize our sin and confess our need of his grace. Assurance of his pardon produces thanksgiving. With sincere thanksgiving, we also become aware that all we have is from him and that we depend on his goodness for everything precious in our lives. Thus, we are compelled to seek him in prayer for our needs and his kingdom’s advance. His loving intercession makes us desire to walk with him and further his purposes, so our hearts are open to his instruction and long to commune with him and those he loves. This progress of the gospel in our lives is the cause of our worship and the natural course of it. We conclude a service of such worship with a Charge and Benediction because the progress of the gospel is God’s benediction on our lives. (116)

This doesn’t necessarily mean that every element will be emphasized equally (111), nor does it imply that there is never room for changing the structure (147). In fact, Chapell provides helpful examples of how “as long as its gospel purpose is fulfilled, each aspect of a Christ-centered liturgy may be expressed through a variety of worship components” (147–49). Again, the medium is something that is shaped by the message, not a structure artificially imposed upon the message.

Chapters 9–12 are dedicated to exploring how this kind of gospel-informed thinking about worship can help church leaders move beyond simply personal preferences or tradition to make decisions about their worship that will best communicate the gospel, both to believers and unbelievers alike. Chapell addresses controversial issues such as musical style, reverence vs. relevance, and seeker-sensitivity, attempting to show how in each case, an allegiance to Christ-centered worship will help those involved come to a unified consensus (130–35).

In the second half of the book (chaps. 13–24), Chapell provides helpful resources for the implementation of Christ-centered worship, including specific examples of the various components (e.g., call to worship, affirmation of faith, confession of sin), example service orders across a broad spectrum of traditions, and discussion of some of the more controversial practical matters (e.g., frequency of communion, Scripture readings, preaching styles, and musical styles). In each discussion Chapell attempts to allow the gospel to relieve the tensions.

In Christ-Centered Worship Bryan Chapell presents an engaging exploration of how the gospel should shape Christian worship. Although one may disagree in some areas of specific application, pastors especially will certainly benefit from an approach to worship that is richly conservative (e.g., an appreciation for and desire to conserve what has come before), biblical, and Christ-centered. Chapell’s work has had significant impact upon other recent writings, especially Cosper’s Rhythms of Grace.

CastlemanOne of the books that presents a helpful balance between deep insight and accessibility is Robbie F. Castleman’s Story-Shaped Worship. A professor of biblical studies and theology at John Brown University, Castleman seeks to counteract the individualism prevalent in worship today (189) by articulating a theology of worship that finds its “story” not in the individual and his preferences, but in the shape of the gospel itself “outlined in Scripture, enacted in Israel, refocused in the New Testament community of the early church, regulated and guarded by the apostolic fathers, [and] recovered in the Reformation” (14).

Toward this end, Castleman progressively builds a case for worship that is an ordered (chap. 1) reenactment of the gospel (chap. 2) in a sacred space (chap. 3) according to God’s Word (chaps. 4–5, 7) that results in obedience to God’s will (chap. 6). This particular worship pattern, she argues in Part Two, continued to be nurtured in the patristic church (chap. 8), by the Reformers (chap. 9), and still shapes worship in some traditions even today (chap. 10).

Castleman begins formulating this understanding by arguing that the ordered rhythm rooted in creation (48) provides “a significant bedrock aspect of liturgical development” (34) since, just as “what one does and how one does it really is indicative of who one is and what one truly believes,” similarly “how people worship . . . does reflect what they truly believe about the God they worship” (30). Thus, just as God created the cosmos in an “orderly, sequential fashion” (32), even so one who truly believes in this God will worship him in an ordered way that reflects the character of the Creator.

The worship of Israel reveals the particular shape of such ordered worship as one of reenactment. Everything about Israel’s worship, from the tabernacle construction to the sacrificial system (80–81), displays the essence of their worship as “remembering how the Lord God had delivered them and reenacting this deliverance” (43) through seven primary elements: call to worship, praise and adoration, confession, declaration of God’s good news, the Word of the Lord, responding to God’s Word, and the benediction (81–87). This kind of reenactment continues in the New Testament (58) and provides a means to “reflect the biblical story that is central to a congregation’s identity as God’s people,” to “serve as a corrective to worship which is designed mainly for the contemporary concerns of a congregation,” and to “celebrate the character of God and his redemptive work in the world” (58–59).

This requires establishing a “set apart” space and time for such reenactment (73) that “helps worshipers worship and does not distract their attention from the worship of God” (66). Castleman rejects the popular repudiation of a sacred/secular distinction in favor of “all-of-life worship,” insisting that “when ‘worship’ means anything that anyone does, it tends to mean very little in terms of what pleases God” (74). Rather, she argues that a sacred space allows the worship to “reflect, even if imperfectly, God’s holiness and character” (64).

Nevertheless, corporate worship that follows the biblical pattern also affects life outside the sacred space, for “this liturgy is a godly rhythm for the whole of life” (91). Since the pattern acts out the gospel, and since the gospel motivates godly living (Tit 2:12–14), regular reenactment of this “story” on a weekly basis will shape the worshiper by the gospel. And since this is the pattern set forth in Scripture, ordering worship according to this structure “helps God’s people steer clear of the ambiguity of using worship as a tool to fulfill their own desires” (97).

The book presents a case for gospel-shaped liturgy similar to the other recent volumes under review, but in a clear and accessible manner that does not sacrifice depth. Castleman builds her argument progressively in a way that is convincing and very easy to follow. Her clarion call to evangelical churches to abandon worship shaped by the market in favor of worship ordered by Scripture is refreshing and much needed.

The most glaring weakness of the book is the absence of Communion in Castleman’s sevenfold worship pattern. Communion with God is the essence of worship, beginning at the Garden, pictured in the Hebrew feasts, and culminating in the Lord’s Table. Indeed, it should be the climax of any gospel-shaped liturgy, for in eating at the Table of the Lord, we picture his acceptance of us through Christ by faith. The other puzzling item with how Castleman presents her case is her rejection on the one hand of the regulative principle of worship in favor of what she calls the “canonical theological approach to worship” (19), compared with her insistence on the other hand that worship must be “by the book” for “maintaining a right relationship with God and for offering worship that honors God’s character” (97). Perhaps she believes that she needs to reject the regulative principle in order to follow the gospel-shaped liturgy she proposes, not realizing that while the regulative principle protects the God-approved elements of worship, it nevertheless allows for flexibility in the order of worship.

Story-Shaped Worship strikes a healthy balance between the depth of argument in James K. A. Smith’s Imagining the Kingdom, which would be difficult to follow for an average layperson, and the popular accessibility of Mike Cosper’s Rhythms of Grace, which makes a good argument but doesn’t explore the issue as fully. In many ways it resembles Bryan Chapell’s Christ-Centered Worship, but Castleman presents a more robust biblical argument than Chapell, who spends more time examining the historic liturgies. Thus, I highly recommend Castleman’s book for pastors and church musicians as a thorough but readable introduction to gospel-shaped liturgy.

RhythmsofGrace_Cover_Final_forewordCosper’s Rhythms of Grace targets a more popular audience than Castleman or Smith and evidences clear influence by Chapell and Smith’s previous work, Desiring the Kingdom. Cosper, pastor of worship and arts at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Kentucky, roots his discussion of Christian liturgy in the Creation-Fall-Redemption-Consummation motif that he suggests summarizes the gospel and governs the storyline of Scripture. This biblical theme should inform Christian liturgy, Cosper argues, “because the gospel is all about worship” (26).

Cosper explores this motif in the first four chapters of the book, contrasting in Chapter 5 what he believes to be a biblical model of worship with what worship looks like in most evangelical churches today, and he explains in Chapter 7 what he considers contributed to problems in contemporary worship. Chapter 6 reveals the influence of Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom in his argument that the goal of gathering in worship is to provide habits that will aid in spiritual formation. Likewise, Cosper’s summary of the shape of historical liturgy in Chapter 8 cites Chapell’s discussion. Chapters 9 and 10 break from the primary argument of the work thus far developed to address the matters of singing in worship and the worship leader’s responsibilities as pastor.

Although Cosper clearly builds off other work in his popular presentation, his discussion of the Creation-Fall-Redemption-Consummation biblical structure does contribute a metanarrative approach to the subject, and he offers an informative chart that moves beyond Chapell by illustrating how Chapell’s more specific liturgical shape fits in the larger structure (123).

Cosper’s description of what led to a neglect of a gospel-shaped liturgy is also very helpful, and because of the accessible nature of his writing, this portion in particular could provide a healthy corrective for churches today. He correctly identifies one of the primary roots of problems with evangelical worship with Revivalism, which he argues “transformed worship from the banquet hall to the concert hall” (111). He observes that most churches today use some form (intentionally or not) of the Wimber Temple/Tabernacle model of worship in which worship is essentially an experience of being “ushered into the presence of God.” Cosper argues that this is biblically and theologically inferior to the historic gospel-shaped liturgy that he is advocating (113).

The most puzzling part of Cosper’s work is the final two chapters. Rather than clearly fitting into the overarching argument of the book, it appears that Cosper simply appended these chapters because he felt the subjects needed to be discussed. The book would have been complete, and possibly even stronger, had he omitted these chapters. Chapter 10 is helpful on its own merits, but Cosper’s discussion of singing actually seems to contradict arguments earlier in the book. On the one hand, Cosper argues that worship creates habits that shape the believer either positively or negatively: “How we gather shapes who we are and what we believe, both explicitly (through the actual content of songs, prayers, and sermons) and implicitly (through the cultural ethos and personas)” (94). Yet in Chapter 9, even though he does acknowledge some weaknesses of contemporary songs today, he nevertheless continues to insist that musical form itself is neutral. This clearly contradicts his earlier discussion of how worship (even the “cultural ethos”) shapes us.

Nevertheless, Rhythms of Grace does provide an important and accessible explanation of why and how Christian liturgy should be shaped by the gospel. In some ways Cosper’s book may be even an improvement over Chapell’s since it explores more of the theological and biblical logic beneath a gospel-shaped liturgy rather than getting bogged down in discussions of  historic practice.

James K. A. Smith’s Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works, the second volume in a series that began with Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Baker Academic, 2009), is definitely the most philosophically dense of the books under review. A professor of philosophy at Calvin College, Smith seeks to explore in Imagining the Kingdom the nature of what worship does and argues that the repeated acts of Christian worship using appropriate forms that embody the biblical narrative shape us toward living out our mission.

SmithSmith builds from his argument in Desiring the Kingdom that humans are motivated, not primarily by what they think, but by what they desire. This realm of the affections and imagination is thus critically important for the formation of Christian virtue since knowledge is acquired more through intuition than proposition. Smith argues that this kind of shaping takes place in community through various habitual acts that orient our understanding of life, which leads to his description of human beings as “liturgical animals” (3). Thus corporate worship is significant for Christians, for it is these biblical liturgical acts that “draw the people of God into union with Christ in order to thereby shape, form, equip, and prime actors—doers of the Word” (6). Corporate worship does not target only the intellect, which Smith argues is a limited way of understanding Christian education (7); rather, worship shapes what we love, and “we do what we love” (12, emphasis original).

Smith builds on this foundation to argue that “the way to the heart is through the body, and the way into the body is through story” (14). He reasons that it is ultimately acting out story that shapes imagination (109) through metaphor (117) perceived through the senses. Liturgy is story, and “the truth of a story or poem is carried in its form, in the unique affect generated by its cadences and rhythm, in the interplay and resonances of the imaginative world it invokes, in the metaphorical inferences that I ‘get’ on a gut level” (134). In other words, for Smith the purpose of the shape of liturgy and of art within worship is not simply to express truth in an interesting way (160) but to embody an aesthetic reality that then shapes our conception of life in ways mere words cannot: “Form matters because it is the form of worship that tells the Story (or better, enacts the Story)” (168, emphasis original).

Imagination shaped by biblical story then leads us to actively live out that story, which Smith roots in the missio Dei, participating in the “cosmic redemption by which Christ is redeeming all things” (156). Thus corporate worship is the gathering in which we are sent out to participate in this mission in ways toward which we have been shaped in the act of worship itself. He summarizes his argument quite nicely:

The ultimate upshot of my argument is to suggest that educating for Christian action will require attending to the formation of our unconscious, to the priming and training of our emotions, which shape our perception of the world. And if such training happens through narratives, then education for Christian action will require an education that is framed by participation in the Christian story. Our shorthand term for such narrative practice is worship. (38, emphasis original)

Smith’s work presents an important corrective to common thinking in evangelicalism that minimizes the moral impact of liturgy and the arts as “contextual” matters that neutrally adorn central truth. Smith is quite correct when he insists that such perspective “misses the centrality and primacy of what we love” (7), or, I would add, how we love; there is a reason Scripture roots the Great Commandment in the realm of the affections (Matt 22:37). This emphasis on the affective provides the basis for Smith’s refreshing understanding of aesthetic form. Form matters for Smith; it is not amoral, for

the meaning of the work of art cannot be distinguished from its material form because such meaning is not just an ideal intellectual content that could be indiscriminately transposed from container to container. The material meaning of the work of art is bound up with its material form and is resonant with our own materiality, made sense of by our bodies. (60)

Thus that meaning shapes the imagination. For Smith, “the point isn’t that both form and content matter. The point is more radical than that: in some significant sense we need to eschew the form/content distinction” (169). The implication is that some kinds of art are incompatible with the aim of Christian worship, and thus some Christians “end up singing lyrics that confess Jesus is Lord accompanied by a tune that means something very different” (175, emphasis original). Furthermore, Smith provides a thoughtful basis for a view of common liturgy that recognizes the acting out of the gospel in worship as essentially formative in living out the gospel the rest of the week. Finally, Smith’s emphasis on a “handed down way of being shared among community” (81) is likewise a welcome corrective to contemporary repudiation of tradition and neglect of congregational participation in worship.

I find a few other of Smith’s arguments problematic, however. First, rooting Christian action in the missio Dei fails to recognize fundamental differences between God’s mission and what he has called the church to do specifically. This leads naturally to a second concern, and that is with Smith’s basis for Christian action found in cultural transformation, citizens of the kingdom of God “who act in the world as agents of renewal and redemptive culture-making” (6, emphasis original). This framework risks a neglect of the Great Commission in favor of a “cultural mandate,” which, contrary to Smith, are not equivalent (151). Smith would have been better rooting the end of worship in simply being “doers of the Word” (6) rather than the missio Dei and cultural transformation. Third, in discussing the body and emotion, Smith does not distinguish between visceral impulses and the spiritual affections. He seems to recognize a need for some sort of distinction (37, n13), but in reacting against “the rationalism born of the Enlightenment legacy,” he resorts to a “romantic” understanding of anthropology (46) rather than a biblical/pre-modern conception. Finally, although I agree wholeheartedly with Smith that imagination/affection is what motivates us to action and that action must be informed by right knowledge and beliefs, Smith seems to go too far, minimizing the critical importance of doctrine and beliefs summarized in propositional statements (173). On the contrary, the Great Commandment is predicated on the Shema—“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut 6:4); right love requires right belief.

Smith’s work is far-reaching in its implications, especially in its discussion of the importance of form for nurturing the imagination. His presentation is repetitive at times, which is sometimes helpful and other times distracting. Nevertheless, I would quickly recommend this work for pastors, church leaders, and students of worship for its important explanation of “how worship works.”

Each of these books provides welcome corrective to worship today that often has little biblical or theological structure or that is actually rooted in unbiblical philosophy. If I had to choose just one to recommend, I would choose Castleman’s book for its balance of scholarship and accessibility and its consistency in application of the underlying philosophy to issues such as musical form in worship. Nevertheless, each of these is well worth reading, and hopefully they will continue to influence and stimulate worship discourse in the days ahead.

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The Psalter Reclaimed by Gordon Wenham


The Psalter Reclaimed: Praying and Praising with the Psalms, by Gordon Wenham. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013. 205 pp. $15.99.

Whether times of praise or times of mourning, seasons of birth or seasons of death, the psalter speaks to a host of situations. Wenham, an Old Testament scholar, writes this introduction to the psalter to reorient the church with the breadth of its liturgical function. The psalms, though used in worship from the creation of the tabernacle, have seen limited usage in the present-day church. The Psalter Reclaimed attempts to recover the use of even the imprecatory psalms, and casts a vision for worship in the church that relies heavily on the psalter.

The question, What are we doing singing the psalms?, is the initiation point for exploration of this study of the psalter. Wenham traces the record to their liturgical function, seeking to clarify why the psalms were sung rather than recited. He finds this clarification in the writings of church father Athanasius: “For to sing the Psalms demands such concentration of a man’s whole being on them that, in doing it, his usual disharmony of mind and corresponding bodily confusion is resolved, just as the notes of several flutes are brought to harmony by one effect” (17).

The structure of the psalter is not just for singing, but also memorization. Wenham cites Griffith’s assertion that most readers approach texts in a consumerist fashion, picking and choosing to read what they like and move on, but religious readers “see the work read as an infinite resource” (22). The speech act theory is then applied through this religious reader view. “The psalms teach us the fundamentals of the faith and instruct us too in ethics” (25). The speech act theory extends the role of the psalter: “Singing them commits us in attitudes, speech, and action” (25).

The psalter is a collection of prayers to God. Wenham urges that congregations not “miss the main point of the Psalms: they are designed to be prayed” (37). Churches are often guilty of choosing the psalms that are joyful or heartening; however, “we need to expand the scope of our prayers to take in the hurts of our world, not just its joys” (55). The church should be praying all the psalms.

In what is the strongest chapter in the book, Wenham presents the case for reading the Psalms canonically. He posits, using others’ scholarship, that not only the authors were under inspiration when writing the psalms, but that the compilers of the psalter were under divine inspiration in its organization. “If, as I think has been demonstrated, the psalms have been arranged thematically, by title, and by keywords to form a deliberate sequence, it is imperative to read one psalm in the context of the whole collection and, in particular, in relationship to its near neighbors” (77). The balance of the book considers the issues of messianic interpretation, ethics, the imprecatory psalms, and the nations in the psalms within the context of this canonical reading.

This work is of the highest scholarship and serves as an excellent introduction to the psalter, but is conceptually flawed. The book is largely a collection of articles and lectures given at different locations to groups of differing academic acumen. This publication lacks the editing necessary to allow these differing articles to speak clearly with a unified voice, making reading frustrating at times. Even though one author writes the work, it may be best thought of as a compilation of essays with a general editor.

For a work that is well supported academically, The Psalter Reclaimed lacks the original thought of the author throughout. From the beginning, Wenham carefully documents what the church fathers through present-day scholars have thought of the psalter. His presentation of their thoughts might lead one to an understanding of his own ideas; however, he never presents an original contribution other than the comparison of differing viewpoints.

The Psalter Reclaimed is a useful introduction to the psalter that would most effectively be read in individual chapters and not as a cohesive work. The book is written so that a cursory knowledge of theology is required to understand its assertions. Pastors, worship leaders, and students will find this volume useful as they grapple with understanding the psalter and its role in the worship of the church.

Robert Pendergraft
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Fort Worth, TX

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How Then Shall We Worship? by R. C. Sproul


How Then Shall We Worship?: Biblical Principles to Guide Us Today, by R. C. Sproul. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2013.

Pastor, teacher, and speaker R. C. Sproul is well known in evangelical circles. Many churches have used his books for Sunday school curricula and small group discussions, such as his classic text The Holiness of God (Tyndale House Publishers, 1985). Sproul’s newest work, How Then Shall We Worship?, also deserves strong consideration for churches and lay people in their pursuit of biblical and theological studies.

The subtitle, “Biblical Principles to Guide Us Today,” captures the essence of this book. Sproul continually refers readers to Scripture throughout this work, demonstrating that he has no desire to depart from what he believes are objective principles that should guide churches and church leaders in their decision-making processes regarding worship. Furthermore, he affirms at the outset that this is a continual process of re-evaluation:

Our modern worship needs the philosophy of the second glance, an ongoing attempt to make sure that all we do in worship gatherings is to God’s glory, to His honor, and according to His will. (11)

Sproul demonstrates throughout the book his belief that only through Scripture can we determine how to properly bring glory and honor to God according to God’s will.

An important distinction to make before reading this text is to understand what Sproul means when he says “worship.” Contrary to how many Christians define worship as “music” or “singing,” Sproul is referring to the whole gathering of believers. In fact, there is very little said of music specifically. This tells the reader that the issue of worshiping in a way that is “according to His will” is much broader and more urgent to Sproul than simply deciding what kind of songs to sing. This is a “bigger picture” book that examines the root issues of Christian worship rather than addressing the symptoms. Because of this, readers looking for a list of what kind of music or style is acceptable will not find it in this book. Instead, they will follow Sproul on an examination of the “how” and the “why” of worship practices, beginning in the Old Testament and continuing through what churches should practice today.

“If God Himself were to design worship, what would it look like?” (15). Sproul points out that God did, indeed, provide very specific instructions to Moses and the Israelites how He was to be worshiped. However, the church cannot simply take what was prescribed and drop it into New Testament worship because the sacrificial system has been completely fulfilled in Christ. Even so, Sproul does suggest that the church need not eliminate the entirety of Old Testament influence and philosophy:

I am not interested in simply transferring Old Testament worship into the New Testament community, but what I am trying to find is whether there are principles we can glean from the Old Testament cultus of Israel that might have valid application in New Testament worship. (124)

Of particular interest in this examination of Old Testament principles is how the “whole person” was involved in worship; that is, all of the senses were engaged. The final few chapters of the book go into detail about how Old Testament worship was designed specifically for this purpose, and this is where the book becomes the most “practical” in application—the reader gets a sense of why God prescribed worship to be carried out in the very specific ways that the Pentateuch says He did.

A study guide appears at the end of this book, providing a good summary and outline of the material contained in each chapter. This study guide also contains the objectives of each chapter, questions for Bible study, a discussion guide, and points of application. This helps make the book a good resource for both group and private study.

How Then Shall We Worship contains strong material that deserves to be studied, reviewed, and discussed. The current “worship wars” have been destructive to churches and individuals, and texts like this can help the church take a step back and re-evaluate the “how” and the “why” of Christian worship, making sure that the church is, indeed, pursuing worship “to God’s glory, to His honor, and according to His will.”

R. Christopher Teichler
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Fort Worth, TX

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Of Games & God by Kevin Schut


Of Games & God: A Christian Exploration of Video Games, by Kevin Schut. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2013. 206 pp. $16.99.

It is easy to find heavily partisan writing on the video game phenomenon that has so deeply entrenched itself into our social fabric, whether it be a crusade against video game violence and its perceived real-world effects or “techno-utopianism” (9). Author Kevin Schut, associate professor and chair of the department of media and communication at Trinity Western University, instead approaches the subject from a balanced Christian perspective. He desires to “work out the relationship between Christian faith and games,” rather than take sides on any one of numerous specific points of debate, and in this endeavor he is quite successful (4).

The book is thoughtfully constructed; the author begins with the basics and builds from there. He takes the time to define what a game is, along with other key concepts in understanding games such as medium and communication. Operating from this baseline, Schut then spends the rest of the book approaching various hot-button issues related to video games such as violence, addiction, gender stereotypes, and education. In each chapter he does his best to offer both sides of the argument to the reader, letting the reader gain some perspective on where the debate currently stands. It is only then, at the end of a chapter, that Schut offers his own opinions and views, and when he does it is always in a spirit of humility.

The bulk of every chapter is devoted less to the author’s own opinions on issues than it is devoted to helping the reader develop a discerning eye of his own. Schut provides an excellent two-page concluding statement within the last chapter (175–76). Subtitled “Toward a Healthy Christian Criticism,” this section lays out, in summary, Schut’s guidelines on how to approach games from a properly balanced Christian perspective. It is in this passage that the ultimate goal of Schut’s book is clearest; again, his purpose is not primarily to take sides on major issues, but rather it is to help readers develop a Christian framework from which to approach them.

Upon first reading, and depending on a reader’s preconceptions, the book can seem a bit weak; after all, the author doesn’t really draw a line in the sand and make a strong argument for one side or the other of the various issues he discusses. Indeed, it can be easy to walk away from the book and feel that Schut gives nothing more than the classic law student answer to any question: “It depends.”

However, such a reading of the book entirely misses the point that Schut is trying to make. Instead of taking a side, he helps the reader develop a healthy, Christian, critical framework with which to view such issues; he isn’t simply waffling out of laziness. Perhaps, at times, he does indeed imply the statement “It depends,” but always along with that stance comes a thoughtful discussion of what factors and Scriptural principles come into play for the relative topic, allowing the reader to make informed decisions of his own. In a field of study dominated by knee-jerk reactions and strong emotions, Schut’s approach is a wonderful breath of fresh air.

The foreword by Quentin Schultze interestingly states that the book “reveals that gaming is implicitly like worship liturgy” (xii). While such a statement may be stretching things, a lot of what Schut has to say does have applications in the worship world. Indeed, his discussions regarding parallels between games and Biblical perspectives on art (see 90–91) have some application in the realm of worship; becoming a “monomaniac” and letting one of the most important things in this earthly life (such as making disciples) become the only thing in life is a mistake in that it ignores all that the Bible has to say about God’s love for beauty and excellence in corporate worship and Christian life in general.

Other worship applications can be found in Schut’s writing as well, such as in chapter four. In discussing how to approach the issue of video-game violence, he argues that we should be looking less at the consequences of violent media and more at whether such media is inherently wrong (59). This applies to the worship wars in the sense that, using the same argument, we should be looking less at the personal effects different styles of music have on people (e.g. whether or not it “speaks to a person’s heart”) and more at whether certain aspects of corporate worship are inherently right or wrong according to what God’s word has to say on the issue.

Such applications, while possibly useful, are in the end ancillary to the book’s ultimate purpose, which is to help Christians approach video games in a balanced, Biblical manner. The book is not without its flaws; the author freely admits that chinks in the armor of his arguments can be found (xvi, 175), and indeed they can. But such flaws are few and far between. Schut doesn’t try to give us the final word on the morality of video games; instead, he walks the journey with the reader, attempting to apply what the Bible has to say and helping the reader build a healthy critical framework from which to approach important issues in the gaming world. Of Games & God is a great book for the inquisitive Christian, whether a parent, pastor, or “gamer.”

Andrew Morris
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Fort Worth, TX

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