The editors of Artistic Theologian are pleased to announce the release of Volume 6.
The editors of Artistic Theologian are pleased to announce the release of Volume 6.
The Life of the Church: The Table, Pulpit, and Square, by Joe Thorn. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2017. 109 pp. $11.99.
In this short book, Joe Thorn, founding pastor of Redeemer Fellowship Church, proclaims that the church’s primary job is making disciples (10). In order to show strategically how the church should perform this task, he discusses three areas of church life—table, pulpit, and square—where discipleship takes place. According to Thorn, the life of the church experienced in these three environments allows Christians to follow Christ and make disciples more fruitfully and healthily.
The book is divided into three sections, according to the three environments Thorn identifies as the life of the church. In part one, he explains how discipleship takes place at the table, which refers to informal gatherings and small groups (17). First, in chapter one, Thorn argues that people require community to truly live, and that this need comes from God (19). In the same way, believers need the church community in order to truly fulfill God’s call in their lives, and “the people of God must meet together in smaller numbers to carry out the will of God in each other’s lives” (22). Thus, in chapter two, he supports his point on the need for small groups using historical evidence from the Puritans, Joanne Jung, and the Heidelberg Catechism. In chapter three, he talks about hospitality, namely the outpouring of what believers have experienced in Jesus Christ, which serves others as believers make disciples (30–32).
Part two concerns the pulpit. Here, Thorn argues that corporate worship is the most important element among the three environments (35). Thus, in chapter four, he deals with corporate worship and explains why it is essential (45). In chapter five, Thorn discusses the importance of Scripture in worship. In chapters six and seven, he discusses how Christians must prepare for corporate worship and how church liturgy should be biblically and theologically sound.
In part three, Thorn addresses the square, i.e., the church sent into the world as salt and light (75). As a missionary movement (77), the church must engage the world socially, recreationally, and vocationally (chapter nine). Moreover, the church must also do the work of restoration (chapter ten). Thorn closes the book by advising on how to make good conversations with outsiders and in chapters eleven and twelve how the church can support multiplication through church planting and revitalization.
The greatest strength of this book is that Thorn has strategically divided and argued the most important points regarding the life of the church with such succinctness. With a book that only goes to about 100 pages, he argues with ease and persuasiveness for the need of small groups, the importance of corporate worship, and the call to engage the world. Thorn uses everyday language to captivate the reader and makes great points regarding church life.
Thorn is also intentionally biblical, presenting clear scriptural support for his practical advice. For example, chapter eleven explores how to make meaningful conversations with others. Here, he first provides a scriptural basis for why words are important (93–95), and then he gives practical advice on the art of conversation (95–98). Another example would be Thorn’s advice on how each believer can prepare for Sunday worship the night before in order to receive the most out of it (62–64).
Nonetheless, some of Thorn’s assertations lack clear support or argumentation. For example, although he uses Scripture in arguing for the need for community (19–23), his claim that this means Christians need small groups does not directly follow (22). The passages Thorn provides all mention the importance of church fellowship and community, and not necessarily small groups. Similarly, in arguing that a healthy church must have right administration of ordinances and the formation of proper biblical leadership (9–10), Thorn leaves several critical biblical matters unanswered, such as what right administration of ordinances and biblical leadership are biblically. Can anyone participate in the Lord’s Supper or only members? What constitutes church leaders in accordance with Scripture? It is understandable that he wants to be succinct and does not want to discuss these in detail in order to reach a wider audience, but for this reviewer, if these are essential to being a healthy church, as Thorn argues, he should have explained them in some detail.
Still, Thorn has addressed discipleship in a strategic and biblical way. He has divided where discipleship can meaningfully take place into three areas and provided convincing biblical arguments for these spheres. He has also provided much practical advice for believers in their endeavor to follow God’s call in making disciples. For this reason, this book should be recommended for all believers, from leadership to members, who have a passion for following God’s call. The book would be especially good for ministry training.
Kyung Hyun Kim
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Worshiping with the Anaheim Vineyard, by Ruth A. Park and C. Rethmeier. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2017. 148 pp. $25.00.
Worshiping with the Anaheim Vineyard is the fifth in a series of books published by Eerdmans designed to look at significant worship case studies from worshiping communities across the world, over the centuries, and throughout Christian history. Each book is designed to take an in-depth, critical approach at important groups and their contributions to the history of Christian worship. Worship leader Andy Park, theologian Lester Ruth, and Cindy Rethmeier, a worship leader with roots in Vineyard’s early history, set out to look at the emerging movement of contemporary worship through the eyes of the Anaheim Vineyard.
This volume examines the early days of a movement headed for a popular explosion as the twenty-first century approached, the importance of the worshiping community’s worship leadership, worship as lifestyle, and how the teaching and preaching of founding pastor, song writer, and keyboardist John Wimber helped to form a generation of worshipers and worship leaders in the earliest days of the contemporary worship movement. With the series of books’ purpose clearly stated as being “case studies of specific worshiping communities from around the world . . . that can inform and enrich worship practices today,” the authors set out to evaluate how Vineyard accomplished just that (viii). The book explores how the Anaheim Vineyard was searching for a deeper experience and knowledge of the Father, and in doing so, they would pursue renewal and revival as they garnered interest from a young target audience. The book provides interviews, photos, helpful commentary in their “sidebars,” and excerpts from the sermons of John Wimber who, as the authors continually point out, was at the center of Vineyard’s growth, success, and challenges.
As is true with any case study, it is a challenge to obtain objectivity and to present as many relevant facts as necessary for the reader to make an informed judgment about the subject at hand. Park, Ruth, and Rethmeier have done an excellent job in assembling resources to look at this group from an objective viewpoint. They begin by offering helpful information about the context and location surrounding the Calvary Chapel Yorba Linda/Anaheim Vineyard. This group is not long separated from the Jesus People in the late 1960s–1970s, and the influence is felt among this young congregation as well. John Wimber, a 1963 convert, as he would say in his important sermon “Loving God,” came from the music industry by way of this movement (87). This information accompanies an incredibly helpful summary of important themes and practices (22–24). The authors organize these items under the subjects of piety, time, place, prayer, preaching, music, and people. These few pages establish a foundation for the detail that is to follow. Also of note is the inclusion of photos throughout the volume that help to illustrate the story of this group, which started in a small house and quickly grew far beyond their wildest imaginations. The photos exemplify one point that the book’s authors return to on several occasions: with a contemporary movement such as this one, primary sources are critical to documenting its history for future generations. Their assembling of resources, be it chord charts or musical excerpts, orders of worship and documents for how worship was planned, Wimber’s important sermons “Loving God,” “Why Do We Worship,” or “Don’t Lose Your First Love,” are very helpful to an outside observer seeing the passion with which this church’s leaders organized themselves and prepared themselves for the potential success they hoped to see with the Spirit’s blessing (99–105).
Following on the heels of the early Charismatic movements, the ministry of the Holy Spirit in dramatic ways was an important piece of worship. Be it in prayer, gifts of healing, freedom of expression, or in the first-person language of many songs written by this group, there was an expectation for the Holy Spirit to be active in their services. The interviews of participants in these early experiences vividly demonstrate this as well (75).
The book’s closing section consists of detailed documents identifying what the community believed and taught about worship. These documents include a theology of worship, their five phases of worship, the importance of the role of the musicians and the difficulty of their role, as well as a host of first-person interjections. The authors’ inclusion of study questions as well as a detailed bibliography at the close of the text are helpful resources for anyone who wishes to go deeper.
In reading this important volume, it seems very clear that its authors have written in such a way as to make their work accessible to the armchair historian, the congregant, and the student of worship history that wishes to look in-depth at a movement that had an important role in the contemporary worship development of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The book does an admirable job of remaining objective. The inclusion of many interviews help the reader to have a clear understanding of not only what they believed, but what the experience was like among them. The book’s narrow focus on just this particular community does not yield itself for a broad comparison against other charismatic or contemporary movements of its time, which might have been instructive. However, in the book’s detailed opening timeline establishing the community’s context, the authors do a good job of showing the reader just how much was occurring around this movement as the contemporary Christian music industry was booming and a host of other movements were seeking renewal and revival. This book as well as the others in the series of “The Church at Worship” can serve as helpful volumes individually or as a set to be studied and used in historical sequence. Students of modern/contemporary worship should read this volume as it provides valuable insight into an important, recent development that has a significant influence on worship today.
D. J. Bulls
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
 Other books in this series investigate worship in fourth-century Jerusalem, sixth century Constantinople, an African-American Holiness church in Mississippi at the turn of the twentieth century, John Calvin and sixteenth-century Geneva, and two forthcoming volumes will examine Watts and eighteenth-century London and mid-twentieth-century Baptists in Argentina.
Sing! How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church, by Keith and Kristyn Getty. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2017. 176 pp. $12.99.
“Though maybe misunderstood, regularly a bone of contention, and often under-practiced, congregational singing is one of the greatest and most beautiful tools we have been given to declare God’s ‘excellences,’ strengthening His Church and sharing His glory with the world” (xxi–xxii). Keith and Kristyn Getty, musical artists and writers of hymns including “In Christ Alone,” “The Power of the Cross,” “By Faith,” and “Oh Church Arise,” write to encourage Christians to “sing truth, and to sing it as though it is true” (98–99) in their book titled Sing! How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church. They argue that God intends Christians to be “a people joyfully joining together in song with brothers and sisters around the world and around His heavenly throne” (xxvi).
They explain in the first two chapters that people were created and are commanded to sing, and then they argue that believers are compelled to sing by the gospel. In Chapter Four, the authors insist that Christians should sing with both their hearts and minds, and in Chapter Five they explain that believers should sing with their families. Next, the Gettys turn to singing in corporate worship. Lastly, they claim that congregational song radically witnesses to the unregenerate.
The Gettys argue for the importance of singing in several ways. For example, they claim that singing shapes a person’s heart, soul, and mind, and they state that song lyrics shape “our priorities, our behavior, [and] our loves” (37). The “soul food” consumed in corporate worship helps the believer to thrive throughout their week (38). The gospel needs to be sung: “We need to sing over and over again how we were once under the wrath of God, condemned to die, without even a hint of hope” (39). They suggest that the music sung on Sundays is like a soundtrack that motivates the Christian throughout the week, and they examine how the psalms can shape believers through showing who God is and expressing how they can deal with life. The Gettys explain that a believer needs to sing songs that deepen their joy in God (44) and that believers should not only sing when they are happy, but they should also sing to the Lord when they are mourning. They strongly defend the congregational element of singing by stating that “we sing for our brothers and sisters in those moments or seasons when they cannot,” and they express the spiritual nourishment of singing by proclaiming that “we sing, as the Psalms train us, to help us bring all of our lives, failures, successes, losses, gains, dreams, and ambitions into gospel perspective” (46–47). Singing the proper diet of songs also helps the Christian to keep an eternal focus. The Gettys explain that congregations need to sing these songs to encourage others to also focus on eternity in heaven (50). What a congregation sings shapes them, so the Gettys encourage congregations to sing spiritually nourishing, gospel-centered songs.
The Getty’s also argue that Christians should sing with the local church. They bemoan the fact that many who claim Christ are forsaking the assembling of the body, and they state that “singing as one united church body reminds us all that we are not defined by the rugged individualism promoted by modern society” (76). For a church to be healthy, it must be a singing church. When Christians sing in corporate worship, they are expressing what they desire the church to be and what they hope to be as church members. This argument points directly to the Gettys’ thesis because it proclaims the importance of Christians singing together.
Overall, the Gettys wrote a fine work, but there are areas in which it could be improved. They state that truth-filled music moves a Christian’s heart “with depth of feeling and a whole range of emotion” without explaining what they mean by emotion (2). The undefined word “emotion” is problematic because it has many different meanings. The Gettys write about the blessing of composing a melody that may touch a person’s soul, but they neglect to speak on how a melody does this (6). They could have improved their book by adding a section that explains how music does or does not communicate. They make a strong claim that singing shapes one’s heart, mind, and soul, but they did not spend enough time explaining how or why singing accomplishes this (52, 80).
Sing! How Worship Transforms Your life, Family, and Church is theocentric, and it is biblically rich. The Gettys do a fine job pushing against societal individualism in their robust emphasis on congregational singing, providing many thought provoking insights. Laymen in the local body are the intended audience of this book. The Gettys include four appendices written in the style of blog posts titled: “For Pastors and Elders,” “Worship and Song Leaders,” “Musicians, Choirs, and Production,” and “Songwriters and Creatives.” Overall, this book is a strong addition to the field of congregational song.
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
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.
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Created & Creating: A Biblical Theology of Culture, by William Edgar. Downers Grove IL: IVP Academic, 2017. 262 pp. $24.00.
What does culture mean to a Christian and the church? William Edgar, the John Boyer Chair of Evangelism and Culture and Professor of Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary, suggests an answer in his book, Created & Creating: A Biblical Theology of Culture. He argues that the cultural mandate, which can be found in redemptive episodes of Scripture and climaxed in the Great Commission, is the “central calling for humanity” (233).
Created & Creating consists of an introduction, an epilogue, and three parts. In the introduction, Edgar begins his argument by explaining that culture has become a very important issue, and thus Christians are also beginning to recognize culture significantly. He then unfolds cultural parameters, culture in the Bible, and the cultural mandate throughout the following three chapters. In the epilogue, he concludes the cultural mandate to be a divine calling.
Before examining how the Bible directly speaks about culture, Edgar first analyzes culture terminologically and historically. He then concludes that cultural studies explain culture as “civilization,” “social dynamics,” and meaningful “anthropological entities” (24). Subsequently, he shows the efforts of Christian scholars to grasp biblical perspectives on culture because there is no mention of the term culture in the Bible.
Edgar then deals with biblical texts that warn against worldiness. Since the Bible affirms that everything belongs to God, he argues that such passages are not against creation but against sin. He also argues that God’s intention for His people is to cure the disease of the world because Scripture does not treat the concept of “the world” entirely negatively and because Christ’s salvation covers all things as He rules everything.
Consequently, Edgar argues that evangelism and “pursuit of the cultural mandate” have the same principles in view of a “mission-oriented call” (161). He insists that the “Great Commission” is a restatement and completed form of the “cultural mandate” (161). He also suggests that the original cultural mandate in Genesis is continuously reiterated in and after the Noahic covenant, and one of the most important of these is Psalm 8, which is quoted in the New Testament to present Jesus Christ as the ruler over all. As Jesus’s incarnation signifies His transforming into a cultural being, His Great Commission is a “republication of the original cultural mandate” (215). Finally, he concludes that a Christian will engage in culture-making even in the life to come, which is the “renewed life” after the resurrection, as the new Jerusalem implies transformed cultural patterns.
Edgar excellently explains the comprehensive meaning of the term “culture.” Especially, he clearly articulates the Christian missional mandate by linking it with the result of modern cultural studies. This is a great contribution to Christian cultural studies.
However, Edgar’s handlings of the biblical texts is not substantial enough in some places to support his arguments; thus some of his conclusions are too brief to make a logical progression. For example, his quotation from Revelation 11:15, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever,” is not fully developed (230). He regards the verse as the “extraordinary statement” that pronounces “transformation,” and he states that the verse supports his arguments for the cultural mandate. The verse, however, does not contain the second appearance of “the kingdom” in its original Greek text; thus it can be translated as “the kingdom of the world has come into the possession of our Lord (or has become of our Lord).” This weakens one of his central arguments.
Throughout Created & Creating, Edgar excellently presents what the academic meanings of culture are and what the legitimacy of the cultural mandate is. Even if his biblical exegeses need more development in several places, his arguments and explanation about culture and the cultural mandate are worthy of consideration. Thus, it is recommendable to those who want to grasp a comprehensive concept of culture and one of the major Christian responses to the culture.
Jun Ho Jeon
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, by Rod Dreher. New York: Sentinel, 2017. 272 pp. $25.00.
Perhaps the most remarkable feature about Rod Dreher’s much anticipated book, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, is how unremarkable his proposal really is. Yet it is a profoundly necessary correction for an American Christianity that has lost its biblical moorings and become just as secular as the culture around it. Dreher, senior editor at The American Conservative, does not argue, as some critics claim, that Christians should completely withdraw from the culture and cloister themselves in monastic communities. Even Russell Moore misses the point in his endorsement on the back cover (“I’m more missionary than monastery, but . . .”); Dreher’s proposal is not contrary to robust evangelism, it is fundamentally essential to the success of the mission Christ gave the church to make disciples of all nations. He argues that in order for our mission to be effective in a post-Christian nation, Christians “have to return to the roots of our faith, both in thought and in practice.” This thesis is unremarkable because what Dreher proposes is really no more radical than what the New Testament teaches as biblical Christianity. As he notes, his argument is as simple as the idea that “we are going to have to be the church, without compromise, no matter what it costs” (3).
The title of Dreher’s proposal comes from the sixth-century son of a governmental official who, upon finding Rome to be in decadent ruin, determined that the best way to conserve Christianity in the face of such collapse was to separate himself from the corruption of the city and establish a monastic community. Dreher compares the barbaric condition of Rome in Benedict’s time to the reality of a post-Christian West. “We in the modern West,” Dreher observes, “are living under barbarism, though we do not recognize it” (17). In an impressively succinct narrative in Chapter 2, Dreher traces the fall of Western civilization from the dominance of Christian metaphysical realism in the thirteenth century to purely secular nominalism that flowered into the Enlightenment and ultimately resulted in the Sexual Revolution of the twentieth century.
Yet the book is not as much a critique of Western Civilization as it is an indictment of Western Christianity. Instead of recognizing and resisting the increasing secularization of the West, Christians succumbed to it, having placed “unwarranted confidence in the health of our religious institutions.” Dreher offers his proposal, not just because the culture is so bad, but because Western Christianity is so bad. He continues, “The changes that have overtaken the West in modern times have revolutionized everything, even the church, which no longer forms souls but caters to selves” (9). He observes that most professing Christians in America have identified their Christianity with being American and have adopted what was more accurately described by Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton in 2005 as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.
In order to “be the church” and thus be effective lights in a dark world, Dreher believes that Western Christianity needs to recover essential Christian beliefs and practices that have been lost. Again, this does not mean shrinking from evangelistic responsibility; on the contrary, Dreher suggests that “the best witness Christians can offer to a post-Christian America is simply to be the church, as fiercely and creatively a minority as we can manage” (101). On the other hand, if in the name of evangelism “churches function as secular entertainment centers with religious morals slapped on top,” we will have lost any true witness whatsoever. He rightly observes, “The sad truth is, when the world sees us, it often fails to see anything different from nonbelievers. Christians often talk about ‘reaching the culture’ without realizing that, having no distinct Christian culture of their own, they have been co-opted by the secular culture they wish to evangelize” (102). Dreher states the reality clearly: “A church that looks and talks and sounds just like the world has no reason to exist” (121).
This is where Benedict can help. As part of establishing monastic communities, Benedict developed a Rule (a book of instructions for the community) that would help monks obey the biblical directive to “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (1 Tim 4:7). Dreher is clear: the goal of the Rule is not salvation by works, but rather, “it is a proven strategy for living the Gospel in an intensely Christian way. It is an instruction manual for how to form one’s life around the service of Jesus Christ, within a strong community” (53). It is not so much about salvation as it is about sanctification. In other words, it is a manual for how to be the church.
Dreher does not believe that most Christians are called to monastic life like Benedict or that they should necessarily abide by all of the regulations in his Rule. Instead, “our calling is to seek holiness in more ordinary conditions” (72). Nevertheless, Dreher extracts the core principles of the Benedictine Rule that he believes Western Christians need to recover in order to fulfill our mission. These principles, which he fully explains in Chapter 3, are order, prayer, work, asceticism, stability, community, hospitality, and balance. The particular applications of these principles may be more or less unique to the Benedictine communities, but the principles themselves are simply what it means to be a New Testament Christian.
The rest of the book includes specific ways Dreher believes these principles can be applied to Western Christianity. He advocates for a “new kind of Christian politics” (Chapter 4) that does not ultimately trust in the political system to effect change, but rather recognizes that change will occur only as Christians intentionally separate themselves from the corruption of the culture and instead actively invest in building distinctly Christian structures and communities. The solution is to look inward before we can effectively look outward; it is to rediscover the past including liturgical practices, which form the church, and church discipline, which protects the true purity of the church (Chapter 5). These will help us recover true beauty and morality, which themselves are the best apology for Christianity and are thereby potently evangelistic. Some of the other Christian “structures” Dreher discusses include the family (Chapter 6), education (Chapter 7), vocation (Chapter 8), sexuality (Chapter 9), and technology (Chapter 10). He provides many practical suggestions for how Christians can live out these principles in each of these areas; most of them are exactly right and very helpful. I especially valued what he said about corporate worship, the family, and the need for classical Christian education, common themes in my own writing.
Both Dreher’s assessment of the current situation and the solutions he proposes are sound, insightful, and essentially biblical. Nothing of the core of what he suggests is necessarily Benedictine—it is profoundly Christian. As a Baptist I don’t agree with a few of the specific practical suggestions he proposes (although I agree with most of them), and I am a bit uneasy with the implications of the kind of cross-denominational cooperation he recommends without careful articulation of important doctrinal distinctions. However, it is actually as a conservative Baptist that I find Dreher’s central ideas so refreshing and necessary. The principles in The Benedict Option are essentially the same core ideas espoused by conservative Christianity: orthopathy, transcendent beauty, holiness, reverent worship, and community. If we want to be effective missionaries in the unbelieving culture—and we should; it is the mission Christ gave us—then we need to first recover what it means to be Christian. This is the heart of the Benedict Option.
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Thumbprint in the Clay: Divine Marks of Beauty, Order and Grace, by Luci Shaw. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2016. 203 pp. $12.39.
Luci Shaw, the author of the recently released book Thumbprint in the Clay: Divine Marks of Beauty, Order and Grace, writes of all things beautiful. With past experience as a co-founder of her own publishing company and a charter member of the Chrysostom Society of Writers, she is now Writer in Residence at Regent College in Vancouver, Canada. A prolific poet, she has written several volumes of poetry as well as prose. Some of her works include, Sea Glass: New & Selected Poems, Polishing the Petoskey Stone, Writing the River, and What the Light was Like. She also has collaborated with writer Madeleine L’Engle on WinterSong, Friends for the Journey and A Prayer Book for Spiritual Friends. Shaw currently lives in Bellingham, Washington.
Thumbprint in the Clay is a meditative reflection in which Shaw shares her love of nature, art, and beauty. Her purpose in relaying her encounter with things of beauty is to point the reader to the one in whom beauty originates. She finds repeated patterns of God’s distinctive mark, or “thumbprint” in the world, including His creatures. She reasons that if God, the Divine Potter, impressions us as His handiwork, then we are in turn a reflection of His image.
Within the twelve chapters of her book, Shaw points to the beauty of the world and surmises that “Beauty is Love” (Kindle, 159). She takes the reader on a journey of art appreciation beginning in her own home with her favorite coffee mugs to the Frio River of the Texas hill country. She recognizes that ubiquitous patterns emerge in the “faces of the earth” (the title of one of her chapters) as a means to satisfy man’s endless longing for beauty. She finds detailed patterns in “a snail shell” as well as lovely “wisteria vines” (Kindle, 192). The pattern in the human thumbprint serves as an identifying mark. She observes that while some patterns are functional, they also are inherently beautiful. These artistic patterns point us to a Creator, as she writes, “We are living proof of the Creator’s skill, and we hope we bring him not only usefulness but gratification” (Kindle, 123)!
Shaw also observes that like our Maker, mankind loves to create. For example, she recalls her trip that led to the art inscribed on rocky walls by ancient peoples. She understands their primal need to make a mark on this earth, even in the midst of survival. She cites her own need to create “word pictures, scraps of verbal art” (Kindle, 242). Furthermore, she writes that “we, as responders, are called on to create in the image of our Creator” (Kindle, 349).
Shaw further discusses the essence of beauty. She concludes that “beauty doesn’t reside simply in what we observe . . . but in how we perceive and distinguish, with all our senses” (Kindle, 346). Therefore, she communicates the idea that beauty can be missed if one is not attuned to it. She relays that she has made it a practice to look for beauty. In this way, she invites others to look for it, too.
Shaw’s poetic style is one of her greatest strengths in this work. For example, she makes use of alliteration that gives an ebb and flow to her writing. This can be seen in the following, “Water winks from the streambeds that weave along the canyon floor” (223). Though many of her poems are placed throughout, the book might have also benefited from some illustrations or drawings.
The value of this book is the mindfulness that it creates for the reader. In a modern world of rush and hurry, it is good to read something that slows down the pace and helps one to “stop and smell the roses,” to ponder the beauty of creation. Those who believe in God as their Maker would no doubt appreciate Thumbprint in the Clay as a fresh reminder of divine beauty in nature. However, Shaw gives testimony of her Creator in such a poetic way that it might also capture the attention of a non-believer. It might at least cause them to consider the possibility of a Designer that has placed His “thumbprint” on us all.
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
The Face of the Deep: Exploring the Mysterious Person of the Holy Spirit, by Paul J. Pastor. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2016. 303 pp. $16.99.
“It’s good that you are; how wonderful that you exist!” This imaginative sentiment of the Holy Spirit towards His beloved elect becomes the expression of Paul Pastor’s attempt to uncover the person, the nature, and the works of the Spirit. Pastor, a writer and grassroots pastor residing in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge, uses his personal experience, observations, childhood stories, cultural and historical incidents (including biblical ones) to surface the underlying works of the Spirit. Instead of doctrinal and propositional discussions, he approaches the subject—exploring the mysterious person of the Holy Spirit—through stories, narratives, and reflections.
In this devotional-like writing, Pastor traces the mystery of the Holy Spirit through the symbolism of the Seven Stars and Seven Lampstands described in the Book of Revelation, with which he illustrates the Spirit’s work recorded in the Old and New Testaments respectively. Pastor interweaves the entire book with the title phrase The Face of the Deep to depict the moment when the Spirit was hovering and creating from the “Abyss of the deep water” (18) and frequently refers His wonderful acts back to this origin. He then surveys a list of biblical characters who were used by the Spirit to embody the works for His people. Through world events, cultural occurrences, natural phenomena, and his personal life experience, combined with biblical examples, Pastor is able to prove that the Spirit is working the same way here and now as He has done in the past.
By a spearhead he found in a canyon, Pastor is amazed how the re-creative power of the Spirit leaves marks in human creativity, friendship, etc. through arts, culture, and history, and also how those exemplify the beauty of sanctifying imperfections. Using the incident of Saul’s laying naked in front of Samuel (1 Samuel 19:1–24), Pastor believes that the Holy Spirit still communicates truth by prophesies, which are defined as God’s revealed truth against false powers (58). It is apt for Pastor to recall his experience of using a twenty-year-old burnt-down stump for his fireplace fuel and to exemplify the “stump of Jesse.” He illustrates how the Holy Spirit was the driving force behind the scene of bringing up King David—the ancestral lineage of our Messiah (102). Then, Pastor concludes the first half by quoting Joel 2 that the Holy Spirit chose Pentecost as the beginning of the apokalupsis and suggests that the Spirit “has done new things, who is even now doing new things” (140).
Proceeding to the New Testament discussion, Pastor recalls a wilderness-like place he discovered while navigating a gorgeous mountain area in Oregon, paralleling Jesus’s forty-day wilderness experience. He highlights that it is the love of the Spirit that likes to drive His people to experience nakedness, emptiness, and scarcity in order to observe God’s abundance in a different perspective, especially “when scarcity is in the foreground” (177). Pastor then interweaves the Babel accounts, Isaiah’s confession, and the Pentecostal tongues manifestation of Acts to bring out that the Spirit “upended” Babel but not “reversed” it. His view on tongues of the Pentecost is that not only was it a unified “speech” (not language) of the Gospel, but also the kindling of fire and lighting of desire for a yearning of salvific proclamation. Finally, Pastor tells the story of a Huguenot that represents countless examples of success and failure of standing firm on the truth. On the other hand, the unifying power of the Spirit should be shown by exercising a mutual humble learning among Christian communities.
In this book, Pastor successfully accentuates the roles of the Spirit as Lover, Initiator, and Communicator by capturing His intimacy towards the creation (especially humans). Without going into a mere sentimental, sensual, and experiential connection with the Spirit, as charismatics fail, the author draws readers into the personal and intimate relationship that the Spirit longs to establish in love with the beloved. Also, he wittily introduces some fresh approaches of how to look at prophecy and tongues without getting caught up in controversies.
However, there are three areas concerning the works of the Spirit that caught my attention, and I am dismayed that they may not go in the direction I would like to see. First, Pastor pays quite a lot of attention to caring for nature along with the re-creating and maintaining roles of the Spirit. Through the metaphors and imageries drawn from nature, he tends to emphasize human-nature harmony and hint at a strong ecology-environmental influence. Second, in the chapter The Renewer of Earth, he portrays the Spirit’s sustaining works as continuous strikes of musical notes in a symphony. This view of creatio ex nihilo, which suggests no room for human creation, is exactly a contradiction to his previous notion of human as creator. Third, Pastor’s displeasure over the continual divisions among Christendom over the centuries shows the failure of testifying to the Spirit’s unifying work. He suggests that “Protestants must look to Catholics for wisdom and guidance, and Catholics to Protestants” (262). Although the word “ecumenical” is not used, it certainly connotes the suggestion.
Although Pastor’s book does not include new theological discussions regarding the Holy Spirit, he certainly does an impressive and effective job demonstrating how Christians relate to God the Spirit intimately but not sentimentally, and lively but not superficially. The Face of the Deep is commendable and recommended to God’s people to put “living by the Spirit” into action.
Ian Hin-Kei Yeung
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
The Worship Pastor: A Call to Ministry for Worship Leaders and Teams, by Zac Hicks. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016. 198 pages. Softcover. $17.99.
Recently an increasing number of voices from among contemporary worship leaders have arisen to challenge the common performance mentality and encourage a ministry mindset. Zac Hicks, Canon for Worship and Liturgy at Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, AL, adds his contribution to this growing list with The Worship Pastor: A Call to Ministry for Worship Leaders and Teams. Hicks argues that worship leaders are not simply leading music; rather, they are pastoring worshipers.
Hicks states his underlying thesis in the Introduction without defense or explanation, adding one of the more insightful sections of the book—a brief historical survey assessing why churches formed a split between the pastoral office and the church musician (15–17). Hicks believes that repairing this division requires, not a return “to antiquated forms and functions of worship leadership” (17), but rather a practical guide that describes the duties of a worship pastor. Each chapter of the book seeks to accomplish this goal by exploring the role of the worship pastor in various functions through which shepherding takes place.
For what Hicks describes as “rock star” worship leaders (17), many of the book’s prescriptions provide necessary corrective. Hicks helps them understand that they shape people’s beliefs and understanding of worship through how they lead, whether they recognize it or not (14). He correctly bemoans the loss of pastoral awareness among worship leaders and provides very useful tools to recover this critical emphasis by “filtering every decision they [make] and every action they [take] through the grid, ‘Does this build up the body?’” (53). He also avoids the common mistake among contemporary evangelicals of assuming musical forms are neutral; rather, Hicks correctly identifies the power of music in its ability to mimic emotion (64), wisely notes that “not all emotions are the best or the healthiest” (152), and rightly suggests that musical choices in worship can help to mature emotions (149).
Some omissions and inconsistencies weaken the overall value of the book, however. First, while Hicks correctly identifies the problem of dividing the pastorate from worship leadership, he does not present a substantive biblical case for why worship leadership is a pastoral role. Furthermore, by his own admission he “purposefully downplay[s]” the spiritual qualifications for a worship pastor, relegating the discussion at the end of the book to a half-page (194). This minimization of pastoral qualifications appears to derive from the fact that Hicks does not view the worship leader as a pastor in the formal sense at all, considering the moniker something of a metaphorical—albeit “serious”—function only (195). While his recognition of the formative nature of corporate worship is admirable, this admission in the final pages undercuts the potency of his overall aim.
Second, while Hicks in several places rightly insists that it is not the worship leader’s responsibility to “usher people into God’s presence,” even claiming that this is an unbiblical error of charismatic theology (17, 37), he nevertheless embodies this very underlying theology throughout the book. For example, he expects that in worship, the Holy Spirit will “come down . . . manifesting His presence to us” (33), defines worship as “a vibrant, emotionally charged” experience (34, cf. 38), suggests that music is a means through which worshipers encounter “awareness of God’s presence” (36), and articulates the gospel shape of worship liturgy as essentially an “emotional journey” that happens to resemble the Praise and Worship theology of charismatics like Judson Cornwall or John Wimber (151, cf. 165–67). This leads him to claim that “emotional flow” is a central concern in worship leadership (153), something worship leaders must carefully guide through demeaner (154), music (175), transitions (186), and “ambiance” (187), lest they lose the “desired affect” and interrupt the presence of God (184–85). Particularly telling is Hick’s regular acknowledgement and praise of charismatic theologians upon his own thinking (31, 36, 59, 153) and his attempt (which even he admits as a “stretch”) to fit charismatic liturgy within a gospel shape (167). What is worse is that Hicks does not seem to recognize his own charismatic presuppositions. For example, when exploring how charismatic, Reformational, and sacramental traditions each understand the presence of God in worship (35–37), he presupposes a charismatic definition of presence in his interpretation of all three, suggesting that each simply differ in how they think God’s presence is “tangibly” experienced. On the contrary, Reformational theology in particular does not simply find tangible presence of God in the Word rather than in music or sacrament, as Hicks argues; rather, the Reformers expressly differ from sacramental or charismatic traditions in insisting that the presence of God is something Christians enjoy intangibly through the gospel by faith, not through experience. As Bryan Chapell (whom Hicks often cites favorably) notes, the charismatic movement lost the gospel shape of worship when emotional flow became its chief concern.
For contemporary worship leaders embracing a charismatic theology of the presence of God in worship, The Worship Pastor can help avoid focus on performance and recover needed emphasis on shepherding God’s people. Nevertheless, because Hicks assumes his understanding of worship rather than proving it, the book will have limited value outside those who agree with his presuppositions.
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
 Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape Our Practice (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 70.