The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation

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.

Scott Aniol
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

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Thumbprint in the Clay: Divine Marks of Beauty, Order and Grace

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.

Zelda Meneses-Reus
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

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The Face of the Deep: Exploring the Mysterious Person of the Holy Spirit

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

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The Worship Pastor: A Call to Ministry for Worship Leaders and Teams

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.[1]

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.

Scott Aniol
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

[1] Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape Our Practice (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 70.

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The World around the Old Testament: The People and Places of the Ancient Near East

The World around the Old Testament: The People and Places of the Ancient Near East, edited by Bill T. Arnold and Brent A. Strawn. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2016. 531pp. $25.03.

“Perhaps second only to ‘What do you do (for a living)?,’ the question ‘Where are you from?’ must be the most frequent inquiry when people meet for the first time” (xv). This very opening sentence in the introduction of the book anticipates what the content is about. With their aspiration to inquire where the Old Testament is from, the editors, Bill T. Arnold, Professor of Old Testament Interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary and author or editor of more than a dozen books, and Brent A. Strawn, Professor of Old Testament at Emory University and author or editor of various books, describe, along with other contributors, the regions in which the Old Testament originated.

The book contains thirteen essays on the civilizations related to the Old Testament, i.e., regions and peoples from north, south, east, and west of ancient Palestine. These essays include historical developments of the Amorites, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Ugaritians, the Egyptians, the Hurrians, the Arameans, the Phoenicians, the Ammonites, the Philistines, the Persians, the Arabians, and the Greeks in chronological order from the Late Bronze Age to the end of the Persian Period. A separate essay on the Canaanites is not found in the book. According to the editors, the discussion has been purposefully omitted. Since the land of Canaan is where the Israelites resided, it is not considered to be a region around the Old Testament, but rather it is where the Old Testament was from.

Each essay has given attention to four areas of focus: (1) a general overview of the history and culture of the region or people group; (2) a survey on ancient Near Eastern history from the Late Bronze Age to the end of the Persian Period; (3) a discussion of topics other than political matters, such as religion, high culture, and other social significances of the region or people group; and (4) comments on the relationship between ancient Israel and the region or people group in the chapter.

Each contributor thoroughly explores evidence from biblical texts, ancient Near Eastern texts, and archaeological investigation in presenting historical origin and development of the nations around Israel. The information is rendered in such a way that the reader is clearly informed about political context of the civilizations mentioned in the Old Testament. For instance, some nations had central power by the kings (Assyrians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Persians); some were city-states ruled by separate kings (Phoenicians, Philistines, Greeks); while others never achieved a unified political power (Amorites, Arameans).

Examinations of significant cultural conditions for each civilization are also laid out in a very informative way. Religious practices in Neo-Assyrian culture, such as worship of Ishtar and dead ancestors, divination, and omen series (70–75); the nature of the Phoenician language being classified as Canaanite (280–84); and agricultural development under the Persian rule (395–97) are a few examples among many other significant cultural developments in those nations related to Israel. These political and cultural backgrounds successfully serve as a linkage for the historical development of Israel.

Presentations on how each nation was involved in the story of Israel are notable. The way the Arabians associated with the genealogies of Genesis as the descendants of Ishmael (458), how the decline of centralized power in Egypt during the Third Intermediate period paved the way for the kingdom of Israel into existence (189), how the Assyrians’ political schemes led the greatest conflict between the northern and southern kingdoms (47–48), how the Babylonian and Persian empires played important roles in Israel’s national evolution are some of the remarkable facts manifested in the presentation. Along with these facts, similarities and differences in cultural and religious elements between those nations and Israel are revealed. Observations on the ritual texts of the Ugaritians (161–63), literary parallels between Egyptian literature and the Old Testament (191), Babylonian legal tradition as parallel to the Deuteronomic covenant codes (136), and other studies of parallelism between peoples around Israel and the Old Testament effectively convey the identity of Israel among other nations and its belief and practices as governed by theocracy.

Since the discussions presented in the book mainly deal with historical developments of peoples around the nation of Israel, readers should have prerequisite knowledge about Old Testament Israel prior to reading the book. Biblical students and those who are interested in the development of ancient Near Eastern civilization during the time of the Old Testament will gain a great amount of understanding through the extensive observation offered in the book.

Ruth Aung
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Posted in Book Reviews

Singing God’s Psalms: Metrical Psalms and Reflections for Each Sunday in the Church Year

Singing God’s Psalms: Metrical Psalms and Reflections for Each Sunday in the Church Year, by Fred R. Anderson. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016. 239 pp. $24.00.

Today the Psalms of Scripture are mostly read, either aloud in church or silently in one’s private devotional time; however, they were originally intended to be sung. With that in mind, Fred R. Anderson has paraphrased a number of the Psalms into metered text for use in congregational singing. Anderson is a hymn writer, liturgical theologian, and pastor emeritus at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City.

Anderson’s collection includes metrical paraphrases of all the Psalm texts contained in the Revised Common Lectionary. The author provides the hymn meter for each setting, as well as a list of anywhere from one to five possible hymn tunes that may be used with the text. Each text also includes a brief reflection on the original Psalm in which he discusses the original context, use, and any literary devices in the original text. Also included in the collection are metrical settings of some of the canticles found through Scripture, including the Song of Hannah, Song of Mary, Song of Zechariah, Song of Simeon, two hymns from Isaiah, and one hymn from Lamentations.

For music directors who want to incorporate Psalm texts into their church’s singing, the metrical paraphrases will be of primary interest. The paraphrases work very well as hymn texts, fitting comfortably with the tunes Anderson suggests; they also remain quite faithful to the original Psalms, so those looking for biblical, theologically rich texts will not be disappointed. He consciously sets to use inclusive language in his paraphrases, avoiding “masculine references . . . used for the human family” and masculine pronouns referring to God (x). This may be off-putting to conservative Christians, but it must also be noted that he does retain the biblical language of “King” and “Lord” to refer to God as they “are so thoroughly biblical that they were not to be avoided” (xi).

In some cases he has slightly altered the Psalm to be more appropriate for congregational singing. For example, the original text of Psalm 2:7 is from the point of view of the king, and reads “I will tell of the decree: the Lord said to me” (ESV). Anderson has changed this to the third-person: “God’s decree unto the King/Tells us what the Lord did say” (5). Changes such as this retain the meaning of the Psalm, but church leaders should nonetheless use wisdom when deciding if these paraphrases are faithful enough to replace the reading or chanting of the original Psalm text entirely, or if they should be used only as supplements.

Non-musicians may have more interest in Anderson’s reflections on each Psalm text, as might pastors preparing sermons. These cover a variety of topics relating to each Psalm, including historical significance (such as by whom it was written and why), significant theological details (especially any relationship to Christ’s coming), and poetic devices used in the original Hebrew. He also includes some thought on modern application. In his reflection on Isaiah 58:1–12, for example, he draws parallels between the worshiper in biblical days who sees worship only as “an attempted quid pro quo” and the modern Christian who fasts during Lent “more to lose weight than to draw . . . into a more intimate and dependent relationship with God” (230).

Anderson’s liberal leanings become more obvious in his reflections on the texts, calling into question some long-held beliefs on Scripture’s authorship; he claims, for example, that Psalm 8 is “much older than the first creation account” and that the idea of humanity created in the imago Dei stems from the language found in this Psalm (11). Even more concerning is the fact that he appears to cast doubt on the full veracity of the passion narratives in his discussion of Psalm 22: “It is easy to see why the infant church found in this psalm prophetic witness to Jesus’s passion, death, resurrection, and eternal rule, and how its influence found its way into the passion narratives” (34). This seems to imply that Jesus did not actually quote this Psalm while hanging on the cross, but that it was added later to the narrative by the author. While this will hardly undermine the truth of the Gospel, it may be problematic for conservative Christian readers.

Those simply wishing to read about the Psalms may want to look elsewhere, as the discussions on each Psalm are quite short and reflect Anderson’s particular theological leanings. However, for those looking to revitalize their congregational singing with well-written Psalm paraphrases, this book will prove to be an invaluable resource.

Aaron Walton
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

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Worship Changes Everything: Experiencing God’s Presence in Every Moment of Life

Worship Changes Everything: Experiencing God’s Presence in Every Moment of Life, by Darlene Zschech. Bloomington, MI: Bethany House Publishers, 2015. 256 pp. $14.99.

“If you can casually meander through worship, then I would dare to say that maybe, just maybe, you have not entered into true worship at all” (9). In the introduction to Worship Changes Everything, Darlene Zschech defines worship as “our response to His majesty” and as such, this mutual encounter should significantly affect the focus and passion of our worship “because when God comes close, everything changes” (9). A prolific composer of contemporary Christian music, Darlene Zschech is an internationally known singer, worship leader, and speaker. Well known for her accomplishments while at Hillsong, a Pentecostal megachurch in Australia, she is considered by many as a pioneer within the modern worship movement. Many believe that worship is what occurs “at church or what happens for a particular hour or two in the week,” but to the contrary, “because God is ever-present and He is truly worthy,” Zschech’s purpose is to argue that worship is something that should occur during “every moment of life” (25). Thus, she states her thesis best near the end of the book: “Worship changes everything because it invades and pervades every aspect of our lives” (246).

Zschech divides the twenty-one chapters of her book into two sections. The first section serves as a foundation for the second: God’s worthiness, presence, and love causes a response of love, praise, and gratitude from the worshiper. The second section comprises the bulk of her work, delineating every conceivable arena of life as an act of or avenue for worship. Although not grouped as such, her areas of worship discussion fall within several categorical sub-themes. First, we worship by loving others by serving through missions along with positive attitudes and words. Second, we worship in spite of and through suffering, grief, doubt, and confusion. Third, work and money can be expressions of worship. Fourth, marriage and family are avenues for worship. Fifth, worship occurs corporately, privately, and in eternity. Only one chapter stands alone: the love of self as worship.

There are two primary arguments used to support the author’s thesis. This intention was made clear by the book’s division into two sections. The first argument was that worship changes everything “when we worship God for all He is worth with all we are worth” (13). The second argument was that worship changes everything because “as we worship God in and through the relationships, activities, and places in our lives, His power changes us” (79).

The first primary argument is supported by six secondary arguments connected by a progression of thought with the first three focusing upon a loving and present God who is worthy of worship and the last two chapters focusing upon the worshiper’s response of gratitude and praise. The fourth chapter is pivotal in that it addresses the mutual love between God and the worshiper.

Zschech’s second primary argument is supported by fifteen secondary arguments. These secondary arguments do not represent a progression in thought but are connected to the extent that they are areas of life that the author posits as worship opportunities. For example, “serving is worshiping” (80), “words and thoughts in every walk of life can express worship” (123), “money is a golden opportunity to worship” (145), and “work is to be worship” (177). Other secondary arguments include mission and positive attitude as well as loving others, family, and even oneself as ways to worship.

Several strengths of the book emerge. Scriptures permeate the text, adding strength to arguments when correctly interpreted, such as worship beginning at salvation (245). Quotes from a wide range of well-known individuals and theologians as well as religious and historical figures provided added support to some of her arguments, such as statements from Luther and Wesley regarding work (178). Another strength of this book is Zschech’s passion to positively exhort all believers to worship—especially the hurting, downcast, and unloved—by using illustrations from personal interactions and struggles, such as her emotional turmoil during chemo treatments (112).

A number of weaknesses also emerge in this book. Many Scriptures are misused, weakening the arguments supporting the thesis. For example, she views Hosea as analogous to true worship as being a love story in which God woos the worshiper (50–52) rather than a picture of the believer seeking God in righteous obedience (Hosea 10:12, 12:6). Zschech uses paraphrases rather than translations, taking Scriptures out of context, misinterpreting Scripture, and stretching scriptural meanings frequently throughout the text. Examples of this include the positing of Esther as a foreshadowing of Paul (129) and insinuating that Jesus was “negative about money” (146) without giving a balanced picture of what He and the rest of Scripture teach in terms of stewardship. She changes scriptural narratives to fit her charismatic perspective, such as healing in services (70), activating the Holy Spirit with faith (242), and elevating the health/wealth philosophy, relating the parable of the talents “to the world of commerce” and that “it is okay to want more” (174). She often incorrectly quotes Scripture or adds to it, forming different ideas, concepts, and theology, even suggesting that if James and John “truly wanted to be at Jesus’s left and right side, they would have hung on the crosses next to Him, in place of the two criminals” (84). She occasionally makes false claims contrary to Scripture to make her point. Although Jesus was driven by the Spirit (Mark 1:12) or led by the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:1) into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Matt 4:1), she claims Jesus “was not driven there” but “volunteered so that He could understand and relate to the times when we’re tempted and feel alone” (235).

Further, the quotes chosen seemed randomly added to fit with the author’s thoughts and were biased, which gave the appearance of credibility, but falsely presented theological agreement, such as equating Cyprian to Joel Olsteen (210). She also frequently shifted topics but either did not relate the topic to worship (187–193) or returned to it in a different context (194–95). Many sections did not tie themselves to worship at all (201 and chapter 16).

Zschech argumentation was often flawed. If one follows her use of Ephesians 5:21 as an argument for worship being related to the mutual submission within marriage, the logical conclusion would require God to submit to us (186). She also twists the Great Commandments towards a skewed conclusion: “How can we love our neighbor as we love ourselves if we don’t, indeed, love ourselves” (161)? Six pages later, her logic could be summarized as follows: self-esteem determines my worship, which allows me to accomplish my destiny.

Charismatic theology is the permeating perspective of this book. The health/wealth prosperity gospel (155, 157–58), the use of miraculous gifts in church (212), and charismatic terminology (236) are present.  Other philosophies and religions are used to support her perspective, including negative energy (119) and chaos theory (127), as well as determinism and/or destiny (127, 167, 187).

The topic and theme of this book is timely and valuable within a society that is becoming increasingly hostile towards Christianity. Its format and readability make it accessible to a popular audience, particularly those who are fans of Zschech and/or are in theological/doctrinal agreement with her.

Scott Walker Bryant
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

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The Presence of God: Its Place in the Storyline of Scripture and the Story of Our Lives

The Presence of God: Its Place in the Storyline of Scripture and the Story of Our Lives, by J. Ryan Lister. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishing, 2015. 367 pp. $15.58.

“Like mountaintops ascending above the mist, Genesis and Revelation afford us with spectacular views of God’s presence” (87). Professor J. Ryan Lister of Portland, Oregon’s Western Seminary follows in the footsteps of Brother Lawrence (Practice the Presence of God), A. W. Tozer (Experiencing the Presence of God), and countless others in writing about the omnipresence of God working in the life of the believer. The redemptive-historical argument of this book works to prove that the presence of God is a “fundamental objective in our redemption” (24).  Lister manages to do this in an elegant and innovative way by framing the entire argument within a template of theatrical terminology to better illuminate the presence of God, much like a protagonist in a grand theatrical production.

With the book divided into four sections titled “Fade to Light,” “Enter Stage Left,” “Standing in the Spotlight,” and “Curtain Calls,” Lister creates a chronological view of God’s interaction with creation, the Hebrews, the Acts 2 church, and the present day. The author’s Old Testament skills in the first half of the book are noteworthy as he takes the reader on a brisk, yet comprehensive, walk through the history of the Old Testament while hinting of something to come. In fact, page 128 gives the reader the first mention of Jesus Christ, with his presence firmly felt in the second half of the book. The final thirty pages give strong application for the twenty-first-century believer. This tithe of the book may seem like a few pages, however, it is very strong in material dealing with the subjects of sanctification and church discipline. I appreciated his view of the Church as “the Temple” (310) with his theory being if the regenerate serve as the Temple of God, then the church full of believers must ipso facto serve as the Temple. This pattern of thought serves as a strong remonstration to current local churches.

As stated earlier, the Old Testament work in this book walks a fine line between brevity and diligence. As Lister watches God, like an audience member waiting for the fourth wall to be broken toward the end of a play, he gives a thorough understanding of the presence of God and its redemptive qualities. Perhaps it is because of this extreme single-mindedness that Christ is not mentioned and barely alluded to in the first one hundred pages. In a historical view of God’s presence, this can be somewhat forgiven, yet it would have added “more tension to the plot” if the text could have carried a more incarnational tone.

Though concision is crucial for the tone of this book, it was surprising that the subject of Abraham’s sacrifice of a ram, which alludes to Christ’s sacrifice, was only mentioned in a footnote. There is also little formal reference to the Holy Spirit. The omission is probably again due to a laser-like focus on the subject of the presence of the Father member of the Trinity.

The presence of God is made manifest in this writing until the very last page, fulfilling the objective and very title of the book. There may be some changes in perspective that could have helped the reader to gain a more Trinitarian point-of-view of God as the “completion of our salvation” (323); however, the doctrinal platform upon which this book stands is indisputable.

The Presence of God is solid reading for the maturing Christian. It is also good material for any pastor wishing to approach the study of Scripture from a chronological standpoint while retaining a systematic approach, which is not an easy task. By Lister’s writing style, it seems that he wanted to appeal to a more general audience; however, that may not materialize as the subject matter is weighty at times. This is unfortunate as the final thirty pages certainly have thought-provoking material for the modern Christian coupled with very real application, but the previous three hundred pages are crucial in the development of the author’s thesis. I am pleased to have added The Presence of God to my library, and it will no doubt be beneficial as a reference on the redemptive-historical study of the Old Testament for some time to come.

John Francis
Hannibal–LaGrange University

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Drinking from the Wells of New Creation: The Holy Spirit and the Imagination in Reconciliation

Drinking from the Wells of New Creation: The Holy Spirit and the Imagination in Reconciliation, by Kerry Dearborn. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2014. 159 pp. $20.70.

“What went so wrong with Christian creativity, hope, and love that such inhumane treatment of others could be justified” (66)? Kerry Dearborn, Professor of Theology at Seattle Pacific Seminary and Seattle Pacific University, addresses this question in her book titled Drinking from the Wells of New Creation: The Holy Spirit and the Imagination in Reconciliation. Her purpose is to pen a book that the Holy Spirit uses to bring renewal and hope while leading to shalom (8). Dearborn’s thesis is “that the Holy Spirit is the source of power to reimagine life and to live for the common good, without whom God’s people can quickly default to systems of fearfulness and greed” (33).

Dearborn first explains that God is the one who reconciles, and then she examines the Holy Spirit’s attributes and role in reconciliation. Gifts of the Spirit in reconciliation follow. Next, Dearborn elucidates how the Holy Spirit shapes the imagination in reconciliation, and she explains the imagination’s shadows that inhibit reconciliation. Dearborn closes by describing some signposts of the Holy Spirit’s creation of reconciliation: ekklesia, koinonia, and sacramentum.

Dearborn supports her thesis by exploring the importance of the Holy Spirit forming imaginations in reconciliation. She argues that “the imagination is a vital means by which the Holy Spirit’s gifts of faith, hope, and love can bear fruit that tastes of the indwelling life of Jesus Christ” (70). She traces the Holy Spirit’s work on imaginations found in the story of Peter and Cornelius (Acts 10) and further explains that the imagination is “a solvent that fosters healthy self-denial” that the Spirit uses in forming a person to live for the common good of others (75). Dearborn states, “prayerful openness is one of the most crucial means by which one can receive God’s transforming power to reshape one’s imagination for participation in God’s reconciling purposes” (71). She writes that Peter’s imagination was changed from the “Jewish identity” that believed Gentiles and their food were unclean to an imagination that embraced Cornelius and his family as “coheirs with Christ” (72–73). Dearborn explains it is the Holy Spirit that changes a person’s imagination from self-centeredness to compassion and love for others (73). Not only is the imagination the solvent that the Spirit works upon, Dearborn argues the Spirit creates a new vision in the imagination. The Spirit forged a new hope and vision in Peter and Cornelius that was “countercultural” (78). Thirdly, an imagination impacted by the Spirit will catalyze a response in the community. The Spirit shaped Peter’s imagination to see Christ as Lord and Judge of everyone (79). Dearborn lucidly points to her thesis when she states that “dividing walls have been brought down, and that reconciliation and unity are the gift of God in Christ and by the Holy Spirit” (80). The Spirit’s role in molding the imagination is essential to Dearborn’s claim.

Dearborn also attempts to defend her thesis by elucidating the signposts of the Holy Spirit’s work in reconciliation. She argues the Spirit transforms and creates signposts “that point to renewed life rather than crushing oppression and death” (119). Ekklesia, koinonia, and sacramentum are three signposts. Ekklesia, according to Dearborn, became “a radical expression of inclusion,” and the Spirit’s creation of ekklesia produces Christian loyalty (120). Instead of being exclusive, the Church’s koinonia, through the Spirit’s renewing, radically includes “Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free” (121). Radical inclusiveness is also seen in the early church’s understanding of sacramentum. Dearborn states that this community allowed the Spirit to form their imaginations to see themselves as one body, not divided by class, gender, or ethnicity (122). Dearborn states that these signposts express the Holy Spirit’s impact in reimagining the essence of life (123).

Dearborn makes many thought-provoking claims in her book. She clearly argues for the Spirit’s role in reconciliation among different ethnicities and social classes. In a world plagued with division and hatred, this book encourages Christians to stand against discrimination. Dearborn’s argument for the Spirit’s working on the imagination is particularly strong, and it befits the reader to ponder her elucidation of the imagination’s shadows, a “reservoir of gruesome and hideous images” (6). Overall, Dearborn successfully argues her thesis.

Though value can be found in this book, it behooves Dearborn to clearly state her understanding of the gospel. At times, she seems to use language that points to universalism and the social gospel. For example, she states that “it is precisely because reconciliation is first and foremost the work of God and only secondarily something in which humans participate, that its universal inclusiveness is ensured” (27), and later she notes that “the Spirit gives life to all people, and is a defender of the weak and powerless” (52). She also states that “all have been qualified by Christ and in Christ” (121). In relation to gender roles, complementarians will find Dearborn’s book to be problematic (127). Dearborn also needs to better clarify how creation is a moment of salvation (12).

I would hesitantly recommend this book to students of theology and sociology. This book is written at a college reading level, and it is a fair addition to the field of pneumatology.

John Gray
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

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For the Glory of God: Rediscovering a Biblical Theology of Worship

For the Glory of God: Rediscovering a Biblical Theology of Worship, by Daniel I. Block. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014. 360 pp. $36.99.

From one of the foremost American Old Testament scholars, Daniel I. Block, comes For the Glory of God: Rediscovering a Biblical Theology of Worship. After decades of writing commentaries on individual books of the Bible, Block presents readers with a holistic biblical theology of worship. Through this study he seeks “to find in it the principles and patterns of worship that should drive us today” (6). This is accomplished by answering the larger questions of “What do the Scriptures have in mind when they speak of worship? Who is the object of true worship? And whose worship is acceptable to God” (xiv)? Not only does Block answer these questions, but he also explores the topics of worship in personal devotion and family life, the ordinances, the ministry of the Word, prayer, music, offering sacrifices, sacred space for worship, and the role of worship leaders. Block presents his material topically rather than serially, but within each topic he examines and traces chronological patterns of worship from the Old Testament to New Testament.

Block accomplishes his task by providing the reader with a wealth of information. He answers the first question “what do the Scriptures have in mind when they speak of worship?” by first differentiating between Old and New Testament worship forms. He concludes that in the Old Testament “worship was primarily a matter of external actions rather than inward spiritual events” (5). But one element that carries into New Testament worship is a proper disposition: “First and New Testament perspectives on a proper disposition as a precondition for acceptable worship are indistinguishable” (11). Block concludes this discussion by referencing the command that carries from Old to New Testament in which people are to love God with all their hearts and minds.[1]

Block answers the second major question of “who is the object of worship?” by providing an overview of idolatry and then showing what sets Yahweh apart from other gods and idols. Block provides for the reader an overview of the names of Yahweh, His covenantal nature, and the importance of Christ, who makes all the difference in worship. He closes this chapter with a statement that summarizes why Christ is worthy of worship: “(1) He was slain—the historical fact; (2) with his death he purchased for God a people from every tribe and nation—the missiological fact and (3) through him the redeemed are made to be a kingdom and priests to God, and they shall reign on earth—the ecclesiological and eschatological fact” (53).

Finally, Block answers his third major question, “whose worship is acceptable to God?”  Before he answers this question, he first differentiates between true worship in a sinless world and true worship in a post-Fall world, the latter serving as his primary focus. According to Block,

Obviously God does not accept just anybody or everybody’s worship. When peoples’ hearts are pure and their lives exhibit righteousness, God responds favorably to their cultic worship. But God is not obligated to accept the worship of those whose hearts are hardened toward him and who live contrary to his will, even if the forms of their worship are correct. God looks upon the offering through the lens of the worshiper’s heart and character rather than seeing the worshiper through the lens of the offering. (61)

Block surmises this statement through an analysis of Cain and Abel’s offerings to the Lord in Genesis chapter four. Whose worship is acceptable is first and foremost a heart issue. He continues to prove this idea through an overview of Old Testament worship, through worship in the modern day, and through Christ.

Block accomplishes everything that he intended to do according to his initial questions within the preface, but this book shines further by providing information on the topics of worship in personal devotion and family life, the ordinances, the ministry of the Word, prayer, music, offering sacrifices, sacred space for worship, and the role of worship leaders. These sections continue to complement his initial three questions.

Block provides excellent charts that only add to the resources provided for the reader throughout. Another positive attribute of this book is that Block readily admits where he digresses because of his denominational presuppositions, as he does with the ordinance of baptism on pages 154–55. One final commendable attribute is his extensive chapter on music as worship. He does not simply present his view; but as he does in the rest of the book, he walks the reader from Old Testament to modern times in worship addressing numerous topics many would consider relevant today.

For the Glory of God: Rediscovering a Biblical Theology of Worship provides readers with information that I highly recommend to anyone, especially to those who have formal theological training. This book would be excellent as a textbook in a worship history course or just for a layperson to learn more about worship.

Matthew Phenix
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

[1] See Deut 6:5, Matt 22:37, Mark 12:30, and Luke 10:27.

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