Missional Worship: Increasing Attendance by Expanding the Boundaries of Your Church

Missional Worship: Increasing Attendance by Expanding the Boundaries of Your Church, by Cathy Townley. St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2011. 134 pp. $21.99.

Cathy Townley seeks to offer a new perspective on the practical role of worship in the church as a means to growing its attendance. There is an ever-growing discussion on the topic of the missional church, but Townley, an ordained pastor in the United Methodist church as well as a worship and evangelism coach, adds to the conversation that the method to increase worship attendance and expand the boundaries of our churches is to adopt a worship lifestyle (2). Townley argues throughout the book that our congregants must first and foremost live a life of worship, invite others into our faith communities, and then proceed to create a relevant atmosphere in our churches to welcome and sustain the new worshipers.

Townley structures her book in two parts, dividing what she calls the spiritual and the practical aspects comprising this framework of worship practice (2). In her writing, she focuses on using worship to grow attendance; however, worship in her context is the practice of spiritual disciplines, the daily devotional worship throughout the week. Townley argues that the role of the worship leader also should not necessarily be vocational in the sense that we think of it today. She argues that today most music ministers see the worship service as the main aspect of church life; however, although the worship service is important, “it isn’t the goal or even the main focus. . . . That’s backwards. Daily life is the goal because that’s where we actually live out our faith. . . . Jesus leads us outside the church walls . . . [where] Christ draws us closer to him through our spiritual practices” (11). Townley focuses in the second part of the book on “how to incorporate the spiritual disciplines into the worship service” (12). In this part she details what should be the work of the worship leader: facilitating the experience (104). This experience includes the corporate use of spiritual disciplines, including sitting “intentionally in silence [to] listen for what God says” (104). She argues that it takes “significant personnel working a lot of hours to create and implement this type of experience each week” (87). This work includes planning, using teams of believers and nonbelievers, and choosing songs that work, because “only ‘what works’ to help your particular mission field experience God in worship matters. Worship services are arts driven. It is how God communicates with us” (74). These elements include the transitions, which are necessary in avoiding disjunct and chaotic flow, “making it hard to enter into God’s presence” (96). Another important topic she addresses is lighting; turning the lights down “creates ambiance without saying a word,” as well as bringing focus to the leader and the altar (100).

Furthermore, Townley argues that the more familiar the worship leader is with the order of service, the easier it is for them “to relax and relate to God’s presence as God reveals God’s self to the community in the moment” (85). The first goal of the worship service is transformation: “Transformation is what we’re after in the public worship service: that those who are there have an experience of Christ so strong that they’ll consider following Him right then”  (104). This following Christ back into the world is the aspect that Townley argues is most important for growing the worship attendance, as the worshipers go out and invite others into the faith community.

Townley bases her whole set of practices on the life of worship that she describes in the first chapter; however, throughout the book she defines worship in numerous ways, all differing from the first idea of a life of devotion and spiritual disciplines. Most of the definitions of worship she provides are vague, as are many of the key points that she attempts to make. To further complicate the reading, Townley is not clear on her definition of the worship leader; in some cases it is the up-front person. In other cases, the entire congregation is the worship leader. The absence of distinction regarding the focal points of her book renders many of her practical suggestions and conclusions less useful to the reader.

In the same vein, not only are the definitions inadequate, the understanding of her worship philosophy is fragmented. This book is by far a practical book; Townley does not claim it to be anything different. However, strewn throughout her chapters resembling coaching sessions are bits of her philosophy of worship. It is quite difficult to discern what her motives are behind the practices she promotes; through an encompassing evaluation, however, the bits of her philosophy can be pieced together, although imperfectly. A stronger philosophical foundation would be quite beneficial before diving into the practical suggestions, especially so the readers can be aware of whether or not these practices complement their philosophies of worship.

To further complicate the flow of reading throughout her book, the informal writing style used lends itself to very weak arguments and incessantly repetitive statements. Furthermore, on every page there is an interruption of flow, in which she gives the reader a task to follow, and only on few occasions do these tasks actually correspond with the idea that she is attempting to convey; these interruptions consist of googling images such as spider webs or venus fly-traps, watching videos on YouTube of fruit, or listening to urban hip-hop songs. In the same manner, she uses these page breaks to include times of reading Scripture; occasionally these readings correlate with her argument. However, they unfortunately function the same as the aforementioned unnecessary interruptions, taking away from their importance to her stated topic.

What is most troubling about this book is that not a single time throughout her writing does Townley use scriptural support, although in the introduction she states, “when I speak on worship in this book, Jesus is my focus” (4). On the same page, she states that she is “aware that practical applications for growth aren’t much different from how they were in biblical times” (4). Whether that is true or not, Townley fails to provide the biblical support to her methods of church growth. Even more, her rare use of citations hardly supports her arguments or lend to the credibility of her methods and coaching. Any book approaching the topic of the church and worship, even from a practical viewpoint, should be supported throughout with scriptural support.

Townley approaches the topic of growing the worship attendance of churches from a narrow viewpoint, as she mainly discusses her experiences with emergent churches. In attempt to avoid being classified by either the attractional or church growth models, Townley offers her argument to the missional world in a vague and informal manner. If one is searching for coaching in a how-to format on how to bring in numbers, this may be the book to check out; however, if one is looking for well-supported, Scripture-based arguments as to how to effectively reach the community, this book will not match those criteria.

Lyndsey Huckaby
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Posted in Book Reviews

Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper

Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper, by Brant Pitre. New York: Image, 2011. 244 pp. $15.00.

Brant Pitre, the author of Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper, is a professor of Sacred Scripture at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, Louisiana. Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist looks at the roots of the Last Supper through a historical Jewish lens. Pitre tries to discover the real meaning behind Jesus’ words “Take, eat, this is my body” by interpreting the words and deeds in their historical Jewish context. He argues that one cannot know who Jesus was and what he has said unless they understand the context it derives from, in this case, ancient Judaism. To do this, he examines the Old Testament, where he draws a parallel between the Passover in Exodus and the Last Supper that Jesus had with his disciples. He looks in depth at all the things that surround the events of the exodus including the Passover, the manna, and the bread of the presence through the lens of Jewish beliefs, which help to explain the significance of the Lord’s Supper and the meaning behind what Jesus said about the bread and the wine being his body and blood.

Pitre defends his case by continuously drawing parallels between the Old Testament Passover and the New Testament Lord’s Supper. In the Passover, each father from the twelve tribes was a “priest” over his family, an unblemished male lamb was sacrificed, the blood of the lamb was spread, and the flesh of the lamb was eaten (55). In the New Testament, the Passover that was once commemorated became the Last Supper, or Jesus’s New Passover as Pitre puts it, Jesus himself was the lamb. There would be a new exodus through Jesus. In this case he draws very clear similarities between the exodus Passover and new Passover as the old is a prototype of the new. The author discusses every similarity in order to support his claim. His strongest argument, in this section, was that the exodus Passover was not complete until the Israelites ate from the sacrificed lamb. He linked this to the Eucharist saying that believers must also eat of Jesus’ flesh in order to truly take part in the Lord’s Supper. As part of the Eucharist ritual the “flesh” and “blood” is consumed; however, Pitre argues that it is actually Jesus within these elements. He reasons that since it was Jesus’ command that we eat of his flesh, the bread that we eat in the Eucharist must then be Jesus himself (74).

Pitre also uses manna, given to the Israelites during their time in the wilderness, to represent quite a few things that supposedly reveal the mysteries of the Eucharist. First, Pitre argues that it is miraculous or supernatural, like Jesus. Second, it is given daily, which Jesus also mentions in his Lord’s Prayer; “Give us this day our daily bread.” Third, it is holy since it was from God and placed in the Tabernacle. Lastly, it gives a foretaste of the promised land as it is “like wafers made with honey” (84). All arguments seem correct at first glance. However, the interpretation that Pitre makes on every point is quite a stretch. He argues that the manna is supernatural because of how it was given and who it was from. He makes the claim that manna has existed from the beginning of creation and is still eternally kept in heaven, arguing that things on earth are just copies of heavenly things (88). What makes his claim hard to grasp is that his source is not the Bible, but other sources from ancient Jewish writings, such as the Mishnah and the ancient Targum. As believers in Christ, we hold that Scripture is the only Word that is God-breathed and true. These other sources are accounts that have been written by others who may have their own interpretation. Pitre supports his argument by saying that “ancient Jews believed that the Temple was an eternal reality that existed in Heaven long before it existed on earth, so, too, some Jews saw the manna as an eternal reality that existed in Heaven long before it rained down to earth” (90). These “evidences” come from unreliable sources that may have even come from pagan thoughts and interpretations in those days. Though Pitre stacks his ideas neatly, his references bring about empty validations as they comes from sources which are unreliable for those who believe Scripture to be the one true source.

Pitre has shown light on the Last Supper and how it parallels with the Passover and the exodus in the Old Testament. While much of his evidence from the Old Testament is accurate, he stretches some of his interpretations with the use of ancient Jewish sources. Though these sources are helpful, to make concrete conclusions based on many ancient interpretations that may have been intertwined with pagan thoughts is a bit unsettling, especially if it is to make conclusions about God’s ordinance. His thought process was clear and manageable to follow because of the organization; however, I felt that many of his ideas were new and too large to grasp for this book’s size. Overall, this book helped me to see how significant the Lord’s Supper is, and it showed me a new view of the Eucharist, though I was a bit taken aback by his interpretations. After reading this book, I realize the importance of seeing it in this light. Therefore, I think it will be helpful for those who have prior knowledge of the Lord’s Supper, but want to see it in a new, Jewish perspective.

Ha Eun Yoo
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Posted in Book Reviews

Walking Where Jesus Walked: Worship in Fourth-Century Jerusalem

Walking Where Jesus Walked: Worship in Fourth-Century Jerusalem, by Lester Ruth, Carrie Steenwyk, and John D. Witvliet. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010. 160 pp. $18.42.

Lester Ruth is a research professor of Christian worship at Duke Divinity School. Carrie Steenwyk serves as the publication manager for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. John D. Witvliet is director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and professor of theology, worship, and congregational and ministry studies at Calvin Theological Seminary and Calvin College. These authors argue that Jerusalem’s worship reinforced an emphasis on the activity of God within time and space. Consequently, a study of Jerusalem’s worship provides daily, weekly, and yearly patterns that are essential to comforting, affirming in the fourth century, and challenging our faith in God.

The book is divided into two parts: locating the worshiping community and exploring the worshiping community. The first part addresses the uniqueness of Jerusalem’s worship for the development of Christianity. Seven significant themes mark Jerusalem’s worship: piety, time, place, prayer, preaching, music, and people. These themes are explored in great detail in the second section about the worshiping community. In locating the worshiping community, the authors also address the hybrid of practices brought from around the Christian world through pilgrimage. Therefore, Jerusalem’s worship was also the result of cross-fertilization from other regions. Part two describes the community’s worship through three vital areas. The first area discussed is a travel diary kept by Egeria, a nun, considered the main source about worship in the fourth century after the legalization of Christianity. Secondly, the authors analyze Scripture readings, a lectionary, which provides details about the use of the Bible in worship. And the third section explores the early church’s ways of handling Scripture by studying a series of sermons preached by Cyril while he was still a presbyter.

In the accounts by Egeria, the authors significantly highlight worship rhythms reenacting God’s activity. First, singing of hymns, psalms, and antiphons followed by prayer, a message, and blessings were integral to every gathering. The Sunday service, beginning at the tomb of Jesus Christ, reveals that the resurrection is the starting point for the Christians sense of time in worship (48). Egeria’s account of Scripture states that “at the beginning of the reading, the whole assembly groans and laments at all the Lord underwent for us, and the way they weep would move even the hardest heart to tears” (49).  The authors emphasize how the weekly, lengthy reading of Scripture shows remembering Christ’s death and resurrection as an act of worship. Accounts about catechumens provide an intense experience of several dimensions, including prayers and teachings in which the bishop goes through the entire Bible, beginning with Genesis, for forty days. In essence, the ability to know the entire Bible in a Christian way was integral to participating well in worship in this period (60).

The authors make a strong case for the origin and observance of various forms of prayer in the fourth century.  An outline of the communion prayer or anaphora, which is also known as St. James prayer, provides insight into the focus of prayers and also the Trinitarian and narrative qualities of the prayer.  Rather than prayer being inwardly focused, the Eucharistic prayer is a classic Christian way of naming and remembering practices that are outwardly focused (87). The authors reveal that the anaphora used Colossians 2:14, 1 Corinthians 2:9, and Isaiah 64:4 to pray, and this made worship more scriptural and focused on God.

In the analysis of Cyril’s sermon, the authors make a strong case for a Christ-centered message. They state that “Cyril’s sermon never allows the spotlight to drift from Jesus Christ, who he is and what he has done. As Christ is the key to interpreting the whole breadth of salvation history, he is also the key to understanding Scripture, human need, and God’s provision for it, and ultimately, God the Father himself” (119). All of Scripture points toward Christ and does not consist of merely isolated narratives. Cyril’s sermon account contrasts contemporary sermons that are tailored solely to the people’s felt needs.

The authors were substantially thorough about their accounts of the yearly celebrations and Christian calendar; Scripture preached, read, and prayed; and the importance of prayer, but they provide little about music and singing by comparison. There are remarks made in Egeria’s diary about worship that are not significantly addressed by the authors, as they seem to reveal an imbalance and shift from Christ-centered worship in contemporary times. Although there are brief mentions of singing (47), singers, and probably choir (99), the concluding sections lack details about music.

A study of Jerusalem’s worship in the fourth century is important for everyone. For those interested in Christianity as a religion, they would discover the impact that legalization of Christianity had on the church. In Christian worship, it is important to see what a strong, biblical spirituality in worship should be. Those interested in preaching would find these texts very useful because they reveal how early preachers made the gospel of Christ key to interpreting all of Scripture. Walking Where Jesus Walked will be suitable as a textbook both for the specialist and layperson.

Desmond Ikegwuonu
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Posted in Book Reviews

Jonathan Edwards on Worship: Public and Private Devotion to God

Jonathan Edwards on Worship: Public and Private Devotion to God, by Ted Rivera. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publication, 2010. 175 pp. $22.

What did worship look like in churches around the time of the First Great Awakening? Ted Rivera, associate professor of religion at Liberty University and PhD graduate from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, attempts to answer this question. In Jonathan Edwards on Worship: Public and Private Devotion to God, Rivera discusses major themes that are found throughout Jonathan Edwards’s personal writings, letters, and sermons to determine Edwards’s views on public and private worship in a systematized fashion. Rivera argues that Edwards’s worship practices can be divided into three distinct categories: public worship, self-examination, and private devotion. Within these three categories, self-examination acts as a bridge between public worship and private devotion.

Rivera begins his book with a brief historical introduction regarding various opinions on Jonathan Edwards. The introduction also contains a small section regarding Puritan worship within the New England area and how Edwards’s writings provide a skeletal structure as to how Puritan worship was formed within their worship services.

Part one focus on the aspect of public worship in Edwards’s church. One of the first things Rivera does in this section is create an historical context for the reader to help him understand the worship practices through the filter of an eighteenth-century New Englander. Part two discusses the self-examination aspect of worship. Rivera discusses why this is the bridge between public and private worship. A great portion of the book is spent in these first two sections, and the author concludes with part three, private devotion. According to Rivera, this progression shows that Edwards believed worship began with public worship; the process of self-evaluation bridged the gap to help the congregant to draw closer to God, which leads to private devotion.

The book concludes with a brief section summarizing the way Rivera systematically works through Edwards’s thoughts brought forth within his writings. Within this conclusion, a thoughtful comparison of worship practices between the Puritans and modern-day churches is included, allowing the reader to reflect on the differences in a convicting manner.

To support his arguments, Rivera begins with a lengthy section on public worship in which he discusses various attributes of what worship services looked like under Edwards’s leadership. One attribute he discusses is Edwards’s preaching style, which was dry in its delivery. He quotes Edwards saying, “I think I can write better than I can speak” (27). Rivera concludes this section by mentioning Edwards’s primary concern was biblically sound preaching. Without the preaching of the Word the worship service would be without meaning or “hollow” (29). These pictures of worship within Edwards’s church helps one see the importance of Scripture in the Christian’s daily walk. This foundation then influences the individual in his self-evaluation and private devotion.

Among Edwards’s writings, the act of self-examination is discussed a great amount. Rivera chose to focus on this aspect in public and private worship more than the others because it is “the bridge between public and private acts of worship” (75).  At this point, Rivera helps his modern reader to see more accurately what a worship service with Edwards would have looked like, a long tedious service in an unheated building. This is far removed from what most modern worshipers are used to today. To add to this uncomfortable environment, many times aspects of the service would have included times of self-examination. This was especially common during times of communion, but it was not limited to this time. Some critics would argue that too much self-examination could be harmful. The danger is that one is constantly uncertain of his salvation, which creates a lack of assurance in the believer. He mentions Karl Barth’s statement that “it is a bad theology which has no assurance of salvation.” However, Rivera defends Edwards. While this practice could cause uncertainty of salvation, it encouraged true believers because they could consider the work that has been done in them through their conversion (78). Rivera further defends Edwards by saying, once true believers have examined themselves, they have no choice but to put their faith in Christ that he has redeemed them from their sinfulness (79).

This book is easy to read, written in a way many can understand. Rivera also does a good job writing the book in a way the modern reader can better interpret Jonathan Edwards’s writings through the lens of an eighteenth-century New Englander. This book also gives validation for self-examination and its importance in the Christian life. It has practical aspects for the modern church as well. Common things seen in many houses of worship today are addressed from coffee shops to concert-like worship services. This book’s approach helps modern worshipers to consider what Edwards and many like him would think about churches today.

While the book concludes on a practical note, it falls short in explicitly supporting its thesis. Rather, the reader may implicitly realize that worship based around Scripture, leading to self-evaluation, will naturally affect how one worships God on the private level. This implicit conclusion may be realized in the amount of Edwards’s spiritual discipline brought to light within the private devotion part of the book.

This book would be a great addition to anyone interested in the worship practices of Jonathan Edwards and how self-evaluation played a role in his worship services. Pastors, church leaders, students of religion, and lay people can all benefit from reading this book.

Jessie C. Wigginton
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Posted in Book Reviews

Eating Beauty: The Eucharist and the Spiritual Arts of the Middle Ages

Eating Beauty: The Eucharist and the Spiritual Arts of the Middle Ages, by Ann W. Astell. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006. 296 pp. $29.95.

“Let us imagine that in the whole world there was but one bread, and it could satisfy the hunger of all” (168). Professor Ann W. Astell of Notre Dame University spent a year in research of medieval arts and literature relating to the Eucharist; the result of this near-monastic pursuit is the 2006 book, Eating Beauty: The Eucharist and the Spiritual Arts of the Middle Ages. Her purpose in writing the book is to examine the fall of man, predicated by the eating of forbidden fruit, and how the beauty of the Eucharist neutralizes this depraved state. The magnificence of this consumption is viewed through four medieval perspectives: St. Bernard of Clairvaux; St. Bonaventure; St. Ignatius of Loyola with Michelangelo; and the three Catherines—Catherine of Siena, Catherine of Genoa, and “Catherine” Rose of Lima.

As a Baptist I do not agree with the Catholic interpretation of the Eucharist stated in this book, nor do I accept its implied salvific nature. However, one would fully expect this bias to occur in a manuscript written with the above predisposition as this review’s summary will elaborate.

The opening premise is underscored by the proposition that the “Tree of Life” was not “an antidote for the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil [but to] foreshadow the Eucharistic sacrament” (33). However, the bulk of the book quickly moves from that to describing the following four Eucharistic interactions aesthetically.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux was cerebral in his monasticism described in the chapter, “Hidden Manna.” Profoundly intrigued by mnemonic techniques, he instructed the monks to construct ornate “memory palaces” in their minds where they could visit to remember important concepts of discipleship and Scripture (65). The beauty here is within, yet the visible worldly realm was to remain austere. The author’s implication is that the host has intrinsic internal value—it changes the communicant from the inside out.

Mysticism, gematria, and the stigmata of St. Francis govern the ensuing chapter “Adorned with Wounds.” Unlike the previous chapter, the Eucharist manifests itself externally through sacrificial works and the stigmata, which was the purported blemishes St. Francis mysteriously received on his hands and feet that resembled those of Christ. The strong undercurrent of mysticism and the beauty of external Eucharistic manifestation of the Middle Ages continues in the chapter titled “Imitate Me as I Imitate Christ” describing “the Catherines.” These ascetic ladies’s régimes are interwoven with the observed miracles that would later canonize them.

The following chapter about the kinship and logothetics between the penitent priest, Loyola, and the resolute sculptor, Michelangelo, is a brilliant visual and ontological parallelism that compares the spiritual exercises of the “father of the Jesuits” and four periods of work by the famed sculptor. Anachronistically, the penultimate chapter deals with the philosophy of art in the Eucharist through the eyes of Catholic philosopher Simone Weil and prominent Protestant philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. To Hegel, the beauty comes more from the philosophical regard to the sacraments than it does from a moment of transubstantiation as Weil proffered.

Eating Beauty is targeted to an audience who is sympathetic to a form of Christianity that is built less on the authority of Scripture and more on mystery, penitence, and ritual. This interpretation yields weaknesses in the writing: the wholesale acceptance of medieval miracles, a weak defense of transubstantiation, and an unclear pursuit of the written purpose of the book, especially for a reader lacking in a knowledge of medieval history.

In Eating Beauty miracles are celebrated without any apparent inquiry to their veracity. “Adorned with Wounds” was so laden with miracle-reporting that the message of the Eucharist was all but lost, leaving the reader to search for direction in Astell’s narrative. Gory details of “the Catherines,” in “Imitate Me as I Imitate Christ” were far more about penitent life than about the importance of the Eucharist and the spiritual arts.

The doctrine of transubstantiation—the claim that the bread, upon consecration, of the priest, changes into the “substance of the body of Christ,” and the wine the “substance of His blood,”[1] is feebly defended in a few lines on page fifty-two as “in answer to doubts about transubstantiation—often involved bleeding Hosts, disturbingly bloody signs of the mystery of the Mass.” Obscure miracles are seemingly the only defense Eating Beauty has for this sacramental transformation. Though not an adherent to this doctrine, I will admit that there are stronger and richer biblical defenses for this dogma that could have easily been employed than were stated in this book.

The final criticism of this work is the lack of cohesiveness to the book’s stated purpose. It is up to the reader to dig through the chapters to find relative meaning of the Eucharist as the emblematic antidote for Adam and Eve’s consumption of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. While the book’s stated purpose of man’s symbolic and literal redemption of eating sin by eating beauty is a noble claim, it is not clearly supported in the writing.

What is evident in the script, however, is the author’s research and thorough understanding of this time period—it is impressive, exhaustive, and unquestionable. The depth of information rendered portions of this reading a true delight; a worthwhile charge to a follower of Christ by any label. If the evangelical world had a tenth of the zeal for the via pulchritudinis (“way of beauty”) (228) of Communion that Astell has, our time at “the Table” would have a much richer significance.

Doctrinal weaknesses notwithstanding, the purpose of this book is somewhat fulfilled by vivid, studied, and well-documented writing, but it is left to the reader to make the necessary symbolic and spiritual connections. Despite this, the excursions off “the beaten path” were educational and enlightening. Eleven full-color plates accompany the tome, adding to the richness of the story.

Eating Beauty was a journey I enjoyed. As a Baptist, the manuscript definitely humbled me in my regard to this most beautiful banquet that all Christians enjoy and many times take for granted, the Lord’s Supper.

John L. Francis
Hannibal-LaGrange University

[1] Council of Trent, 1552.

Posted in Book Reviews

Call for Papers

ArtisticTheologian-JournalCover-final-proofThe editorial team of Artistic Theologian is pleased to extend a general call for papers for the fifth volume of our peer-review journal, due to be published in the spring of 2017.

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

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

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

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

Please send your submission to the Editor-in-Chief.

Submissions for Volume 5 are due September 1, 2016.

Posted in Journal

Volume 4 of Artistic Theologian is now available!

I am pleased to announce that Volume 4 of Artistic Theologian is now available!

Posted in Journal

The God We Worship: An Exploration of Liturgical Theology

The God We Worship: An Exploration of Liturgical Theology, by Nicholas Wolterstorff. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015. 180 pp. $20.00.

Nicholas Wolterstorff endeavors to do something that has been almost unprecedented, that is, discovering what is understood but not stated about the God we worship by examining closely the liturgy of the Church. Throughout the course of The God We Worship: An Exploration of Liturgical Theology, Wolterstorff examines in detail the liturgies of the Orthodox, Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, and Reformed churches largely due to the fact that these liturgies have long withstood the “tests of time” and have a “depth, a richness, [and] a beauty” that he feels is lacking in contemporary alternative liturgies (20). Wolterstorff argues that there is a reason we do what we do in worship and, rather than focusing always on what is explicit, he directs his attention to the underlying understanding of God implicit in worship as what can form or deform the congregation’s explicit understanding of God. Wolterstorff is a distinguished author, professor, and a modern authority in the field of liturgical and theological studies. This book is a revision of the texts of the Kantzer Lectures in Revealed Theology he gave at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in 2013 (xi).

Wolterstorff structures his argument into nine chapters, with each chapter examining a different aspect of the liturgy to find what is implicit about God in the acts of worship. In the first chapter, Wolterstorff outlines what a Christian liturgy entails, as well as how one should go about understanding God implicit in the liturgies. He states that Christian theology revolves only around “the God Christians worship” (2). He goes on to describe what will be the focus of his project, liturgical theology; Wolterstorff claims that he will in the course of the following 178 pages “[make] explicit the understanding of God implicit in Christian worship,” while supporting this claim by clearly articulating this understanding—explaining, developing, and defending it (2). This first chapter lays the foundation on which Wolterstorff will build his arguments of God implicit in the liturgy in the chapters that follow. Chapters two, three, and four outline the arguments for God found implicit in the liturgy as One who is worthy of worship (ch. 2), One who is vulnerable (ch. 3), and One who participates in mutual address (ch. 4). Chapters five, six, and seven focus on the understanding of God implicit in our addressing God in the liturgy. In chapter six, Wolterstorff takes time to carefully describe the process in which we can know that God listens through a discussion on the usage of analogous extension in describing the qualities of God. He later transitions into the understanding of God as one who speaks in chapter eight, while interacting with different views of God’s revelation from John Calvin and Karl Barth. In the final chapter of the book, Wolterstorff focuses heavily on the understanding of God implicit in the Eucharist (ch. 9), expounding greatly upon the Eucharist by unfolding the statement, “Christ offers himself, and we partake” (150). Wolterstorff appends an afterword explaining the significance of developing a liturgical theology.

Wolterstorff clearly articulates that which is not easy to grasp, perhaps most notably through the repetitious nature of his writing; Wolterstorff continuously revisits previously discussed ideas to further establish the foundation upon which he will build with the introduction of new material. Much of what returns in his writing are the definitions upon which he elaborates to support his argument. Wolterstorff uses an entire chapter to discuss what he means by “making explicit the understanding of God implicit in Christian worship,” which is obviously most important to reference frequently in the following chapters in order to fully examine this definition (2). Wolterstorff also regularly uses examples from the different liturgies to which he is referring to fully survey the examples of God implicit in each respective liturgy. What proved to be most beneficial in supporting his argument of what is implicit in our understanding of God as a listener was his detailed discussion of analogous extension. He supports the argument in which he states God can in fact listen to our prayers (as well as speak to us) by giving numerous examples of analogous extension and demonstrating how it can be applied to God (106).

Although Wolterstorff is an excellent wordsmith, he does not mince his words when referring to contemporary liturgies; however, he is very faithful to explain why he regards these liturgies (bare as they may be) as lesser forms of liturgy. Also, although Wolterstorff never stated that he intended this book to be a practical source, as a reader I thought that at least the inclusion of an appendix of discussion points would be beneficial to one who does in fact want to reform his church’s liturgy to reflect the understanding of God implicit that he gained from reading this book. That subject, however, may necessitate another volume.

Some would probably argue that this book addresses more of the theological side of worship rather than practical applications of this idea to modern worship; however, Wolterstorff states that when a body of Christians comes together, its worship will most always “take the form of liturgical worship” (9). The Greek word for liturgy (leitourgia) means simply “the work of the people.” Therefore, if these two statements taken together are true, this book is full of application as to how the worshiper can rightly understand the crossroads of theology and its practice in the liturgy. With that, I believe this book would be highly beneficial for any reader who seeks to understand what is implicit in our worship actions, especially regarding the God we worship. This book is recommended for all Christian worshipers, as it is vitally important that we understand what we are implying in the gifts of worship we offer to God.

Lyndsey Huckaby

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Posted in Book Reviews

Practice for Heaven: Music for Worship That Looks Higher

Practice for Heaven: Music for Worship That Looks Higher, by Gabriel C. Statom. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2015. 148 pp. $19.

A common phrase used among musicians is, “practice makes perfect.” As one practices for anything, the goal is to become better at doing something so that the final performance of the practiced actions may be the best possible. This is idea lies behind Practice for Heaven by Gabriel C. Statom, Director of Music at Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tennessee. The author states that he wants this book to “help musicians develop a philosophy of church music that is grounded in biblical and theological understanding that suggests the role of music in corporate worship should transport the worshiper to the heavenly throne of our God.” Essentially, we are to practice for worship in heaven while here on earth, so we should strive to do it as closely to what heaven looks like.

Practice for Heaven is divided into three parts, discussing the following general topics: What We Know about Worship, Music in Worship, and Church Music that Aspires. Part One is a historical and biblical survey of worship and what it has looked like throughout the ages. From a biblical perspective, Statom covers the glimpses into heaven available in the Bible and what we know about worship after the return of Christ. Part Two discusses the musical aspects of worship on earth and begins to compare them to what was discussed about heavenly worship in Part One. The author treats multiple aspects of music in worship including choral, instrumental, and corporate worship music with a brief section on the content within the music. Part Three summarizes the book by discussing common faults in church music and attempting to add some practical application. Then a brief conclusion explains how churches should form their worship philosophies.

The author begins to support his thesis by presenting to the reader historical knowledge and traditions that have been included within the church liturgy throughout the ages. Statom also discusses the various pictures of heaven that are given in the Bible such as Isaiah 6 and Revelation. He argues that it is not the place of the worshiper to decide how to come into God’s presence and that worship is primarily for the glory of God and not for the pleasure of mankind (39).

Part Two is where Statom begins to more thoroughly discuss the musical aspects of worship and mention which considerations should be given when deciding how to form a worship service. One of his concerns has to do with the lack of congregational participation that occurs during the music portion of a service. He attributes this to decline in school music education, perfectionism, individualism, and sound amplification. One of his solutions for counter-acting this fault in congregational participation is to incorporate choirs within the worship service to “hold a standard for corporate singing” (59). Statom also highly supports the use of the organ because it is a versatile instrument that can easily play the melody of a tune and support the congregation as they sing (62).

Part Three takes a more practical approach to music in worship. Here, Statom discusses many common faults that occur with regard to music in worship. An example of this is in his chapter on “Pragmatism in Church Music.” This chapter lists the four most common misunderstandings that are related to pragmatism: an external or mechanical interpretation of worship, an individualistic interpretation, an emotional uplift interpretation, and a performance interpretation. He makes clear that while these four misunderstandings are not directly pragmatic, they are related to pragmatism in some way. The first one focuses on “what works,” and this can be anything from getting people into the worship service or using the worship service as a means of evangelism. The second puts too much focus on the individual worshiper, which Statom argues creates a narcissistic attitude. Third, an emotional uplift is too entertainment focused. Last, a performance interpretation implies that the form of the worship service can be structured based on beliefs and options, which give way to relativism. Statom concludes with a short section on what he believes the philosophy and identity of the corporate church should look like based on the biblical and historic findings presented in his book.

Overall, the author has some good points and if one digs deep enough, he can find theological truth in many of his arguments. For example, Statom makes it very clear that all music that is written in the name of Christianity is not to be used within the realm of corporate worship (94). The advent of commercialized Christian music, he argues, has blurred the expectation of what the purpose of music in worship is. The expectation of coming to church to hear a “performance” is becoming more common. He is also right in saying many songs written in contemporary forms are not suitable for corporate worship for various reasons, ranging from tessitura to rhythmic complexity.

However, there are many weaknesses throughout this book. The first apparent weakness is the lack of editing. Many times there are grammatical errors and block quotations that are not formatted correctly. While the book is written in a clear, easy-to-read fashion, these careless errors make the book unnecessarily confusing to read. Often, the usage of quotations makes the book feel disjunct, as if little thought was put into the flow of the text.

Aside from these editorial considerations many of Statom’s arguments seem weak and unsupported. Within the book, Statom mentions that the guitar is not suitable for use in corporate worship in a larger setting. Assuming only one guitar is used with no amplification he would be correct. However, based on his rationale for the qualities that must be present in an instrument on page 63, his argument falls short. Statom quotes Terry Johnson on the following attributes necessary for an instrument used in corporate worship: “1) Loud enough to effectively support and yet not overwhelm the singing; 2) sophisticated enough to distinctively sound each note; and 3) appropriate, as determined by its inherent qualities and associations.” With amplification, a guitar is sufficient in volume and a skilled guitar player can play the melody of a song effectively. If multiple guitars are used and each play independent parts (rhythm, melody, and bass line), then the congregation can be musically supported. Finally, while it is true the guitar comes with its negative associations, those associations have begun to diminish, gradually making this argument invalid in certain cultural settings.

The content covered in this book is important to consider because one should always question what practices are included in a worship service. This book can help ministers of music reconsider how they do things and challenge them to question why they make the decisions they do. Putting aside the editorial mistakes and unsupported arguments, this book is a good launching pad for a dialogue of proper forms of worship and as a reminder to use musical discernment when choosing music of any form for a worship service.

Jesse C. Wigginton

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Posted in Book Reviews

Gather God’s People: Understand, Plan, and Lead Worship in Your Local Church

“These practices are the central elements of worship: the preaching of God’s word, praying in accordance with God’s word, singing what coheres with God’s word, and seeing God’s word through the ordinances” (45). Brian Croft, Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, and Jason Adkins, Associate Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church, made this statement in Gather God’s People: Understand, Plan, and Lead Worship in Your Local Church. Their purpose is to sharpen leaders’ understanding of biblical corporate worship in the local church. The authors attempt this by explaining in detail the regulated means of grace and demonstrating how these biblically mandated means should be used in planning and leading corporate worship.

The book opens with an explanation of the theology, elements, and spirituality of corporate worship. Next, the authors provide a guide to planning worship through the reading, praying, and singing of the Word. It closes with a section devoted to leading readings, prayers, singing, and the ordinances in cooperate worship.

Croft and Adkins explain how the reading of Scripture is an element regulated by the Bible. They state that “the New Testament, and specifically the apostle Paul, envisions God’s word audibly present throughout Christian worship” (33). The authors also explain how to plan this regulated element. They believe it is best for the readings to align with the sermon, and use a variety of “Testaments and genres” (59). The length of the reading and the congregation’s ability to link the reading with the sermon should also be considered. They also give advice on leading Scripture reading: “Whatever your church’s polity, the service leader should be recognized as a leader in the mold of Hebrews 13” (86). This gives the leader credibility to give instruction to the church. It is important that the leader reads “loudly, clearly, and slowly” (87). He should also understand the text pronunciation and sentence flow. Since God’s word commands the public reading of Scripture, the local body should include this element in cooperate worship.

In addition to Scripture reading, congregational song is a biblical element of worship. The authors argue that “Scripture insists and informs congregational singing” (40). The congregation’s song should reinforce Christian doctrine and virtue, and it should encourage the church. In planning congregational song, the leader should attempt coherence with the sermon: “Song choices can drown out the message of the sermon or they can amplify the word based charge for God’s people” (74). It is mandatory that a song contain biblical doctrine, and articulation of the gospel should be considered in planning. The planner should also take into consideration the tradition of the church’s hymnody. To lead this element, the leader should be “affirmed by the congregation” and “gifted by God” (96). The authors believe that the song leader should be a man because it is a position of spiritual leadership. Ordination and affirmation help to bring authority to this position.

Corporate prayer is also regulated in Scripture. The authors argue that “corporate prayer finds both its charge and content in God’s word” (37). Prayers should be offered for authorities, confession of sin, times of crises, and for conversion of the unregenerate. The authors’ church plans an opening prayer, mid-service prayer, offertory prayer, and concluding prayer. They plan a variety of prayers including pastoral prayers and prayers of confession. In planning the mid-service prayer, they attempt to align it with the sermon and consider the congregation’s needs. Clarity, projection, length, and speed are important in leading cooperate prayer. They state, “In order to make a prayer as clear and accessible as possible, service leaders should engage in at least some preparation prior to the service” (90).

The authors thoroughly explain all the regulated elements of corporate worship. The large quantity of Scripture and the practical application to planning and leading the service accomplish their goal. Explaining the discipleship quality of congregational song could have strengthened their argument. The authors’ interpretation of hymns and spiritual songs as songs other than psalms (42) needs evidence. The claim that the music leader could be the duty of a deacon needs biblical support (96).

This book would be a great asset to any involved in the planning and leading of corporate worship. A list of the appendices includes: “Reintroducing Psalm Singing,” “Psalms Set to Familiar Tunes,” “New Songs/Old Tunes,” and “Church Covenant Hymn.” This book is a concise guide to corporate worship, and it contributes to the fields of Christian worship and ministry.

John Gray

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Posted in Book Reviews