Worship in the New Testament: Divine Mystery and Human Response | Gerald L. Borchert


Gerald L. Borchert. Worship in the New Testament: Divine Mystery and Human Response. St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2008. 256 pp. $24.99.

Gerald L Borchert’s pedigree includes a law degree from the University of Alberta School of Law, degrees from Baptist seminaries, and post-baccalaureate work at Duke, Princeton, and many other Universities (p. 4). His teaching experience has taken him around the world – from Israel to the Far East – and he currently is the head of the dissertation program at the Robert E. Webber Worship Institute (pp. xv & 4-5).

Borchert’s stated purpose for this book “is to detail the New Testament’s responses to mystery in the coming of Jesus by reflecting on the lessons…from our inspired texts” (p. 1). Imbedded in this introductory statement is Borchert’s definition of worship – response to the mystery of God in Christ as now revealed to us in the scriptures. In this work, Borchert methodically analyzed each canonical New Testament text with distinct focus on how each book contributes “to our understanding of worship” (p. 2).

Each NT book is approached in order (with a few exceptions) with a consistent method: Borchert lays out the major contributions each book makes to our understanding of worship; he gives an introduction to scholarship regarding the topic book; he analyzes the NT book paying specific attention to worship; he gives a summary of the findings; and, lastly, he gives thought provoking questions for the reader to consider and reflect on regarding the worship lessons just learned (with particular emphasis paid to contemporary and personal application).

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Borchert’s study of the New Testament regarding worship can be boiled down to two words: “holistic worship.” As his study of the Johanine letters directly said, “true orthodoxy presupposes orthopraxy” (p. 209). Furthermore, orthodox orthopraxy rests in “the conviction that Christ’s parousia (coming presence) should be the basis for all of one’s worship and life” (p. 107).  He balances this heavy eschatological view with a holistic view of salvation which includes “all three aspects of the process: justification, sanctification, and glorification…” (p. 90). And, in regards to sacraments, festivals, and worship traditions, “they are gifts of God for our benefit in worship and are not ends in themselves” (p. 47). Additionally, Borchert’s insights into the Greek language, Jewish and rabbinic culture, tradition, and teachings, contemporary application of scripture, and pin-pointing of scriptures’ relevance to current theological debates is thorough and, honestly, astounding.

Borchert’s inclusion of scholarship pertaining to each book is well done. He makes known the many views regarding each book’s authorship, date of writing, etc and yet upholds the legitimacy of scripture to a “left-side of conservative” degree. For instance, in bringing up the much-debated topic of Revelation’s authorship, Borchert concludes saying, “I have no difficulty referring to [the writer] as the apostle John, although I see little to be gained BY now, his, the, a, a, both, the, ‘Lord’, a, aat “the foundation and the implications of [the] new life in Christ are contained in the Christian canon” (p. 235). Basically, debates will ultimately confirm the legitimacy of scripture, reveal human failings in interpretation and preservation, and/or be dismissed.

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What I also see as a strength, but (sadly) what I believe many will see as a weakness, is Borchert’s interpretation of scripture regarding women. In 1 Corinthians 11:2-14:39, Borchert points out that “Paul does not discount a woman’s right to ‘pray or prophesy [proclaim or preach]’ publicly” (p. 109).  He views the text as both “an affirmation of women before God and a recognition of the transition taking place within the perspectives of the church concerning service and the marriage relationship” (p. 109). It is in 1 Cor 14:33-34, however, where Borchert will get into trouble with conservatives. Borchert argues that 1 Cor 14:33-34 “seem to fly in the face of the earlier direct statement of Paul that women can pray and prophesy in the worship service when properly attired” (p. 114). That the verses also “rely on the law” for support and are “enmeshed in a series of textual problems” lead to “even a careful conservative scholar like Gordon Fee” being “unable to defend its [1 Cor 14:33-34] authenticity here” (p. 114). Borchert’s major point in all this is that Christ is Lord, not male, and that these pericopes point to orderly worship, not the upholding of patriarchal society.

In large part, Borchert allowed the texts to challenge me in their own right and I found few problems with this book. However, I will name two. First, his claim at creating an objective source is clearly unattainable. In the study of James, Borchert calls Luther’s views on James “caustic” and sites Luther’s views as the reason many Protestants marginalize the book of James. Although insightful, this is subjective.

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Another weakness was Borchert’s constant use of exclamation points. Although used in a consistent style, it takes away from scholarly appeal and makes the text seem more subjective than it ought. For example, Borchert caps off his progressive view of Ephesians 5:21-6:9 with, “Christ is to be acknowledged as ‘Lord’ of all relationships!” (p. 137).

This book is important and timely in this “era of changing ways of thinking and communication” because “as a pilgrim people who are continually learning more about relating to divine mystery” it is imperative we be clear on what the Holy Scriptures say about worship (p. 2). This knowledge is a vehicle for the Holy Spirit to “provide new insights concerning worship for every new generation” (p. 2). This book is a thorough tool for worship leaders to use in navigating the present worship wars. It should be read as a whole alongside a reading of the New Testament and then it should be used as a reference.

Jared Longoria is a graduate student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.