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Posts Tagged ‘Worship’

Special thanks to Adrianna of IVP for a review copy of this book.

Way back in September of last year I mentioned my desire to read Worship and the Reality of God, and guessed that I would “be pumping my fist in agreement in one chapter and shaking my head the next.”  That’s pretty much how it turned out, though my reaction would often change from page to page.  I, for one, appreciate this in a book.  John Jefferson Davis is professor of Systematic Theology and Ethics at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and, as my previously linked post indicates, an eclectic theologian (in a very good sense).  Davis’ concern in this book is the lack of understanding of the presence of God in Christian worship, hence the subtitle “An Evangelical Theology of Real Presence.”

As Davis sees it, there are “competing ontologies” working within the church today (p21).  There’s the scientific materialism (the ontology of modernity), digital virtuism (the ontology of postmodernity) and trinitarian supernaturalism (the ontology of eternity).  As you can see with just that short list, this is no easy book to plow through.  If you are not familiar with philosophical categories (ontology and epistemology being the two biggest), then I’m not sure how much of this book makes sense (another example, the John Zizioulas quote from page 178: “Pneumatology is an ontological category in ecclesiology”).  Davis demonstrates how the first two ontologies have diluted Christian worship, specifically in how we understand God’s presence in our worship.  To put it differently, churches act as if God’s is not truly present when we gather to worship, and this is largely because we have a skewed view of reality (ie, our ontology is off).

So Davis has some strong words of critique for modern Christian worship, which is no surprise coming from a seminary professor (especially one from Gordon-Conwell).  But what I love about Davis is that he doesn’t simply point the finger at others, but calls theologians and seminaries to task for not spending enough time thinking and training people in worship (pp9-10).  Davis takes this topic seriously and personally, which shows throughout this book (more on this point at the end of this review). 

I won’t take the time to summarize Davis’ argument for the lack of understanding of God’s presence in our worship, in part because I think he’s basically right.  Christians across the board, and I’m including we charismatics who allegedly have a strong theology of God’s presence through the Holy Spirit, do not show up to church excited to gather with other believers in the presence of God.  There is little-to-no expectation of encountering God.  Davis attempts to demonstrate how this has happened through the aforementioned competing ontologies and their impact on our view of reality (interestingly, I had a lot of trouble keeping up with his discussion of modern technology, virtual gaming and its impact on the church, whereas many people my age would understand that far better than the philosophical portions of the discussion).

What I want to get to is Davis’ recommendations for fixing this problem.  Davis’ stance is that with the loss of liturgy we have lost the belief in the real presence of God in Christian worship.  He believes that a more regular practice of the Eucharist would lead Christians back to a place of taking the presence of God more seriously in worship.  Davis also argues that a return to the regular practice of spiritual gifts would contribute to fixing our error.  Like I said, he’s eclectic.

If you’ve read this blog for very long, you’ll know I’m jumping on the spiritual gifts bandwagon, but I remained unconvinced of the previous two points (liturgy and Eucharist).  We all must be aware that we are in danger of turning preference into law, and there were points of this book where I felt like Davis was doing exactly this.  There’s no doubt that he is greatly moved by a weekly Eucharistic celebration, and he feels the weight of the liturgy.  But he never convinces me that I should be, too.

Davis marshalls all sorts of evidence in support of his liturgical and Eucharistic (is that even a word?) suggestions, mostly theological and historical.  But that is precisely the problem: because his biblical arguments are unconvincing, I’m not sure why anyone should adopt his stance on these points.  And I’m not sure the historical evidence necessarily works in his favor at all times, either.  Let me explain.

There is no liturgy in the New Testament, at least not in any sense we see practiced in liturgical churches.  That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad to follow one, but to think of this as the medicine for our problem when it isn’t described or prescribed in Scripture seems a bit backwards.  Besides, there were pragmatic reasons for adopting the liturgy in the first place.  Yet, when reading Davis one gets the impression that pragmatism is the enemy of the church. 

Also, last time I checked, New England (where I’m from) is littered with liturgical churches that have no understanding of the presence of God.  Their liturgical practices haven’t helped one bit, why should we think this is the solution to our problems?  I do admit his list of 6 advantages of using a liturgy is intruiging (p188, I’ll post them another day), but, again, I’m surrounded by churches that see none of these despite their liturgical practices.

Regarding the Eucharist, I’m simply too far removed from Davis’ theology here to buy what he’s selling.  I don’t even like using the term Eucharist (nor sacrament, nor communion, for that matter).  I’ll confess that I’m basically an old-fashioned Baptist/Zwinglian on this issue.  Mind you, I agree with Davis’ argument that evangelicals don’t take the Lord’s Supper seriously enough- I’m 100% on board with that.  And I even lean towards a weekly observance.  But I’m uncomfortable with terms like “means of grace” or the thought that the Eucharist “seals to believers the benefits of the Redeemer’s Sacrifice” (p131).  Last time I checked, that the job of the Holy Spirit (Eph 1:13-14).  I should note that when Davis talks about the presence of Christ at the Eucharist, he is careful to say he does not believe Christ is present in the elements (basically a Catholic view) but at the Table.  But again, I’m unconvinced by the biblical argument of this point, and would argue that Christ is present through his Holy Spirit, not through the Lord’s Supper.

Going back to church history, I think one could make a case that those with a high view of the Eucharist share the blame for its fall within American churches.  After all, it was those folks who wouldn’t allow frontier churches (a target in the book) to administer the Lord’s Supper because they did not have ordained clergy to do so.  Well of course the practice fell out of favor, no one would let them do it! 

This review is going on much longer than my normal ones, so I’ll summarize briefly.  I think church leaders would benefit from this book.  Because Davis’ approach is fairly eclectic, he helps the reader see church practices from multiple angles.  And even though I’m unconvinced by his positive arguments (what the church should do), I see the merit of his negative ones (what the church should not do).  This will be, whether we admit it or not, largely determined by our previously held position.  It’s no coincidence that you can read a largely negative review of the book by a Baptist, and a positive one by an Anglican.  If nothing else, read the book for the annotated bibliography- it’s a goldmine of historical and theological writings on the topic of worship, liturgy and the Eucharist.

I mentioned above that Davis’ passion for this topic is evident.  This is not a normal thing to include in a book review, but it did affect the way I read the book so I feel the need to mention it.  When I told a seminary buddy about this book before it came out, he relayed something to me that stuck in my brain.  He heard Dr Davis give a talk at a conference on worship and was greatly impressed by Davis.  In his words, “this isn’t the same man we studied under a few years back.  I honestly think he underwent some kind of personal revival since then.”  I’m not sure if it’s true, but I’ll agree with the basic point.  The Jack Davis coming through these pages was more passionate and moving than what I remember in class.  It is clear this is a very personal issue for him, and he truly is moved in worship of our Savior through the practices outlined in Worship and the Reality of God.  I appreciate that about him and this book.  I hope others see that, too.

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I don’t highlight forthcoming books very often, but when a couple of my former professors are coming out with good ones, I feel the need to jump in (and when I’m having trouble coming up with other blogging ideas).

Brian Rosner and Roy Ciampa, the latter being one of my NT professors, are coming out with a commentary on 1 Corinthians in the Pillar series (Eerdmans) (Mark Heath already mentioned this one here).  These two already worked together on the 1 Corinthians portion of the Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament.  Rosner has previously published in the area of Pauline ethics in 1 Corinthians 5-7, so I suspect we’ll get some good stuff here.  Ciampa’s doctoral work (under Rosner, I believe) was in the area of the use of the OT in Galatians, so I’m sure there’ll be helpful insights in that area in 1 Corinthians.  Ciampa also has done a lot of translation work in Portugal, and heads up Gordon-Conwell’s new DMin program on Bible Translation.  When I studied under him he utilized insights from linguistics, especially in the area of Semantic Structure Analysis.  The word on the street (where there’s always commentary buzz) is that this commentary will have a stronger focus on the Jewish background to the letter, which can be a weakness in other commentaries. 

I have no doubt this will be a fine commentary, I just wonder if it’ll be used as widely as it could, considering there are already many excellent 1 Corinthians commentaries out there (Fee, Thiselton, Garland, Hays- not to mention Witherington, Barrett, Fitzmyer, Blomberg, Keener, and probably more that I’m forgetting).  There are few biblical books with as many good options to choose from.  Nonetheless, people eat new commentaries up, and the Pillar series is one of the finest available, so I’m sure it’ll do well.

Another book I’m looking forward to is John Jefferson Davis’ (known as “Jack Davis” on campus) book on worship, Worship and the Reality of God (IVP).  Davis has been teaching Systematic Theology and Ethics at Gordon-Conwell (I took him for the latter) since the mid-70’s.  If there’s one thing I can say about him, it’s that he’s influenced by an interesting mix of traditions and theological persuasions.  He’s firmly Reformed.  Paedobaptist.  Ordained PCUSA, attended an Orthodox Presbyterian Church when I was at seminary, now serves at an Episcopalian church (which makes me want to have a discussion with him on ecclesiology).  He’s an Egalitarian regarding women’s roles in ministry.  Firmly believes in the continuation of the spiritual gifts.  He’s also a Postmillennialist.  He is a strong advocate for large families and vocal opponent of abortion.  He has also lamented evangelicals’ poor track record regarding their theology of creation and is ecological implications (see this essay [pdf] from the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society) and updated his popular book, Evangelical Ethics, to include a chapter on that subject.  He has a background in science (I want to say it was Physics, but my memory could be wrong), writing and lecturing extensively on the intersection of science and faith.

My point is this: you don’t really know what you’re going to get.  If I get a chance to read this (it’s due about the same time as Pierce Baby #2, so that’s a big if) I bet I’ll be pumping my fist in agreement (what, you don’t do that when you read?) in one chapter, and shaking my head in the next.  I like to read those kinds of books.  At any rate, I’m excited for it’s release.

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Note: this post was first posted at my old blog on 7/24/06, but I’ve copied it here as I was inspired by Cousin Jeremy’s post on worship (linked to here).  It was, as you’ll see, written in response to a question a friend had asked.  Because it was written over 4 years ago (have I been blogging that long?) some of the details (“this past Sunday”) aren’t quite right.  I’ve resisted the temptation to clean this up, though it needs more work. 

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In the comments of my last post, my good friend, Pam, asked this question:

What do you think about speaking to each other in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs? Can I say “Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise” next time I see you? Would that make you chuckle, or be encouraged? What is the not-so-literal interpretation of that charge? (in your thoughts…)

First, yes, I grant you permission to say “Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise” to me next we see each other. Second, yes, I probably would chuckle, but maybe I shouldn’t.

As for your question, you are no doubt referring to Eph 5:18-19, where Paul states, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord…” This passage is similar to Colossians 3:16, where Paul says, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” I’ll deal mainly with the Ephesians passage, but the Colossians passage is helpful, since they are parallel (Ephesians and Colossians are very similar, which has led many scholars to think that they were written around the same time). Anyway, I think they’re basically saying the same thing.

What can we say about the Ephesians passage? First, “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord” modifies the main verb, “be filled with the Spirit.” This isn’t obvious in the NIV, which treats all the participles (speaking, singing, making melody, giving thanks and submitting) as separate commands. (I really like the NIV, but this is something they consistently get wrong. Thankfully the TNIV has corrected this.) The exact relation between the participles and the main verb can be debated, for now I’ll stick with the idea that the participles (speaking, singing, etc) are results of being filled with the Spirit. Clearly not the only results (Paul elsewhere talks about spiritual gifts, the fruit of the Spirit, and so on), but they are the results Paul chooses to highlight. People who are filled with the Spirit are people who speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (I wouldn’t make too much out of the 3 types of songs mentioned here).

So, part of life in the Spirit is speaking and singing songs. This shouldn’t be surprising, since in 1 Corinthians 14 (an extensive teaching on the Holy Spirit and corporate worship), Paul encourages his audience to have a psalm (among other things) when they assemble (v26). And the Colossians verse is really interesting because there songs are used for teaching and admonishing one another. I think that the same idea is present in Ephesians as well (community expressions of the Spirit filled life). So what we have here is the use of music and singing as a means of encouraging and teaching each other.

So what should we do? Well, for one thing, it affirms the use of music in the life of the Church. This, of course, is to be expected, since there is an entire book of songs in the Old Testament meant for God’s people. It also shows us that songs are used for more than just a nice beginning (and end) to our worship service. Songs of worship play a role in teaching the body (in seminaryspeak, they have a “didactic function”). Music has played an important part in most (if not all, I’m not an expert) cultures, why not the Church?

In my opinion, this should influence the music we choose to play in our churches. Do the songs we choose accurately reflect the teaching of the Bible? Do they reflect the character of God? Do they encourage/inspire/rebuke/challenge the people? I’m thankful that my church has a worship leader who puts a lot of thought into the music and chooses songs that are primarily God-centered (which is rarer than it should be).

Let me also say, however, that it has become more and more common to hear people bash modern worship songs as theologically shallow and weak, especially compared to hymns (this is quite popular in some circles, and amongst many in seminary). This bothers me, and I’m clearly a big fan of hymns. First of all, pick up a hymnal and you’ll find that most of the entries leave a lot to be desired. The best of the hymns are unbelievably powerful, but many are pathetic. Anyway, that’s not my main point, so please don’t get caught up in that.

Second, I think there are a higher percentage of quality modern worship songs than many are willing to admit. There certainly have been plenty of bad ones (anyone remember the Hop on the Bus craze of about 10 years ago?). But there are plenty of good ones. I think part of the problem is that people confuse simple with shallow. Jesus Loves Me is a simple song, but it is hardly shallow (that’s why it works so well with children). I’ve even heard people claim that a worship song was shallow, until I pointed out to them that it was taken practically word for word out of the Bible (I wish I could remember what song it was). It’s a matter of song selection, just like with hymns, we need to choose the ones that glorify God and edify the body.

Let me give an example from our worship service this past Sunday. We sang a song written by David Ruis called We Will Dance. I like this song, but I wouldn’t put it in my top 10 or anything. But the imagery used for the people of God really struck me. It relates the Church as people “from every tribe and tongue and nation” and a “pure, spotless Bride.” What an opportunity to teach about the Church! I thought about how I can look around at the people of God and not see a pure, spotless Bride. I certainly don’t feel pure and spotless. But this song accurately portrays the people of God, especially as we will be seen from God’s eyes at the wedding feast. I think this is a great way to teach people about how Christ has redeemed for Himself a people and the true nature of the Church (ecclesiology). And like I said, this isn’t even necessarily a great example of a theology-laden song (although I do think it has more than first meets the eye).

Let me make one final point about the Ephesians passage. Paul also says “singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord.” It seems obvious, but it’s worth saying (in order not to forget) that worship through music exists first and foremost to bring glory to God. It does not exist primarily to provide us a medium through which God can touch us, although He may do that. And the best time for us to learn and be edified is when God is glorified.

Anyway, I’m not really sure I’ve addressed Pam’s question. I thought about this the other night and really wanted to put some great thoughts out, but who has the time? Instead, I’ll throw these out there and hope that someone will respond and refine what I’ve said. Does anyone else have any thoughts about how we can use music to help teach and encourage the Body?

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Cousin Jeremy Goes A-Rantin’

Everyone needs to let loose a good rant every now and then.  Cousin Jeremy does so- about worship.  Check it out.

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I’ve been ruminating some more on worship, inspired in part by Carson’s essay that I posted about earlier.  Specifically, I’ve been thinking some more about the popular use of the word “worship” to refer strictly to the act of singing praises to God, either corporately or in private.  While many, if not most, Christians will acknowledge that the word “worship” does not only mean singing, the truth is that in popular usage this is precisely what it means.  If I were to say “we had a great time of worship in small group this week,” it will be assumed I am referring to a time of singing.

If we are to be honest, I think the reason for such a restricted definition is convenience: 1) since it’s the popular meaning for the term it’s easier to continue doing it and 2) phrases like “worship through singing” or “worship through music” can become cumbersome.  Thus, it’s easier to speak of “worship” in terms of singing and music.  We throw out the token “but of course worship is more than singing” every now and then, but we probably don’t really mean it.  The simple fact is that when an evangelical says the word “worship” people think of singing, and not much more than that.

As I think about it some more, I think the danger of using “worship” in such narrow sense outweighs the convenience factor.  For one, you sacrifice biblical accuracy.  Truth be told, most Christians are not that concerned about this point, but why this is so would require more time.  Suffice to say, when we come across Romans 12:1, our definition of worship seems weak and small in scope:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God- this is true worship.  (TNIV)

In the Bible, worship takes into account one’s entire life lived for God.  The greatest commandment, according to Jesus, is to “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”  God’s concern is for the life the Christian lives in its entirety, not the passion with which one sings on Sunday morning.

If one sings with gusto on Sunday morning but does not care for those in need or help build up the body of Christ or proclaim the gospel (and so on), this person is not worshipping.  In fact, this person is no better than those denounced by the prophets for offering their sacrifices while living in a manner that does not reflect God’s character (Hosea 6, Amos 4, Micah 6, and many other places).  The call to worship God is the call to worship Him with your whole life, including but not limited to the time of singing.  Yet we continue to mislead people into thinking they are worshippers because of their act of singing on Sunday mornings.  Singing with passion and fervor is good, and God is worthy of it, but it does not tell the whole story of worship.

Here is where the real danger of the restricted definition of “worship” lies: it is deceptive.  We determine the power and whole-heartedness of one’s worship by the manner in which they sing.  By narrowing the meaning of “worship” we have given people the power to deceive themselves and others into thinking they are truly worshipping God, when in reality they may be doing nothing more than singing with passion.  God is not deceived, nor is He impressed with powerful singing when it is not accompanied by a life lived in the attitude of true worship.

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For those who don’t have the time or energy to work through a D A Carson book, you’llbe happy to know that there are a plethora of articles and essays at the TGC website.  If you’re looking for a place to start, I’d be happy to recommend his essay “Worship under the Word” (opens a pdf file) from the book, Worship by the Book, published in 2002.  As he notes at the beginning of this essay, writing about worship, especially about the theology of worship, is a trying task, largely because there are as many opinions about worship as there are churches, many of which reveal personal preference more than a theological stance.

Even using the term “worship” to speak of music and singing is misleading, since the Bible itself doesn’t restrict that term in such a manner.  Carson weeds through biblical texts and and tries to make sense of it all.  It’s helpful to remember that just because the Bible uses the word “worship,” it doesn’t mean it’s using it in a way that we would.  So, for example, when Jesus is about to give the Great Commission, it says the disciples “worshipped him” (Matthew 28:17).  What does this mean?  Did the fall to their knees or fall prostrate, as the verb proskuneo literally means?  Did they shout in praise?  Did Peter pick up the guitar and lead the disciples in a round of Lord I Lift Your Name on High?

Carson even gives his own definition of “worship” in the most Carsonesque fashion:

Worship is the proper response of all moral, sentient beings to God, ascribing all honor and worth to their Creator-God precisely because he is worthy, delightfully so.  This side of the Fall, human worship of God properly responds to the redemptive provisions that God has graciously made.  While all true worship is God-centered, Christian worship is no less Christ-centered.  Empowered by the Spirit and in line with the stipulations of the new covenant, it manifests itself in all our living, finding its impulse in the gospel, which restores our relationship with our Redeemer-God and therefore also with our fellow image-bearers, our co-worshipers.  Such worship therefore manifests itself both in adoration and in action, both in the individual believer and in corporate worship, which is worship offered in the context of the body of believers, who strive to align all the forms of their devout ascription of all worth to God with the panoply of new covenant mandates and examples that bring to fulfillment the glories of antecedent revelation and anticipate the consummation.

Have you ever seen a definition so ready-made for a power point slide?

Don’t let the long definition (which Carson even calls “too long and too complex”) throw you off.  He does a great job of breaking it down and making it manageable.  Along the way you’ll learn a ton about what the Bible says regarding worship, and even pick up some insightful comments on contemporary practice.  In a nutshell, it’s the kind of essay every pastor and worship leader should read, as well as anyone interested in the theology and practice of worship.

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I’d like to recommend a couple relatively new worship albums.  One, that I heard about only recently, is by Phil Wickham that you can download for free(!) off his website.  Apparently this album has been out for some time, and I’m just late to the game.  That’s not surprising, since I don’t really keep up with all of the latest worship (to be honest, I don’t know how anyone finds the time to keep up with the massive production of worship albums).  This album has a mix of Wickham songs (I knew a couple from church) and some hymns.  I highly recommend it.

Another is one I mentioned a while back put out by Bob Kauflin from the Together for the Gospel 2008 conference.  For the month of February Sovereign Grace Ministries is selling the cd for only $6, or you can download the album for $9.  I recommend you take advantage of the sale while you can.  This cd is a collection of hymns, both old and new, done in a fairly straightforward manner (though you may not love Kauflin’s periodic interjections: “yes!”, “all our sin!”, but I’ll leave that to your personal preference).

But the real reason I’m recommending these worship albums is that they share a similarity that is unique amidst the myriad worship albums released this days: congregational singing.  Both of these albums feature a simple “band”: the worship leader and his instrument (Wickham and his guitar, Kauflin and his piano), and the voices of crowds singing along.  There is no back up band, no guitar solos, no frills.  A man, his instrument and the voices of the gathered redeemed.

It’s telling that such an approach is novel in today’s worship.  Worship has become a highly produced business, complete with tours featuring smoke machines and lazer light shows.  It’s interesting (to me, at least) that even in live worship albums, you only hear the crowd singing at certain points.  But in Wickham’s and Kauflin’s offering, the masses truly carry the day.  Sure, you hear Wickham and Kauflin, but they aren’t the stars of the show.

As I’ve listened to these as I’m working, I’ve had to stop quite a few times because I was powerfully moved by the voices of the crowds (3000 in the case of Wickham, 5000+ for Kauflin) singing praises to God.  I have to admit, I rarely stop working and get on my knees in worship, but have done that while listening to both of these.

Of course, I’m not anti-worship band.  I certainly am moved by the worship at our church (featuring world class drummer and my co-blogger, Brian).  If I didn’t want to hear a band, I’d find a different church.  That isn’t the issue.  But I do wonder if we’ve become dependent on worship bands.  Do we need a power packed band to lead us to a place that we feel like we’re worshipping?  Have we lost the simplicity of letting our voices be our main instrument of praise?

Anyway, I hope you take the opportunity to get ahold of these albums (hey, the price is right) and see what you think.  I encourage you to listen to the voices of those singing together in worship.  It might just give you a small glimpse of what it was like for John to hear the masses singing God’s praises in Revelation.

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