Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Liturgy Review: Worship in Survey, at War, and Considered Aesthetically

York, Terry W. America’s Worship Wars. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003. 138 Pages. Paper. $16.95.
http://www.hendrickson.com/  (LH)

Brown, Frank Burch. Inclusive Yet Discerning: Navigating Worship Artfully. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009. 173 Pages. Paperback. $20.00. http://www.eerdmans.com/ (LH)

Ross, Allen P. Recalling the Hope of Glory: Biblical Worship from the Garden to the New Creation. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2006. 591 Pages. $35.99. Cloth. http://kregel.gospelcom.net/  (L)

These three books on Christian worship were among my companions for a recent business trip. We'll examine each in turn.
"Music, frequently a meaningful part of Christian worship, has often been a focal point in the battle over worship style. In America’s Worship Wars, veteran Terry York invites the reader along as he retraces his journey of experience in church music. Along the way, he explores the perspectives, agendas, and tactics of those involved in the conflicts, traces the recent history of church music, explores the connection with America’s “culture wars,” and suggests some theological perspectives. York invites the reader to join in the dialogue with his engaging story of the recent changes in and battles over the music and worship of the church" (publisher's website).

“A community’s theology and worship cannot be divorced. Therefore, practical or applied theology (gospel in the street) fuels the concept of practical or applied worship (culture in the sanctuary). ‘War,’ a term all too common in our culture, seems destined to become equally common in the church.” —from the Introduction

The author's survey of the battlefield begins, not suprisingly, with the Baby Boomers. One current LCMS official once told me and a group of youth group chaperones, "Contemporary worship came in with the Baby Boom generation, and it will leave with us." The first eight chapters provide the story behind that seeminly unrelated quote. Free Church practices have become part of formerly liturgical Church bodies and congregations. The assumption that a musician plans worship rather than the pastor is quite an innovation in itself.

I was disappointed that Lutheran Book of Worship and Marva Dawn were the author's representatives from Lutheranism. I would love to hear Terry York's opinion of Lutheran Service Book!

Cheer with me: "Worship is about God and entertainment is about us" (44). "In many circles, to question the church growth movement is to speak against evangelism, but neither this book nor its author speak against evengelism. However, I am to be numbered among those who believe that church growth as a defined and articulated goal, superimposed upon worship, did and does contribute to America's worship wars (49, emphasis original). "If our worship is warfare, it is because we come to worship doing rather than being [dare I understand that as receiving?]" (59).

Liturgical Lutherans will find common cause with him in praying and working for peace in the sanctuary on Sunday morning. As books go, America's Worship Wars is merely "OK." It simply didn't deliver on all of its promises on the back cover.

His closing assessment: "Our hymnals are bound evidence that peace can prevail in worship. They are ecumenical, no matter their title, and contain a variety of musical styles..." (127).

"Worshiping communities today have access to more arts and styles from more times and places than ever before. In this volume Frank Burch Brown explores how Christians can navigate this increasingly diverse world of worship.

"Brown combines an abiding admiration of classical idioms with an appreciation of new possibilities for the arts in worship. Interacting with a wide range of religious thinkers and leaders — from Augustine and John Calvin to Rick Warren, Marcus Borg, and the Pope — he addresses questions concerning 'good' art and 'good' music for worship.

"A lively and thought-provoking book, Inclusive yet Discerning is permeated by Brown’s wide-ranging knowledge and deep love of the arts and his desire to articulate a theological aesthetic that, as he says, 'will have teeth but not fangs' (publisher's website).

This volume has in common with the first book reviewed here a reference to the author Marva Dawn (33 note 11). That was disappointing. I was also surprised to read: "Luther, and indeed Calvin, had high praise for musical worship as one o fthe greatests of God's gifts" (53). "And indeed Calvin?" I'm afraid I can't abide putting Luther's words in Calvin's mouth when Calvin had a rather clear and contrary opinion! Brown is respectful of the theology of the cross (130) and its relation to beauty in the church.

Aesthetics. Beauty. Philippians 4 teaches us to appreciate and thank God for beautiful things. The question about the inclusion or exclusion of "good" or "bad" art is the question lurking behind Brown's thesis. I found it to be quite a journey in a book, but not one that is a "must read" for most pastors and church musicians. It seemed like a collection of meaningful academic essays or oral presentations. As a collection, a summary and conclusion would be advisable for the general reader.

As an alternative, I would recommend Musica Christi: A Lutheran Aesthetic by Marion Lars Hendrickson (reviewed in QBR 2.3).

Thus far, QBR has had the opportunity to see two volumes in the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship Liturgical Studies Series. As to be expected, Lutheran readers will sometimes agree and often disagree with Calvinists. Hopefully we won't merely talk past one another.
The final book in my "travel stack" was the best of the bunch.

"Moving beyond worship wars over style and denominational proclivities, Allen Ross has completed an extensive study of the biblical material that informs the heart of true worship: "to recall and celebrate the hope of glory." Much more than a biblical theology of worship, Recalling the Hope of Glory is an inductive study of the Bible, showing how the many biblical events and teachings develop the central focus of worship.

"Beginning not with early Israelite worship, but with creation itself, this work uncovers the glories and beauty of true worship as it is progressively revealed from its beginning in the Garden to its climax in the new heavens and new earth. Throughout the book, the focus is on the integral issue of who we worship . . . and why. Ross then applies these discoveries to the contemporary Christian practice and debate.

"Recalling the Hope of Glory stands to become a definitive resource for the pastor, worship leader, and those training for the ministry. Regardless of their denomination, readers will appreciate the author's high view of Scripture and just how much it can and should inform Christian worship" (publisher's website).

This is a survey of Old Testament and New Testament Scripture on the topic of worship. It was a great companion for that 3 1/2 hour flight back to Denver.
Lutheran readers may ask for Gospel-focused and Christ-centered changes in Ross' working definition of worship (67ff), yet the author is even-handed in his assessment of the Biblical data. Yes, expect the Lord's Supper to be treated as a memorial (398). He also delays the discussion of infant baptism to another study (419). And, I've simply come to expect that worship scholars will mis-define "liturgy" as "the work of the people" (462).
Ross notes that "Worship begins with the response to divine revelation" (429). This could be understood/reinterpreted in a faithful Lutheran way. If "worship" is understood in the narrow sense of "human response," I rejoice that it is not the true beginning, for that which comes first is "divine revelation," the Lord's Gifts! It would serve as a good side text for a Lutheran class on the Biblical roots of Christian worship.
Ross asks his readers to take the long view of worship. What will endure? What has endured? Why? Consider the author's theses (he calls them principles) in Part 10, pages 501ff.
Too often, "worship wars" have been fought to defend the church from fads. Worship has been re-interpreted by some as a means to an end, the end being evangelism. True worship is an end in itself. And evangelism is a means toward the end of worship in eternity. "That is the hope of glory" (cf. 500).
Recalling the Hope of Glory is work the money to buy, the time to read, the shelf space to store, and the effort to teach.
The Rev. Paul J Cain is Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School, Wyoming District Worship Chairman, and Editor of QBR.