Wednesday, December 22, 2010

LHP Review: Perspectives on Worship Today

 Leaver, Robin A. and Joyce Ann Zimmerman, Editors. Liturgy and Music: Lifetime Learning. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1998. 455 Pages. Paper. $49.95.  (LH)

Westermeyer, Paul. Rise, O Church: Reflections on the Church, Its Music, and Empire. Fenton, MO: Morning Star Music Publishers, 2008. 56 Pages. Paper. $15.00. 1-800-647-2117. (LH)

Witherington, Ben III. We Have Seen His Glory: A Vision of Kingdom Worship. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010. 166 Pages. Paper. $16.00. (LHP)

Webber, Robert E. Foreword by John D. Witvliet. Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God's Narrative. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008. 191 Pages. Paper. $14.99. (L)

Parry, Robin. Worshipping Trinity: Coming Back to the Heart of Worship. Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 2005. 202 Pages. Paper. $12.99.  (LHP)

I am astounded at the number of different perspectives there are on worship today. The five books we discuss here cover Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism, Protestantism, and Pentecostalism, and points in-between and outside these Christian traditions.

Liturgy and Music: Lifetime Learning looks and reads like a textbook. It also a collection of essays written by invited experts in their field. 

"Intended for liturgical music majors as well as professional pastoral musicians, pastors, and liturgical practitioners, Liturgy and Music provides a solid introduction to the scope and role of liturgical music in both Catholic and Christian worship. It offers a comprehensive theological approach to liturgical music and breaks new ground for both a theology of liturgy and a theology of liturgical music.

"Liturgy and Music is divided into two parts, "worship/liturgy" and "liturgical music." Part one covers foundational topics in worship/liturgy, including the liturgical year, sacred time, space, and symbols, ritual, Eucharist, homily, and the worshiping assembly. Part two examines liturgical/church music, including its forms and functions, music as liturgy and prayer, music as corporate praise in both the Reformation and Catholic traditions, and formation for liturgical music. Each part concludes with a bibliographic chapter.
"It is a lifetime learning process to discover new ways that musical liturgy can raise people up to encounter God in praise and thanksgiving. Liturgy and Music assists that learning process by leading liturgical music professionals and others to a full-throated worship of God.

"Essays and contributors included in part one are:
  • "What Is Liturgical Worship," by Mary M. Schaefer;
  • "The Liturgical Year," by Thomas J. Talley;
  • "Liturgical Assembly: Who Is the Subject of Liturgy?" by Joyce Ann Zimmerman, CPPS;
  • "Putting Heart into Liturgy," by William Cieslak, OFM Cap;
  • "Symbolic Actions in Christian Worship," by Patrick Byrne;
  • "Ritual: Straight Jacket or Dancing Shoes?" by Joseph Fortuna;
  • "Must Eucharist Do Everything?" by John F. Baldovin;
  • "Theology, Styles, and Structure of the Liturgy of the Hours," by Austin H. Fleming;
  • "Homily as Proclamation," by Joyce Ann Zimmerman, CPPS;
  • "General Intercessions," by Joyce Ann Zimmerman, CPPS;
  • "Liturgical Spirituality: Living What We Sing About," by James Dallen; and
  • "Liturgy and Worship: A Select Pastoral Bibliography," by Joyce Ann Zimmerman, CPPS.
"Essays and contributors included in part two are:
  • "What Is Liturgical Music?" by Robin A. Leaver;
  • "Liturgical Music as Music: The Contribution of the Human Sciences," by J. Michael Joncas;
  • "Liturgical Music: Its Forms and Functions," by Raymond Glover;
  • "Liturgical Music as Liturgy," by William T. Flynn;
  • "Liturgical Music as Prayer," by Kathleen Harmon, SND de N;
  • "Liturgical Music as Corporate Song 1: Hymnody in Reformation Churches," by Robin A. Leaver;
  • "Liturgical Music as Corporate Song 2: Problems of Hymnody in Catholic Worship," by Frank C. Quinn, OP;
  • "Liturgical Music as Corporate Song 3: Opportunities for Hymnody in Catholic Worship," by Michael James Molloy;
  • "Liturgical Music as Homily and Hermeneutic," by Robin A. Leaver;
  • "Liturgical Music, Culturally Tuned," by Mark Bangert;
  • "Liturgical Musical Formation," by Don E. Saliers;
  • "Liturgical Music as Anamnesis," by Robin A. Leaver.
As is true with most essay collections, varied perspectives are gathered together for a common purpose. It is also true that some essays are stronger than others in a given collection. Enough generalities! How about some specifics?

This is a book for and by "Christian mainline, sacramental denominations" (viii). 

Schaefer turned me off by a reference to the "history of religions" school. I was disappointed that the foundational essay ("What Is Liturgical Worship" began on an interfaith note, essentially downplaying the uniqueness of Christian belief and worship. The section on "the normative Sunday Worship Service" gave me some hope about the "ecumenical convergence" liturgiologists see (15ff). 

Talley repeats what he has already written in his own work, that December 25 as the celebration of Christmas borrowed from the Romans (24). Other scholars disagree, pointing out the data is scarce, and while the date is most likely not the actual birthday of Christ, and it may be possible that neo-pagan Romans reasserted Saturnalia on December 25 after Christians began using it.    

Zimmerman (49) is right to call Christ "the Subject of the Liturgy," a good reminder to all Christians that Christian worship should be Gospel-centered and Christ-focused. Baldovin (121ff) highlights the proprium, or unique focus and purpose of Divine Service by highlighting three major ways that the Sunday liturgy has been misused. The author's guidance on the general Prayer of the Church are also edifying and helpfully pragmatic (163). Zimmerman's Chapter 12 provides a reading list, "A Select Pastoral Bibliography," that should be considered a good starting place for those looking for "library builders," but is rather weak on Lutheran resources (194ff). Glover helps in the latter regard (238, 246), but his focus is only on Lutheran Book of Worship, due to the larger use of that book compared to other Lutheran hymnals, and this volumes 1998 copyright date. In addition, Leaver highlights Lutheran hymnody (283ff; and liturgy, 352ff; and Bach, 397; and Luther, 405ff) as does Quinn (309). Leaver is to be commended for a skilled critique of the now-dated, yet influential "church growth" movement (402ff).

More explanation of the Lutheran (Augustana) Rite would be a great place for expansion and revision in an updated edition. I would also recommend the addition of an index.

Page 337 is one of the most helpful to students of early Christian song. Are these treasures in your hymnal or personal repertoire.

Bangert treads into dangerous territory, culture and liturgical inculturation (360ff). Why is it dangerous? It usually doesn't go very well. Many past and current attempts merely replace the old with the new or lead to unionism and syncretism. Those flavors leave a bad taste in the mouth of a Missouri Synod Lutheran. I might respectfully suggest a new/revised essay here that preserves more of the unique Christian confession and the transcultural nature of the inherited Western Rite.

Liturgy and Music is still worth your time and money!

Paul Westermeyer is a scholar worth reading and hearing. Rise, O Church, is a less-successful foray of thought into "the Church, Its Music, and Empire."

"This powerful collection of essays by Paul Westermeyer is both prophetic and pastoral. Dr. Westermeyer pulls themes from Susan Cherwien’s marvelous hymn 'Rise, O Church' and challenges and encourages worship leaders to examine the influences on the church that come from modern day outside sources. Through the study of hymns both modern and historical, the author calls us back to a biblical perspective of worship. A 'must read' for musicians and clergy" (publisher's website). 

Let me pick up where this description leaves off. Westermeyer himself is negatively influenced by outside sources. For example:
  • Consider the "problem with Sodom." It was not "inhospitality" (48) as so many say, denying the homosexual activity condemned there. The author's theological position on "sexual orientation" was made more clear early on (7).
  • I want to hear the painful truths he shares in the opening paragraph of page 50. Yet, it sounded too much like collective guilt leading to social justice, complete with a quote of Tillich. For the sins he mentions, the Gospel needs to be more than just "God's love." I would add "new creation," in addition to "reconciliation," "restoration," and "new life."
  • I have no problem with a letter as a sermon illustration, but I cannot accept a modern (or ancient) letter "non-canonical reading" (16ff).
  • Unfortunately, and likely far beyond the author's control, a book of 56 pages is overpriced at $15.
This book is actually five lectures based on a hymn of the same title that served as theme for the Mississippi Conference on Church Music and Liturgy in 2007. It dares too much and is too theologically radical for me. I did appreciate the author's call for the church of this generation to rise and "take up its role in the world" (xii). The theological issue at hand is just what that role should be. There the author and I part company....for now.

Our next book is part of the Liturgical Studies Series of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. To date, we have found significant disagreement with authors of the books in this series.

We Have Seen His Glory sounds a clarion call to worship in light of the coming Kingdom. Ben Witherington here contends that Christian worship cannot be a matter of merely continuing ancient practices; instead, we must be preparing for worship in the Kingdom of God when it comes on earth. The eight chapters in this thought-provoking book each end with questions for reflection and discussion — ideal fare for church study groups.

“In this study I hope to tease some minds into active thought about what worship should look like if we really believe that God’s Kingdom is coming. . . . It’s time for us to explore a more biblical and Kingdom-oriented vision of worship.”
from the prelude


1. We Have Seen His Glory: The Day Is Coming and Now Is

2. Glorifying the Creator and Redeemer: Revelation 4–5

3. Worship as Sabbatical

4. The Legacy of Judaism

5. Glorifying God in a Bolder Way

6. Illuminating the Good News

7. Work and Worship: Labors of Love?

8. Doxology: The End and Aim of All Things

Bibliography (publisher's website)

I must say it again: Lutherans and Calvinists differ on the very theology of worship. God speaks first. Then, we respond. God serves us. Our response of prayer, praise, offerings, and thanksgiving is not the main thing (contra p. 16). I therefore have a strong reaction against misunderstanding of what "going to church" is all about. Yes, we are to regularly attend a Christian congregation where we are served by the Lord. We are to avoid anthropocentric or consumer-oriented approaches to worship (cf. ix)

A discussion of Christian worship is not helped by defining the English word "worship." Webster makes us lazy. We need to discuss the Hebrew and Greek words behind the English translations (14).

I want proof for the authors claim (66) that "spiritual songs" "may mean spontaneous songs from the heart prompted by the Spirit. We can't be certain about any of this..." How about a better definition: song inspired by the Holy Spirit from canonical Scripture like the Magnificat, et al?

A quote from Gandhi is out of place (131). Worship that is "unsettling" is not always helpful (contra, p. 153) ! 

The author should be commended for...
  • Teaching about the Didache (83)
  • Comparing Proverbs, Sirach, Matthew, and Luke to "echoes" in the book of James (188-189)
  • Emphasizing Christocentric worship (155)
  • Critique of seeker-sensitive worship (146ff)
  • Encouraging good Christian preaching
If a Lutheran reader knows what he/she will get in a book from this series and can ignore/correct Calvinistic assumptions as they go, We Have Seen His Glory may well be a blessing to them.

We would encourage this publisher to send fewer unsolicited titles and consider some of our reader's suggestions for Eerdmans titles they would like to hear about from a Lutheran point of view.

The late Robert Webber was a prolific author. Ancient-Future Worship is a must-read.

God has a story. Worship does God's story.

There is a crisis of worship today. The problem goes beyond matters of style--it is a crisis of content and of form. Worship in churches today is too often dead and dry, or busy and self-involved. Robert Webber attributes these problems to a loss of vision of God and of God's narrative in past, present, and future history. 

As he examines worship practices of Old Testament Israel and the early church, Webber uncovers ancient principles and practices that can reinvigorate our worship today and into the future.

The final volume in Webber's acclaimed Ancient-Future series, Ancient-Future Worship is the culmination of a lifetime of study and reflection on Christian worship. Here is an urgent call to recover a vigorous, God-glorifying, transformative worship through the enactment and proclamation of God's glorious story. The road to the future, argues Webber, runs through the past.

Robert E. Webber (1933-2007) was, at the time of his death, Myers Professor of 
Ministry at Northern Seminary in Lombard, Illinois, and served as the president of the Institute for Worship Studies in Orange Park, Florida. His many books include Ancient-Future Faith and The Younger Evangelicals. (publisher's website).

I was first introduced to Webber through Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail. In many ways, I felt like an evangelical on the Wittenberg trail due to the practices of my college church that diverged from my LCMS upbringing. I also appreciated his Prymer.

First, a critique. I will always object that the Lutheran theology of the Sacrament of the Altar is called "consubstantiation" (148). Webber's explanation on that page is closer to the actual Lutheran position than he may have wished to admit. Further development in this explanation is needed by this book's readers and Webber's devoted students. I pray Lutherans will have part in that discussion.

The Appendix is the author's document A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future (179ff).
  1. On the Primacy of the Biblical Narrative (The term "rules" is to law-focused.)
  2. On the Church, the Continuation of God's Narrative (I appreciate his use of the terms "catholicity" and "apostolicity.")
  3. On the Church's Theological Reflection on God's Narrative (He proposes unity in "the tradition that has been believed everywhere, always and by all.")
  4. On the Church's Worship as Telling and Enacting God's Narrative (I would re-word how he describes a focus on God's work over our work.)
  5. On Spiritual Formation in the Church as Embodiment of God's Narrative (This would be a good place to talk about making disciples of all nations by means of baptizing and by means of teaching.)
  6. On the Church's Embodied Life in the World (This is often called "vocation.")
What I have always appreciated about the books of Robert Webber is the fact that he expects his readers to think, reflect, and interact with his ideas. They may or may not come to his same conclusions. The Introduction explains how he intends readers to read this book (23). His summary of major worship trends in history is concise, understandable, and worthy of discussion (86), especially by Christians who know of little Christian history beyond their own life experience.

The more I read of Ancient-Future Worship, the more I became convinced that Webber was on to something big. And, in my opinion, Biblically faithful confessional church bodies (like the LCMS) that preserve the Western heritage of Divine Service and the Daily Office through use and catechesis are living examples of what Webber advocates.

Read Ancient-Future Worship. Buy copies to study at Winkel conferences. In the new year, QBR will post a review of this and other books in the Ancient-Future series.

Our fifth book was at the same time the most discouraging and encouraging of the five. More explanation follows the book blurb.


Writing for church leaders, worship leaders, and songwriters as well as those interested in theology, Robin Parry looks at why the Trinity matters and addresses pressing questions such as: 
·         What is the relationship between theology and worship?
·         Why is the Trinity central to Christian living and believing?
·         Does the Trinity help us understand what we do when we worship?
·         How can we write and select songs that foster an awareness of the Trinity?
·         How can we make the Trinity central through Holy Communion, spiritual gifts, preaching, and the use of the arts?

Practical and realistic, Worshipping Trinity shows how we can maintain the centrality of the Trinity in a fast-changing worship culture.

Robin Parry is commissioning editor for Paternoster.

My intro to this book deserves some explanation. On first impression, I honestly thought, "Why is this book so influential in some circles? Why was it recommended by hymnwriters I appreciate? It's unnecessary. My seminary training covered all of this and in a better way, too!"

Thank the Lord that first impressions are not always permament. Generally, some time passes between requesting a book and receiving it, receiving it and assigning it to a reviewer, and then again before a written review ends up in my email inbox. After I personally read a book, I let it set for a day or a week to make sure that I have come to some constructive conclusions about what needs to be said. My conclusions (and first impression) changed again with Worshipping Trinity.

My second impression: "You know, not everyone who could/would read Parry's book had or has access to a world-class seminary education with a solid theological foundation from the Scriptures! His potential readers might never talk to me, read my blogs, or enter the doors of my congregation, but they could read this. What Robin Parry has done from his background as a "charismatic (of the mild-mannered variety)" (3) is do some of the hard work (in print) of rediscovering a theology of the Trinity. Granted, this is something that was not everywhere and always lost to the modern Christian church, but his work gives me hope for British Evangelicalism (broadly defined).

To be sure, the author and I will differ on "tongues" (158, 194 note 2, et al) and "spiritual gifts" (169), and hymns like "Spirit of the Living God" that separate the work of the Spirit from the Biblical means He has promised to use (116). I would also caution the author against quoting Moltmann (41). And, to reiterate what we've said before, it really isn't helpful to do a lot of verbal archaeology on the English word "worship," for what we really need are in-depth studies of the Greek and Hebrew Bible words behind that translation.
Robin Parry has done his fellow Christians a service in opening their eyes to what the Scriptures say about God the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He has presented their Christian heritage of worship theology and practice in a winsome way, and has challenged his readers to be more intentional about both worship theology and practice.

It has been five years since Worshipping Trinity was published. I would love to see a revised edition of this book so that the author could further reflect and demonstrate a growing theological maturity.

Five books. More than five perspectives on worship. Each is insightful in its own way. Liturgy and Music deserves study. Ancient-Future Worship needs more reflection by its readers before application. And we'll be watching to see what Robin Parry writes next.

The Rev. Paul J Cain is Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School, a member of the Board of Directors of The Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education, Wyoming District Worship Chairman, and Editor of QBR.