Tuesday, August 23, 2011

LHP Review: On Worship

Piper, John. Gravity and Gladness: The Pursuit of God in Corporate Worship. Wheaton: Crossway, 2010. Video 2-DVD set. $19.99. http://www.desiringgod.org/  http://www.crossway.org/ (LHP)

Piper, John. Gravity and Gladness: The Pursuit of God in Corporate Worship. Wheaton: Crossway, 2010. Paper. 170 Pages. $9.99. http://www.desiringgod.org/  http://www.crossway.org/ (LHP) 

John Piper is fun to watch on DVD. Because of his passion, eloquence, humor, and life experience, he must be very engaging in person. He has some things figured out about Christian worship that will be of help to his audience in American Evangelicalism. 

His Gravity and Gladness set consists of two DVDs and a companion study guide. Personally, I would have preferred another full book.

I had hoped that "gravity" would connect to "reverence and awe" and "gladness" would correlate with the Gospel of Christ. Instead, they appear to refer to Piper's recurring references to a Christian's head and heart. Solemnity and joy are both important. I'm also looking for the proper distinction between Law and Gospel.

The subtitle, The Pursuit of God in Corporate Worship, tends to put the focus on what the Christian does for God, rather than what God does for us at worship.

To be more clear of where I'm coming from, my favorite summary of a Lutheran Christian theology of worship is by Norman Edgar Nagel:

Our Lord speaks and we listen. His Word bestows what it says. Faith that is born from what is heard acknowledges the gifts received with eager thankfulness and praise. Music is drawn into this thankfulness and praise, enlarging and elevating the adoration of our gracious giver God.

Saying back to Him what he has said to us, we repeat what is most true and sure. Most true and sure is His name, which he put upon us with the water of our Baptism. We are His. This we acknowledge at the beginning of the Divine Service [and today’s service]. Where His name is, there is He. Before Him we acknowledge that we are sinners, and we plead for forgiveness. His forgiveness is given us, and we, freed and forgiven, acclaim Him as our great and gracious God as we apply to ourselves the words He has used to make Himself known to us.

The rhythm of our [Christian] worship is from Him to us, and then from us back to Him. He gives His gifts, and together we receive and extol them… (Lutheran Worship, p. 6)

Too much of the discussion of worship among Christians focuses on what WE do. Scripture begins with God. He creates. He redeems. He saves. Yes, we sing, pray, and praise Him, but all human action is merely a response to what God has done for us in Christ. 

Perhaps that is why I had such a strong negative reaction to what he said (102) on the DVD:
The problem is that our people don't come on Sunday morning to give; they only come to get. If they came to give, we would have life in our services.
Did not our Lord come to give us Life and life to the full? Is He not still the main Actor on Sunday morning? Lutherans have referred to a service of Word and Sacrament as Divine Service, where the focus is on God serving His people with His Gifts. "Gift" would be a good concept to explore in a revision of this material. I also suggest the book title: Gift, Gravity, and Gladness.

Call me sensitive, but why does he take Calvin so seriously and be so flippant with regard to Luther? If Piper knows Luther as well as I think he does, why not draw on Luther's main writings on worship rather than What Luther Says? 

I do like part of Piper's approach to the worship wars: He wants music to support congregational singing! I can appreciate most his summary "theses" on the video and his ten preparations (148ff).

I personally appreciate Piper's stories, insights, and did benefit from the videos, but John Piper misses what I consider to be the main point of Sunday morning. I know that he knows the Gospel and commend him for encouraging people to desire God and desire Him more completely. Due to the issues I have already raised and the time constraints of busy pastors, (and how long it took me to carve out time to peruse the video in conjunction with the study guide,) I cannot unconditionally recommend Gravity and Gladness in its current form for use in Lutheran congregations.

However, I pray that groups that study worship alongside John Piper will become more intentional about their worship theology and practice, returning a focus to God in Christ, who He is and what He has done for us and avoiding unexamined and rote tradition as well as avoiding fads, shallow doctrine, emotional manipulation, and the exaltation of reason over faith.

John Piper is pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. He grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, and studied at Wheaton College, where he first sensed God's call to enter the ministry. He went on to earn degrees from Fuller Theological Seminary (B.D.) and the University of Munich (D.theol.). For six years he taught Biblical Studies at Bethel College in Minnesota, and in 1980 accepted the call to serve as pastor at Bethlehem. John is the author of more than 30 books including Desiring GodDon't Waste Your LifeThis Momentary Marriage, and Spectacular Sins, and more than 25 years of his preaching and teaching is available for download at desiringGod.org. John and his wife, Noel, have four sons, one daughter, and an increasing number of grandchildren (publisher's website).

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.