Friday, February 24, 2012

LHP Review: Worshiping Christ, the Visible Image of the Invisible God



Boesenecker, Andy and Jim Graeser. A Field Guide to Contemporary Worship: How to Begin and Lead Band-Based Worship. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2011. 220 Pages. Paper $24.99. (LH)


Yazykova, Irina. Translated by Paul Griener. Foreword by Wendy R. Salmond. Hidden and Triumphant: The Underground Struggle to Save Russian Iconography. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2010. 196 Pages. Cloth. $26.99. (LHP)


Chapell, Bryan. Christ-Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape Our Practice. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009. 320 Pages. Cloth. $24.99. (LHP)


Stapert, Calvin, R. Handel's Messiah: Comfort for God's People. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010. 187 Pages. Paper. $14.99.  (LH)


Worship is controversial in our day.

But not only in our day. The four books reviewed below will give you a better perspective on what should be the eternal focus of our worship: Jesus Christ and Him only!

I am not a proponent of so-called Contemporary Worship. I experienced it and participated it for four years at a campus ministry of my church body. I was blind to the human-centered theology and practice that it embodied: of the world, but not in the world. We had created for ourselves a Christian ghetto. Our preferences dominated. 

Instrumentation that differed from typical worship in our tradition was a red herring. The real difference was the way instruments were played, the near-total abandonment of ancient forms and historic canticles, hymns, and songs, and the adoption of song and worship structures foreign to Lutheranism and new to Christian worship.

That said, I would like to share with you what is still useful in a A Field Guide to Contemporary Worship.

This book arrived unsolicited from the publisher. Most review journals consider such submissions as optional to review. We want to show how this resource recently helped a liturgical Lutheran congregation. As a pastor, I am far more interested in liturgical Augsburg Fortress releases and would welcome review copies of them.


This is a must-have guide for anyone thinking about starting a contemporary worship service and an essential reference work for those wondering about the nuts and bolts of instrumentation, arranging, working with microphones and speakers, and much more!

Written by a church musician and a pastor who have experienced the joys and challenges of this popular form of worship, A Field Guide to Contemporary Worship provides field-tested ideas and hints and a wealth of illustrations.
In this book you will learn:

  • How to form a worship team
  • How to build a repertoire
  • How to lead effective rehearsals
  • How to arrange music for your ensemble
  • How a PA system works
  • How to arrange microphones and speakers

Check out the authors' website for additional resources. (publisher's website)

As I mentioned before, I am not interested in forming a pop/rock band for charismatic American Evangelical revival-based "worship" entertainment. The advice of the authors will help you in leading a group of musicians and singers. Organists, pianists, and other players and singers need a substantial repertoire and should have efficient and regular rehearsals. Read the first half of the book with your actual congregation, hymnal, and musicians in mind. You will find some good advice here.

One of the many things we can learn from practitioners of a more modern idiom of music is what our historic Lutheran composers knew and did: composition and arrangement. As our pianist recently reminded me, cooks modify recipes all the time. Why not make personal adaptations of preludes, postludes, offertories, and other incidental music? Such practice may help you "tone paint" phrases or stanzas of hymns and better play our liturgical canticles.

I have a personal background in radio, computers, and technology. I learned enough about PA and sound systems to help a local vendor upgrade our congregational sound systems (fellowship hall and nave) last week.

I am encouraged that practitioners of so-called contemporary worship are recognizing that many early efforts went too far away from historic norms, in regard to both theology and practice. The pendulum is swinging back. My point is that it should not have swung so far in the first place.

Boesenecker and Graeser will help you incorporate brass, strings, guitar, piano, and individual voices into historic, liturgical Lutheran worship. Don't let the title cause you to reject this volume. Just ignore what I ignored and you'll be fine.


Curious about icons in the Eastern Church? Consider this compact and fascinating volume from Paraclete.




During the darkest years of Soviet power, iconographers kept alive one of Russia's brightest lights—the icon

"The 1920s and 1930s were a time of mass arrests and executions. With churches demolished and defiled and monasteries disbanded, there was every reason to fear for the continued existence of the Church itself. Meanwhile, revisionist propaganda was decimating the clergy; the authorities were waging a campaign of anti-religious sentiment in every corner of the country. Not the best time, one would think, to be painting icons…" —from the book

Skillfully translated from the Russian by Paul Grenier, this dramatic history recounts how the very heartbeat of Russian Orthodox art and spirituality – the icon – survived throughout the 20th century. Adopted from Byzantine tradition, Russian iconography continued to keep faith alive in Soviet Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution. As monasteries and churches were ruined, icons destroyed, thousands of believers killed or sent to Soviet prisons and labor camps, a few courageous iconographers continued to paint holy images secretly, despite the ever-present threat of arrest. Others were forced to leave Russia altogether, and while living abroad, struggled to preserve their Orthodox traditions. Today we are witness to a renaissance of the Russian icon, made possible by the sacrifices of this previous generation of heroes.

A blinding flash of theological illumination has come out of Russia. The subject of Hidden and Triumphant is the history of icon painting in Russia. How did this ancient tradition, at the center of Russian spirituality, survive seventy years of persecution in the 20th century? It almost didn't, but the renewal of the tradition in the last twenty years is a remarkable story, beautifully told by Irina Yazykova. The introduction contains the best theology of the icon I have ever read.
Canon Michael Bordeaux, founder, Oxford Keston Institute, UK
(publisher's website)

Icons are not drawn or painted. They are written. I consider them beautiful stylized devotional art, not something to "pray through." My theology of the icon is different as a Lutheran from that of the Orthodox. Even so, I see how this ancient tradition of a "visible" Gospel helped keep Christianity alive in Russia and many of the satellite nations of the former USSR during the age of godless Communism. What in American Christianity could do the same for us? Food for thought.

Icons may be found in an Orthodox church on an iconostasis, a wall with a door way to the chancel/sanctuary where the altar is visible. Roman, Anglican, or Lutheran Christians may be used to having an altar rail at a similar place, but in Lutheran circles, it is there primarily to help a communicant while kneeling and it is not intended as a barrier to the "most holy place." It seems to have just that function for Eastern Christians, with the benefit of the faithful being surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. See some of them after page 84 in color!

See page 9 for information on the symbolism of icons, similar to that of illuminated manuscripts of the West. Lutherans will note similar important liturgical symbolism on pages 18-19. Russian emigres are given a former Lutheran church building on page 70. Lutheran readers will occasionally cringe at law trumping Gospel in theology and practice and tradition being raised to the level of the Scripture.

Readers will benefit by better understanding persecution of Christians in general and the Russian Orthodox under the USSR in particular, have an appreciation for the process and prayer of writing an icon, and gain a longer-term view of the Church than most Americans:

To be a living organism, the Church can never simply live off an inheritance of the past--it must in every age, strive to say something new and bear witness in its own way. And the turning point for modern Russia came in 1988, when the Russian nation celebrated the millennium of the baptism of Russia. Although officially the Soviet regime came to an end only in 1991, it was 1988 that demonstrated that the regime was already dead. The Communist Party, to be sure, still held the reigns of power. And yet despite this fact, the Christian baptism of Russia was celebrated across the entire nation. Soviet officials strove to impart a purely cultural meaning on the event, but the nation's leaders were obliged to acknowledge that Russian culture had itself been formed, to a great extent, by Eastern Christianity (121).

LHP QBR plans to offer a second review of this volume by itself in the near future.


Bryan Chapell builds bridges between Christians with regard to worship with this 2009 book.



The author explains the motivation and need behind this book for himself:



Chapell meets the goals he sets for the book. Lutherans and Reformed Christians will disagree about obvious and well-known historical theological and practical differences, but this president of a PCA seminary provides common ground for Lutherans, Calvinists, and others.


The church's worship has always been shaped by its understanding of the gospel. Here Bryan Chapell, author of the well-regarded text Christ-Centered Preaching, provides churches with a Christ-centered understanding of worship to enable them to transcend the traditional/contemporary worship debate and unite in ministry and mission priorities. Churches will learn how to shape their worship based on Christ's ministry to and through them and will be challenged to let the gospel shape every element of their corporate worship.

Christ-Centered Worship brings historical and biblical perspective to discussions about worship, demonstrating that the gospel has shaped key liturgical traditions and should also shape contemporary worship. It then addresses practical issues; looks outward to the church's mission; and provides resources for worship planning, encouraging readers to identify their church's specific gospel calling as the basis for making decisions about worship. The book will be useful to worship and ministry professors and students at the seminary level, pastors, worship leaders, worship planning committees, and missionaries.
Bryan Chapell (PhD, Southern Illinois University) is the president of Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, a former pastor, and a widely traveled speaker. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestselling Christ-Centered Preaching and Holiness by Grace.

(publisher's website)

I particularly appreciated both the historic and modern examples of worship structures and elements provided by the author in an engaging, intentional, and Christ-centered way. He largely resists the temptation to call Luther's Reformation and liturgies inferior to those of John Calvin. Lutherans won't go to Chapell for their Eucharistic theology, either. 

Historical liturgical Lutheran resources are extolled and promoted in modern volumes (Lutheran Service Book) throughout the book. 

I also am thankful Chapell is aware of and recommends the new texts and compositions of Keith and Kristyn Getty, Stuart Townend, and Red Mountain Music. Providing new texts for historic tunes and new tunes for historic texts are great ways for each generation to gain appreciation for the song the saints now in heaven sang on earth and yet add something constructively new.

Bryan Chapell provides constructive help to ending the so-called worship wars by letting the Gospel shape our practice (as Luther did) in Christ-Centered Worship.

Controversy reigned about worship in the days of Handel. Calvin Stapert's volume, Handel's Messiah: Comfort for God's People is enlightening essential reading and is by far the best book by Eerdmans I have personally read in years!




If you want to enjoy and appreciate Handel's beloved Messiah more deeply, this informed yet accessible guide is the book to read.

Here you will find fascinating historical background to Messiah, including its unlikely inception, and learn about its reception and impact from Handel's day to our own. Calvin Stapert devotes most of his book to scene-by-scene musical and theological commentary on the entire score, demonstrating how the music of Messiah beautifully intertwines with and illuminates its biblical text. Through these pages Handel's popular and much-loved masterpiece will be greatly enhanced for listeners old and new alike. (publisher's website)

Handel is an eighteenth-century German Lutheran composer that invented an oratorio tradition in protestant England, because of the influence of a devotional movement in sixteenth-century Roman Catholic Italy. Is Messiah worshipful or entertainment? See the preface (xiii) for more on this controversy that sounds like something from our modern worship wars. Handel allegedly said: 

I should be sorry if I only entertained them, I wish to make them better (67).

Similarly, Jennens, haunted by his brother's suicide, worked on the Messiah libretto in hopes of converting "Atheists, Deists, Jews, and Mohametans [Muslims]" and anyone else who did not believe Christ to be the Messiah...(78). 

There is a centuries-long history behind the development of the oratorio. Germans knew of historiae, liturgically functioning as sung Scripture readings (9). How often have you heard your pastor sing a reading (or the shock when a Lutheran pastor first sang his liturgical parts). What "worship" is, is unfortunately tied to one's limited understanding and experience of worship in practice. These four books were grouped together in this review to broaden our readers' understanding of worship theology and practice.

The latter half of the volume is a commentary on Messiah itself, best suited to be read while listening to the recording. See page 135 for the famous Hallelujah Chorus and subsequent pages for references to numerous Lutheran chorale tunes.

This book also will help readers understand the stages of what is typically muddled together as "classical" music:

Modernized orchestrations of Messiah were common. Mozart was the first and certainly the most distinguished re-orchestrator of Messiah. He turned Handel's Baroque orchestra into a Classical one. In Messiah, in addition to the strings, Handel only called for two oboes, to trumpets, and tympani. Mozart added pairs of flutes (and a piccolo in the pifa), clarinets, horns, bassoons, and three trombones.

Subsequent orchestrators added more anachronistic instruments--including harb, tuba, cymbals, and other percussion--making the orchestra into a Romantic one...(59)

People are interested in Handel's Messiah because of its timeless musical power. Calvin Stapert and Eerdmans are putting that interest to good use as a means to the end of more widely educating the reading public about the Christian and musical history, theology, and practice involved in one of the world's most beloved compositions.

Sinful human beings are by nature enemies of God. They would rather worship themselves and be gods than worship the one true God. All worship begins with the Lord who speaks and then opens our lips to repeat His Word back to Him. Too many books on worship focus primarily or only on the human response to God. Let us extol the Lord's gifts to us by regularly and joyfully receiving the fruits of Jesus' sacrificial death and victorious resurrection, the Service rendered for us and to us by the Divine Savior, Christ. I pray you enjoy these books as much as I did.

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.

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