Volume 12, No. 11 (November 2017)
Here are the books that over the years have most impacted my understanding of worship.
THE CENTRALITY OF WORSHIP
The first, and ultimately the most influential, is:
About 25 years our missions pastor walked across the hall and showed me the first edition of this book. It was the first Piper book I ever read, and I would never be the same. The opening sentences of the book (that whole first chapter was on worship and its relationship to missions) exploded in my mind and heart, and forever changed the way I thought about missions, and worship, and even God.
“Missions is not the ultimate purpose of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t.”
He goes on to say that worship is primary because God is primary. Around the throne of God in heaven one day, there will be no more missions; bot worship abides forever. Missions is an incredibly important means (he wrote a whole book on it, after all) to an even greater goal: the worship of God. The first chapter of his book on missions, therefore, is “The Supremacy of God in Missions through Worship.” Never claiming a new understanding of these truths, he instead hearkens back to texts such as Psalm 67 (from which the title of the book is drawn), where the Psalmist (and God through him) is calling on all nations to praise the Lord.
Piper’s continuing emphasis throughout all of his writings on the centrality of the glory of God in His own purposes and in our calling have marked my teaching on worship greatly. In fact, in my standard course on the biblical foundations of worship, which I have taught in many countries, the first unit in that course is entitled “The God Whom We Worship,” and traces the theme and priority of God’s glory through the Scriptures (drawing on Piper’s work in this area). Piper’s book has also proven to be foundational to the approach I take as a member of a teaching team for a traveling survey course on global worship (ethnodoxology); I teach the first day of the week-long intensive, on the biblical foundations of ethnodoxology.
THE BIBLICAL TEACHINGS ON WORSHIP
Australian New Testament scholar David Peterson was the first to give a systematic treatment of worship in the Scriptures.
As such, it greatly influenced my teaching on the biblical foundations and principles of worship, which has taken me to 35 countries in the past 17 years. I also raised funds in order to have this important work translated into Russian and Romanian.
Two other comprehensive biblical theologies of worship were written by Old Testament scholars. Both works have real strength, especially, (and not surprisingly) in their treatment of the Old Testament material.
A shorter, but still helpful, survey of worship through the Bible is Noel Due’s book:
THE ROLE OF CHRIST IN LEADING OUR WORSHIP
This book by the late Scottish theologian James B. Torrance opened a whole new world of understanding the dynamics of New Testament worship (Disclaimer: the last chapter of this book seems oddly out of place.)
As Torrance himself maintains:
Probably the most common and widespread view is that worship is something which we, religious people, do-mainly in church on Sunday. . . . No doubt we need God’s grace to help us do it. . . . But worship is what we do before God.
In theological language, this means that the only priesthood is our priesthood, the only offering our offering, the only intercessions our intercessions.
Indeed this view of worship is in practice unitarian, has no doctrine of the mediator or sole priesthood of Christ, is human-centered, has no proper doctrine of the Holy Spirit, is too often non-sacramental, and can engender weariness. We sit in the pew watching the minister “doing his thing,” exhorting us “to do our thing,” until we go home thinking we have done our duty for another week! This kind of do-it-yourself-with-the-help-of-the-minister worship is what our forefathers would have called “legal worship” and not “evangelical worship”” what the ancient church would have called Arian or Pelagian and not truly catholic. It is not trinitarian. (pp. 20-21)
True worship, Torrance maintains is trinitarian: we worship the Father through the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Other rich writings on worship by James and his brother Thomas may be found HERE.
An older book with helpful insights in this regard (out of print, but readily available used online) is:
Torrance’s book inspired me to dig deeper into this subject in an independent study course I did for my Doctor of Ministry degree. That study resulted in this little book:
Reggie Kidd similarly treats Hebrews 2:12 (and its Old Testament source, Psalm 22:22) in an intriguing way:
Peter Leithart is an original and insightful thinker, and this is on full display in:
In this work, Leithart (also an Old Testament scholar) makes some incisive observations which I summarized in Worship Notes 4.10 and expanded on using the work of John Kleinig in Worship Notes 5.7. One such observation is that the practice of music (which we so often associate with Old Testament worship) in the regular corporate worship of Israel is not reported at all until it is instituted by King David (see 1 Chronicles, especially chapter 16). (Hence the subtitle of the book, The Davidic Theological Revolution.) Another remarkable insight Leithart pulls right out of the text of Scripture (which I had never noticed before), is the Chronicler’s statement that David’s liturgical reforms (which went far beyond the prescriptions in the Mosaic law) were actually commanded by God through direct revelation via David’s prophets (2 Chronicles 29:25)!
Over the past few years, whenever I have been around an accomplished Old Testament scholar at a conference, I have approached that individual and asked about the significance of David building his own tabernacle. None of them had ever thought about it, so I have never gotten an answer. Only Leithart has dug deeply into this subject, and gives a well-reasoned, plausible and fascinating explanation.
Some of the most interesting and helpful articles on worship that I have found, from a wide range of different authors, I have gathered and linked to on my website HERE. Many of these I assigned as pre-course readings for the students in my recent DMin course that I taught at Singapore Bible College, and the students came to class enthused by the wealth of insights they had found in these articles.