Review: Perspectives on Christian Worship, pt. 1 – LITURGICAL WORSHIP

I recently purchased the book Perspectives on Christian Worship, edited by J. Matthew Pinson. The book contains an historical overview of Christian worship followed by five essays detailing of Christian worship: liturgical, traditional evangelical, contemporary, blended, and emerging.

Before getting too much further, I find this book to be very worthwhile reading. In some ways (though not all, as I hope to show throughout) it is a improvement over previous books in this genre. The synopsis provided here in no way should replace careful reading of these authors.

The essays are written by leaders within each tradition: Timothy Quill on liturgical worship; Ligon Duncan on traditional evangelical worship; Dan Wilt on contemporary worship; Michael Lawrence and Mark Dever on blended worship; and Dan Kimball on emerging worship.

Since it’s a 360-page book, synopsis will be covered in sections.

Dr. Pinson provides an historical overview of Christian worship. He sees the tension between “the need to remain faithful to the gospel and the Christian tradition while at the same time faithfully communicating that Evangel in a changing and complex cultural milieu . . . .” This then forms the outline for the book with each contributor addressing that tension from their own perspective.

Professor Timothy Quill provides a chapter on liturgical worship from his Lutheran background. He differentiates between worship as something we do (law) from something God is doing (grace). He describes liturgical worship as something that is:

  1. important for the sake of the gospel,
  2. profoundly biblical,
  3. fosters reverence,
  4. has repetition,
  5. tested by generations,
  6. serves as a common confession and fosters unity,
  7. protects Pastor from congregation and the congregation from Pastor,
  8. uses church year and lectionary,
  9. Instructs the Laity,
  10. provides order and form,
  11. is shaped by Christ’s presence. Quill then delineates how each section of the liturgy is shaped by Christ’s presence.
  12. Confesses Christ and the gospel. Here, Quill quantifies that liturgical hymns must meet some of these standards: Trinitarian, Christocentric, sacramental, text dominated, objective, and timely (in regard to the church year).
  13. serves the missionary task of the church,
  14. serves as the basis for pastoral care.

The responses to Quill’s essay are not surprising, and after each celebrates areas of agreement, the distinctions begin.

Ligon Duncan writes that “The use of an altar is confusing to the worshiper, because it fails rightly to proclaim the finished, unrepeatable sacrifice of Jesus Christ.” Duncan is puzzled by Quill’s assertion that extemporaneous prayers are “to be used only outside corporate worship” (84). However, unless I (Matthew) am missing another discussion, Quill allows for the situations Duncan mentions, under the rubric of “emergencies” (26). Duncan would probably find it doubtful that emergencies are the only area for which public extemporaneous prayers are appropriate.

Dan Wilt criticizes the division between clergy and laity within liturgical settings.  Wilt is also frustrated at charges of over-emotionalism among contemporary churches, responding that austere worship implies an impassible (Hellenistic, rather than biblical) God.

Michael Lawrence and Mark Dever are critical of Quill’s law/gospel dichotomy as overly simplistic. They also warn that “in rejecting the subjectivism and experientialism that run rampant in modern evangelical worship, one does not have to abandon the legitimately subjective aspects of the gospel” (92). They express concern for the pragmatic basis that Quill has used to justify liturgy.

Dan Kimball critiques the “sense that unless people use liturgical worship, they are not worshipping in the best way possible, and they shortchange the teaching of the gospel and water down theology” (95).  He says “Like any church with any format of worship, people can simply go through the motions and say the words, but there is no true transformation as a result” (97).  For all its stated concern for protecting the gospel, Kimball points out some of the most liberal churches that have abandoned the gospel have a deep liturgical heritage.  As Dever and Lawrance pointed out “for all the emphasis on the gospel and faith, both are largely assumed. Unfortunately, sooner or later what is assumed is presumed, and then finally forgotten” (93).

NEXT TIME: Traditional Evangelical Worship, by Lignon Duncan.


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