I receive emails from friends with questions about worship resources. As I respond, I inevitably think, “I’m forgetting a really great resource.” So, to reduce redundancy and forgetfulness, I’m creating this (lengthy!) page to capture my recommended resources. Skip to the topic that interests you. And if you are looking for something far more comprehensive, visit Mark Torgeson’s bibliography.
- The Bible. Our church uses the English Standard Version, and here’s why.
- Worship Matters. Bob Kauflin has been leading the way in this particular field for a while. His first book and blog are essential. I ordered a copy of his second book for every member of my worship ministry. On the rare occasion that I disagree with something Bob has written, a little voice in my head says, “Bob is probably right.”
- Rhythms of Grace by Mike Cosper provides a great overview of a worship ministry’s scope and goals. The book pleads for thoughtful worship service planning that derives its shape and goals from the gospel. It calls worship leaders to consider the strengths of introducing formal, liturgical service structures to local contemporary churches (see my full review Themelios 38, no. 3). Mike is about two laps ahead of the rest of us.
- The Worship Pastor by Zac Hicks, is a collection of 17 meditations on different aspects of a worship leader’s vocation. While recognizing that worship is a whole-life expression of devotion to God, Hicks focuses his attention on the corporate gathering of the local church (see my full review at TGC).
- John Piper’s three session seminar, Gravity and Gladness, sounds the clearest note for how Christian Hedonism impacts the gathering of God’s people.
- Don’t forget a good hymnal …
- … and your church’s membership directory.
BIBLICAL THEOLOGY OF WORSHIP
- Engaging with God. David Peterson has thought carefully about the Bible’s teaching on worship. His book has been a treasured resource since it was released. Perhaps the book does not spend adequate time considering the Old Testament. But that’s why there are other books, such as Recalling the Hope of Glory by Alan Ross and For the Glory of God by Daniel Block. It is interesting to note how different scholars consider what makes the Old Covenant, well, “old.” A more narrow Old Testament study can be found in Tremper Longman’s Immanuel in Our Place: Seeing Christ in Israel’s Worship.
- Worship by the Book (chapter one: “Worship under the Word”). Don Carson has the clearest chapter-length discussion of worship in the literature, yet it contains the most unwieldy definition of worship in the literature. The work repays careful and repeated readings.
- Also, biblical theologians have written on worship-related topics. Greg Beale’s books, We Become What We Worship (on idolatry) and The Temple and the Church’s Mission (on the temple) are fantastic. J. Ryan Lister’s new book, The Presence of God, may become a classic. And Reggie Kidd’s book, With One Voice, explores Psalm 22 and its relationship to our Savior.
PHILOSOPHY OF WORSHIP
- Theologian Michael Horton wrote his book on worship, A Better Way, as a plea for churches to leave slap-stick services behind and embrace inherently dramatic nature of worship. It is excellent.
- Harold Best’s book, Unceasing Worship, is wonderful. Theologically, Best draws from a wider pool of resources than others. Though I understand why some might find this unsettling, I found his insights profound and his conclusions exemplary.
- John Witvliet leads the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. He teaches and lectures and networks and facilitates and leads, but many of us wish he wrote more. For now, we can reread his collection of essays, Worship Seeking Understanding.
- Give Praise to God is a multi-author book written in honor of James Montgomery Boice. Many of the chapters are outstanding (especially Mohler and Dever on preaching, Duncan on scripture reading and prayer, and Needham on “Worship through the Ages”). Some are controversial, and all of them are worth careful reading.
- Both Zondervan and B&H publish “multi-view” books that allow contributors from different backgrounds opportunity to espouse their own traditions and interact with others. Perspectives on Christian Worship has many wonderful chapters, but is especially notable for the dialogue between Dan Kimball’s “emerging” paradigm and Mark Dever’s “blended” paradigm. Exploring the Worship Spectrum is a more dated volume, but reading Herald Best and Sally Morganthaler’s interaction was delightful. Another sort of “multiple view” book is Carson’s Worship by the Book, which features chapters by R. Kent Hughes, Mark Ashton, and pre-rockstar Tim Keller. What the book might lack in controversial interaction, it gains in constructive contribution.
- From some broader theological perspectives, Living In Praise, by David Ford and Daniel Hardy, is a careful meditation on praise as abundance and overflow. James B. Torrance’s Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace is a theologically rich development of how Trinitarian concerns must shape our worship practices. Interestingly, Torrance’s work challenges reconstructivist feminist proposals.
- Nicholas Wolterstorff. I need to be careful here, since I read a lot of Wolterstorff for my dissertation. People close to me have become wary to mention his name since his thoughts on art, music, and liturgy come pouring from me. The best place to start is his chapter in Charlotte Kroeker’s Music In Christian Worship. From there, see his monograph of liturgical theology, his articles in Reformed Worship Magazine, his book on art (Art In Action), and then tackle his heavy duty Worlds and Works of Art. And then . . . never mind. I’m getting carried away.
- An early discussion of contemporary worship was John Frame’s Contemporary Worship Music: A Biblical Defense. The work is inevitably dated, but it remains useful in discussing how the Regulatory Principle may more broadly apply. Read his interaction with Darryl Hart for how the principle is variously considered.
- Other scholarly work addresses more current expressions of contemporary worship. Woods and Walrath’s The Message in the Music carefully examines the lyrics the most commonly sung songs for clues to the essence of the contemporary worship movement. Monique Ingalls has a fascinating article in Ethnomusicalogy entitled “Singing Heaven Down to Earth” which explores evangelical (student) conferences. Bryan Spinks’ book, The Worship Mall, is read by few Evangelicals, and that is a shame. This Anglican provides a survey of several contemporary worship trends in churches. The net result is not a lesson in what to think, but rather how.
- James K. A. Smith has written two volumes of a trilogy which have awakened worship leaders from their liturgical slumbers. The first book, Desiring the Kingdom, is absolutely essential. My opinion is that the second book, Imagining the Kingdom, is for those who want more (though others find it equally helpful). Those interested in descriptors of the overall project can read this article length introduction or view this video introduction. Agree or not, Smith’s project and language will be guiding the conversation for the foreseeable future. (BTW: let me plug the excellent journal that he edits: Comment Magazine. So, so good.)
- Worship at the Next Level collects representative voices from the contemporary worship movement into a single volume of primary texts. Melanie Ross’s book, Evangelical Verses Liturgical? marks a new found appreciation between liturgical studies and low church evangelicalism. I’m also eagerly awaiting new works by the already mentioned Monique Ingalls and Lester Ruth.
- It is helpful to read notable critics of contemporary worship. These include Marva Dawn (Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down and A Royal Waste of Time) and professor of medieval history turned liturgical critic Daniel Frankforter, and his book, Stones for Bread. Read Dawn for nuanced thought and Frankforter for rhetorical tumidity. And if you like your criticism more fresh-baked, you might visit the online journal, The Artist Theologian, or the blog, “Ponder Anew.”
HISTORY OF WORSHIP
- For broad surveys of the history of worship, there are book length and chapter length introductions. I consider the clearest one-volume historical survey of worship to be Bryan Chappell’s book, Christ Centered Worship. The book is a model of historical and pastoral insight. The best chapter length survey is Nick Needham’s “Worship Through the Ages,” in Give Praise to God.
- More academic and certainly more comprehensive (though overtly appreciative of Lutheran perspective) is Frank Senn’s work, Christian Liturgy. Paul Westermeyer’s Te Deum splits the difference between Senn and Chappell.
- Evangelical historian Mark Noll has edited two books on hymnody: Wonderful Words of Life and Singing the Lord’s Song in a Strange Land. Standard reference works on the subject include The Study of Liturgy and The Oxford History of Christian Worship.
- Every worship leader should take an afternoon and read the Westminister’s “Directory for the Publick Worship of God.” Perhaps that afternoon should be now for you? 🙂
- Thomas Schreiner has edited two books on the sacraments: The Lord’s Supper and Believer’s Baptism. Both are excellent at exploring the surprising depth of Baptistic thought on these topics.
- A broader exploration of these themes can be found in multi-view books on the subject. This volume, for example, has a stunning chapter by Russell Moore on the Lord’s Supper and this volume has a exemplary chapter by historian Thomas Nettles.
- A historical discussion of the Lord’s Supper and its role in the life of faith among the Puritans is found in Joel Beeke and Mark Jones’ A Puritan Theology. The topic is of particular interest to me (see here, 205-22).
- Greg Allison’s recent treatment of ecclesiology, Sojourners and Strangers, has helpful sections (319-409) on the topic. From a differing ecclesiological tradition, two chapters in Michael Horton’s People and Place (99-152) discuss the topic.
- There has been a recent evangelical reappropriation of the Psalms. We have much to learn from the broader Christian tradition, and can best start with the Anglican N.T. Wright’s book, The Case for the Psalms and the Dutch Reformed Joel Beeke’s Sing a New Song.
- Church leaders can find practical discussion and help in John Witvliet’s The Biblical Psalms in Christian Worship.
- Old Testament scholars Bruce Waltke (The Psalms as Christian Worship) and Gordon Wenham (Psalms as Torah and The Psalter Reclaimed) have also contributed studies of the Psalms. O. Palmer Robertson’s book, The Flow of the Psalms, argues (compellingly) for Christians to read the psalms as intentionally arranged instead of randomly ordered.
- Recent, excellent, multi-author works include the collection Forgotten Songs and Schmutzer’s Language for All Seasons of the Soul.
- No discussion of the Psalms should ignore Spurgeon’s work, The Treasury of David. I use this updated version.
- If you, like me, consider congregational songs to be ‘sung prayers,’ then you are deeply invested in carefully thinking about corporate prayer. I have found the guidance of Hughes Oliphant Old’s Leading in Prayer invaluable.
- A biblical theology of prayer that isn’t mentioned much, but should be, is Graham Goldsworthy’s Prayer and the Knowledge of God. A new book that looks wonderful but I haven’t worked through yet is Calling on the Name of the Lord, by Gary Millar.
- Recent books on prayer that I have found very helpful is Tim Keller’s book, Prayer, and Paul E. Miller’s A Praying Life. My own prayer life was profoundly impacted right out of college by D. A. Carson’s newly updated volume, Praying with Paul.
- For collections of prayers, Valley of Vision is well loved, and for good reason. Newer and perhaps not yet appreciated is Prone to Wonder. The choices of a previous generation, still with much to teach us, include Matthew Henry’s Method for Prayer (and this great new format) and Lancelot Andrewes’ The Preces Privatae. Scotty Smith’s books, Everyday Prayers and Every Season Prayers, give wonderful examples of prayers with contemporary language and deep biblical roots.
- For a collection, not just of prayers, but of liturgical resources, The Worship Sourcebook should be on—not every worship service planners shelf—but on their DESK.
LOCAL CHURCH MINISTRY
- Concerning worship ministry as seen within the context of (where else?) the local church, Matt Boswell’s collection of essays, Doxology and Theology, is excellent. His blog and conference are similarly wonderful. Especially strong are the chapters by Cosper, Hicks, Benedict, and Boer. One contributor to that book, Stephen Miller, wrote Worship Leaders, We Are Not Rock Stars to remind those worship leaders of the servant nature of their role. Zach Hicks writes for both his excellent blog and the good folks at Reformed Worship Magazine.
- Greg Scheer addresses the nitty-gritty practicalities that actual worship leaders face in his book, The Art of Worship. For traditional churches considering how to become more contemporary, this is the place to start.
- Sandra Maria Van Opstal has written the best introduction for worship service planners and worship leaders who are waking up to the reality of diversity—The Next Worship. Written with equal parts cultural intelligence, theological concern, and practical anecdotes, Van Opstal’s book is a must-read for those in the field. Winsomely provocative, it will stimulate thinking and conversations long overdue for many majority-culture evangelicals. (Read my full review at Doxology and Theology.)
- Also, service planning concerns are addressed in The Worship Architect. Constance Cherry takes a single metaphor (building) and elaborates upon it to organize a necessary and practical discussion. A worthy read, though, personally, I found Cosper’s book a more helpful, but less prescriptive, treatment.
CULTURES AND WORSHIP
- On culture and worship, I find Tim Keller’s work most instructive. He has an article entitled “Evangelistic Worship” which outlines his basic philosophy. And then people should read his chapter in Carson’s Worship by the Book (chapter 4, “Reformed Worship in the Global City”) followed by his chapter on worship (chapter 23) in Center Church.
- On culture in general, I’ve benefited from D. A. Carson’s Christ & Culture Revisited as well as Andy Crouch’s Culture Making and James Hunter’s To Change the World (see the summary here). Especially interesting is Crouch’s review of Hunter’s work, found here.
- After reading The Next Worship on the diversity of cultures within the worship gathering, the classic books include Melvin Wilson Costen’s African American Christian Worship and Pedrito U. Maynard-Reid’s Diverse Worship. Newer voices on the topic include David Bailey, Josh Davis, and the always active Multicultural Worship Leaders Network Facebook group.
- Considering worship outside of the North American context has it own sets of concern. James Krabill edited a book entitled Worship and Mission in the Local Church. As a multi-author collection, some chapters are stronger than others, but it is the definitive place to start. Charles Farhadian’s edited book, Christian Worship Worldwide, is an excellent survey of worship practices from around the world.
- Also, for an additional perspective on global realities, I suggest reading Manfred Steger’s Globalization: A Very Short Introduction. It seems that globalization is seldom considered by ethnodoxology thinkers, and this book helps. Worship and Mission After Christendom by Alan and Elinore Kreider was a thoughtful meditation on the theme from an anabaptist and Mennonite perspective.
- And of course, most people want to know what songs we are singing and where we are finding them. I dislike answering this question because the songs that I pick are pastorally chosen to minister to my particular congregation here in downtown Minneapolis. Having said that, the majority of the songs we use are from Sovereign Grace Music, Getty Music, Sojourn Music, Indelible Grace Music, and some of my own. I often use the Trinity Hymnal for its theological affinity and historical reliability.