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Tim Challies

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4 years 6 months ago
You may have noticed that over the past few weeks I have been reviewing books that come from a little bit off the beaten path, so to speak. I have been reading, enjoying and reviewing books that have come our way from lesser-known Christian publishers. It turns out there are some fresh, excellent titles coming from some of these smaller publishers.

From Credo House Publishers and author Steve DeWitt comes Eyes Wide Open, a book about learning to enjoy God in everything. Let me say it from the outset: this is a really good book. I enjoyed it thoroughly and benefited in very specific ways from the time I spent reading it. Let me tell you about just one of the most important things I learned.

The place to begin when considering the topic is with a question like this one: Why do I enjoy _________ so much? You can fill in that blank with a kind of food or a form of art or even with a beautiful landscape. Why do you enjoy that thing so much? What draws you to it? What does it do in you and for you?

DeWitt wants to help you appreciate those things even more than you do now, and in order to do that, you need to understand beauty and joy and wonder from a biblical perspective. You need to know why God made this world as wondrously beautiful as he did. The author’s reflections on this topic, more than anything else in the book, have resounded in my mind and heart.

Beauty was created by God for a purpose: to give us the experience of wonder. And wonder, in turn, is intended to lead us to the ultimate human expression and privilege: worship. Beauty is both a gift and a map. It is a gift to be enjoyed and a map to be followed back to the source of the beauty with praise and thanksgiving.

This was tremendously helpful to me, this idea that beauty is meant to evoke wonder. Wonder, in turn, is meant to lead us to worship. The analogy of the map is helpful—beauty is meant to point us to the source of all beauty. It’s a simple progression: Beauty to wonder to worship.

Of course we live in a sinful world and have sin-stained hearts. Too often we allow beauty to lead us to wonder and we then get fixated on the wonder or the beauty without ever getting to the worship. Why do we worship so little even when we wonder so much? Reflecting on this DeWitt writes,

We are confused about where to place the glory. Beauty still creates wonder, and wonder still searches for someone to give glory for the beauty. Without God, however, we are left to worship the artist or simply the beauty for its own sake. We worship created things rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25). Our wonder turns onto itself. We worship things, stuff, and matter.

I see this most clearly in music. Excellent musicians evoke wonder in their listeners; their listeners express this wonder in worship of the musician. What we ought to do, of course, is allow the beauty of the music to move us to worship God. The same is true of a great meal or a great painting; even while we affirm the skill of the chef or artist, our worship should be directed at God alone. That is just one reflection, one application, from this excellent new title. 

Eyes Wide Open is a very enjoyable, very quotable book, and one that made an immediate impact on my life. It was a book that showed up unannounced and a book that was just exactly what I needed to read at this time. I am glad to commend it to you.

5 years 11 months ago
I always feel like a bit of a poser when I say this, but I absolutely love Handel’s Messiah. Though I appreciate small amounts of classical music (to use the term in a broad sense) I am largely a rock ‘n’ roll type. Yet there is something about Messiah that grips me. I find myself listening to it throughout the year, again and again, year after year. I’ve listened to recordings hundreds of times and make it a habit to attend a live performance every Christmas season. I can’t get enough.

I was rather excited to see a new book releasing this fall titled Handel’s Messiah: Comfort for God’s People. Written by Calvin Stapert, professor emeritus of music at Calvin College, the book serves as a guide to Handel’s great masterpiece. As the publisher says in the one-sentence pitch, “If you want to enjoy and appreciate Handel’s beloved Messiah more deeply, this informed yet accessible guide is the book to read.” I’m inclined to agree.

While I love Messiah I have often struggled with the knowledge that I do not really understand it very well. I’ve always known that if I just knew a little bit more about this form of music, if I just understood the context a little bit more, the Baroque style, my appreciation of Messiah would necessarily grow as well. But I am not at all musical. The last time I played an instrument was in primary school and that instrument was a recorder. Any time I’ve sought to learn more, I’ve quickly gotten lost in the technicalities of the musical lexicon.

However, this book has finally helped me see Messiah more clearly. Here is how the author describes what he has sought to accomplish in his work. “The three sections of this book aim to increase understanding from three different perspectives. The first section traces three histories—the history of oratorio up to Messiah; the history of Handel up to Messiah; and the history of Messiah’s inception and reception. Although I think these histories can contribute something toward a greater understanding of the work, I tell them primarily because they reveal a series and confluence of remarkable and unlikely events that led to the making of Messiah and from there to the phenomenon that it has become.”

The second section of the book deals with what Charles Jennens hoped to accomplish in compiling the libretto of Messiah and what purposes Handel had for setting it to music. Here Stapert shows that Messiah acknowledges two masters—the theater and the church, which is to say that it was meant to be entertainment and it was meant to be sacred.

The third section looks to Jennen’s text and the music Handel composed to accompany it. Essentially it provides commentary on the music and the theology of the words. As he does this he largely avoids using technical language that will be meaningful only to those with a background in music or theology. In other words, he seeks to make this an accessible book that will appeal to any reader, whether one well-versed in such music or one who is entirely new to it.

The book weighs in at just under 180 pages. Just about half of the book contains the third part, which means there are about 75 pages of commentary on the music and the words. This is ideal to read through before attending a performance or to read through as you listen to a recording.

Particularly interesting to me was the author’s discussion about the purpose behind Messiah. Debates have raged (in rather closed circles, mind you) about whether Messiah was meant to instruct or whether it was meant to entertain. Stapert looks to the times to show that both were true; they were not mutually-exclusive. “However the relationship was viewed, teaching and delighting were not seen as incompatible, and neither one was seen as detrimental or inimical to art. They belonged together.” Though modern sensibilities may have swayed people to think that moral teaching weakens art, Stapert disagrees. “From the perspective of history, however, the view that art is amoral is the peculiar one. The normal view, taken by most people in most times and places, sees art as being closely related to ethics and morality.”

Centuries after it was composed, Messiah continues to delight. It beautifully combines the words of Scripture—words to teach and inspire—with music that causes the heart to delight in the One who gave us the gift of music. After all these years it continues to offer comfort, joy and peace to God’s people.

6 years 6 months ago
As Christians we (rightly!) have high expectations of our pastors as they preach the Word of God. We expect that that they will dedicate themselves to studying and understanding the Bible, that they will live lives marked by their commitment to holiness, that they will expend the effort necessary to craft Gospel-centered, Spirit-empowered sermons. In short, we expect that they will come to the pulpit prepared, having dedicated themselves to the task they’ve been called to. How odd it is, then, that we are content to have such low standards for our own preparation and our own diligence in listening. We expect to turn up at church and be blessed by the preaching of the Word, even while we have expended no effort in seeking to prepare ourselves to hear it and even while we sit passively throughout.

Having read many books dealing with the preaching of sermons, it was a blessing to me to read a book on listening to sermons. After all, I spend just a handful of Sundays each year preaching and all the rest listening. And I know I need to be a much better listener. Ken Ramey addresses just this in his new book Expository Listening: A Handbook for Hearing and Doing God’s Word.

Ramey, pastor at Lakeside Bible Church in Mongomery, Texas, says that preaching is a joint venture in which the listener partners with the pastor so that “the Word of God accomplishes its intended purpose of transforming your life. Nothing creates a more explosive, electrifying, life-changing atmosphere than when the lightning bolts from a Spirit-empowered preacher hit the lightning rods of a Spirit-illuminated listener. There is no telling the dynamic impact the Spirit of God will make through the Word of God any time someone who faithfully explains and applies God’s Word comes into contact with someone who faithfully listens to and obeys God’s Word.” This powerful synergy is at the heart of so much lasting spiritual change.

And so, in this book, geared specifically to the average person (like me) in the average church (like mine) Ramey calls for a new appreciation of the hard work of listening to God’s Word delivered through his servants. He begins with a theology of listening, showing the emphasis God places on listening to what he says. He then moves to the importance of hearing with the heart rather than simply hearing with the head or intellect. He offers teaching on harrowing the heart to hear, those week-long and life-long tasks of preparation that will allow us to listen and listen well. He also warns of the “itching ear epidemic” the Bible warns about (and the contemporary church gives such evidence of), calls for discernment among listeners, and offers biblical wisdom on practicing what you hear. He concludes with an exhortation to listen like your life depends on it.

In his Foreword to the book Lance Quinn writes “Merely hearing a sermon is easy; it requires a properly functioning auditory system, but it’s essentially a passive exercise. Actively listening to the preaching of God’s Word requires mental alertness, focused attention, and a spiritually receptive heart.” Ramey provides assistance and biblical exhortation on each of those disciplines.

In this book Ken Ramey shows that we ought to have equally high expectations of ourselves. For while the pastor preaches, we are to be attending to the Word, actively seeking to listen, to understand, to discern, to apply. Expository preaching demands expository listening. If you struggle to listen, if you struggle to know why you should listen, prayerfully read this book and heed its lessons.


9 years 11 months ago
Andrew Beaujon has a strange fascination with Christian music; though he is not a Christian, he enjoys listening to this music and has spent a great deal of time seeking to trace its history and to understand the genre and the subculture it has inspired. Body Piercing Saved My Life is the result of his investigation. The book’s title is inspired by a t-shirt he saw at Cornerstone Festival, which showed a picture of Jesus’ nail-pierced hands and that same slogan “body piercing saved my life.”

This book was developed from a series of articles published in Spin magazine, to which Beaujon is a contributor. It takes a behind-the-scenes look at an industry that most of us know little about. He takes a look into the subculture and attempts to truly understand it and to predict whether the success and popularity of Christian music is merely circumstantial, or if it is here to stay. Speaking of his unique perspective he writes, “There was the small matter of not being a Christian. It’s not that I’m a Jew or a Muslim or a Unitarian. In fact, I consider atheism to be too much of a commitment. Aside from an annually renewed belief that the Washington Redskins have a shot at the playoffs, I’m not religious, and I haven’t put in much time trying to work out whether I’m wrong, or maybe just lacking the right gene.” Despite being non-religious, he is respectful toward Christianity and seems to admire much of what it and its followers stand for. He is certainly not entirely antagonistic towards the faith.

He makes clear the purpose of the book. “This book…is about whether Christian music can figure out how to transform itself from being simply a lifestyle accessory to becoming an enduring part of American culture. The doors of the church are finally open to rock ‘n’ roll. But is Christian rock music—which traces its origins to a bunch of misfits thinking up the Devil’s music—going to remain as tough a lock to pick for Christians who just don’t fit in? And furthermore, is the mainstream ready for Christian rock that’s actually good?”

Throughout the book are interesting (and often humorous) reflections on the concerts, churches and conventions he attended, the people he met and the songs he heard. Here he reflects on his experience at Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hilly Church: “Mars Hill is a rock of certainty in an uncertain world, albeit one with a [“really good”] sound system and a worship band so loud my ears were ringing as I walked out into the balmy March night. No pastors were at the door to greet people as they left—I suppose that’s a practical impossibility with so many parishioners—and while groups of friends met up here and there, most people just headed for their cars and went home. It’s almost like a Home Depot model for a church. You go in, get what you need, and leave. If a project is too big, you can ask for help, and someone on staff will show you what you need to tackle it yourself.”

He discusses hand-raising in worship. “This gesture is probably the characteristic of evangelical services that looks the most unusual to outsiders. Some call it a “hug from God,” and as the music that morning lifted in intensity, more and more hands popped up till the ballroom looked like a psychedelic classroom in which a lot of students had questions.”

And reflecting on the worship music he heard at Gospel Music Week, he shares his disgust with this form of music. “I’m not saved and don’t think I ever will be, but if such a miracle were to take place, I can’t imagine anything worse than being forced to pay for my salvation by listening to worship music for the rest of my days. Worship music is the logical conclusion of Christian adult contemporary music—not just unappealing but unbearable to anyone not already in the fold.”

He goes on to say “This isn’t music to appreciate; it’s music to experience. People at a worship service close their eyes and, as ecstasy spreads across their faces, begin to rock rhythmically, arms out, mouthing the lyrics. It’s more than a little sexual and a tad uncomfortable if you’re sitting next to an attractive person who’s been overcome by the Spirit.” … “I told Di Sabatino I thought there was an unsettling, near-sexual character to one of the worship services I’d been to. ‘Nobody talks about it, but that’s pretty much what’s going on,’ he said. ‘They’re having this intense, experiential experience with God. Very intimate, very private, very all-encompassing.’”

And then he notices just how much worship music is written about individuals and how much is written from God’s perspective. “Worship tunes tend to evince an adolescent theology, one that just can’t get over how darn cool it is that Jesus sacrificed himself for the world. “Our God is an awesome God.” “O Lord, you are glorious.” “How can it be/That you, a king, would die for me?” Moreover, it’s self-centered in a way that reflects evangelicalism’s near-obsession with having a personal relationship with Christ. It’s me Jesus died for. I just gotta praise the Lord.” … “It does seem a little overconfident, if not downright presumptuous, to communicate such a holy mystery as God himself taking time out of running the universe to speak to you by setting what you think is His thought process to a riff you ripped off from Green Day.”

And then he points out how some bands are terrified of being pigeon-holed as “Christian bands,” even if the members of the band are all believers. At the same time, the Christian music industry is just desperate to acknowledge these people as their own. “In a remarkable display of competing pathologies, the Christian music industry was trying to lay a definitive claim to a group so terrified of being seen a Christian artists that its members hadn’t shown up. … Switchfoot won Artist of the Year. Toby Mac, who presented the award, prefaced it by saying, ‘We have to acknowledge that they’re out there in the world.’ The absent band got a standing ovation.”

After discussing just how ordinary many Christian musicians are, he writes “I believe this, as much as anything, is holding back Christian rock from greater commercial acceptance. Rock stars aren’t supposed to look like normal people. That’s why we pay them so much money. We want rock stars to be everything we’re not—impossibly skinny, stupid rich, unshowered, smelly and miserable. If we wanted to see happy, pudgy dudes with Van Dyke beards and spiky haircuts onstage, we’d pay more attention to the roadies.”

He describes watching David Crowder deliberately remove himself from the limelight in order to produce unique, and uniquely good, music. As he did so, Beaujon became so engrossed in the music that, for a minute or two, he forgot all about Crowder. “And that, my friends, marked my conversion to, or at least the end of my enmity to, worship music. Here’s a guy surrounded by rabid fans who’d have done anything to get close to their worship leader (you should have heard some of the lines people laid on me to try to get my all-access pass after the show), consciously removing himself from the spotlight. There was only one star at that evening’s show, and he hadn’t been onstage at all.”

And finally, he concludes “It’s truly fascinating, I thought, how music is the public square of evangelical Christianity, a place where all these visions of Christ get a hearing. Most everyone seems to agree that the current Christian culture needs to change, and, slowly, a dialog is emerging.” He holds out hope that Christian music will continue to evolve and to improve. It seems that he will continue to listen to it.

I was disappointed to see that, as do so many music critics, Beaujon tends towards the artists that are, for lack of a better word, weird. He seems to write off the vast majority of Christian singers as mere rip-off artists and highlights many of the ones that are on the fringe: ones who, strangely enough, are possibly not Christian at all. Among those he highlights are ones who swear and drink freely, ones who write songs based on Muslim sacred texts and who celebrate doubt about God and the Bible, and the ones who reject the Christian music industry to go in their own direction. This means that there are times he discusses the industry through the perspective of bands that are so far on the fringe that they are hardly representative of Christian music at all.

The book’s sole major misstep is a chapter dedicated to following an organization that appears at Christian music festivals battling against abortion. The organization seems to have little connection to the Christian music world, leaving me baffled as to why he would dedicate an entire lengthy chapter to following the group to rallies in Washington. Or I would be baffled if he didn’t make it clear that he has no use for these people’s Pro-Life stance. This chapter deviates from the focus of the rest of the book and should not have made it past an editor. On a more minor note, he often focuses undue attention on the music itself rather than the lyrics. While music is no doubt important, and while we should clearly attempt to bring before God music that is excellent, he expends little effort in examining lyrics. Many Christians, as much as they love a good melody, wants songs that speak of the great truths of the Scriptures more than they want songs that are memorable or even musically superior. There are two dimensions to songs and he seems to give preeminence to the wrong one.

Despite these few disappointments, the book offers a great deal of good and interesting commentary. Beaujon’s outside perspective is welcome and he provides a lot of food for thought, even if he does carry with him a good many biases. He points to certain aspects of the Christian subculture that baffle unbelievers. He points out some of the hypocrisy and contradiction that plagues the industry.

While a book that is far from perfect, and a book from which we can only learn so much, Body Piercing Saved My Life is nevertheless quite fascinating and a title I thoroughly enjoyed. For those who are interested in the subject matter and are willing to endure a bit of rough language (most of which, unfortunately, comes from the mouths of Christian musicians) it is a rewarding and engaging read.

10 years 8 hours ago

Thursday October 26, 2006

Technology: Following on the heels of Internet Explorer 7.0, comes Firefox 2.0. I am waiting to download it until I can see if my browser extensions will work with it. For those interested, you can get it here.

Books: Matt Perry is requesting help in supplying books to Trinidadian pastors. “You can help in this endeavor. I have set up an Amazon.com wishlist where you can log on and buy a book that will be shipped here, and then we shall take it on to Trinidad to give as a gift.”

Technology: Bob Kauflin has some wise and interesting words about the iPod. “The iPod is like any five year old. It can bring great joy to your life, but it’s a good idea to keep a close watch on it.”

Entertainment: How is this for seedy entertainment? A new show is seeking America’s sexiest moms. “When you see a woman in her early 40s at the supermarket with a little kid and some super-low-rise jeans, she might be better looking than your 22-year-old girlfriend,” executive producer Jeff Greenfield said. “Your girlfriend looks good because she’s young. The 40-year-old looks good because she works at it. And that’s hot.” FoxNews has more.

10 years 1 day ago

Wednesday October 25, 2006

Humor: Phil Johnson shares a humorous story about getting in trouble after a Starbucks craving.

Law: In a rather disgusting abuse of the law, an American judge has chosen to punish a pervert by banishing him to Canada. The “Toronto Sun” reports.

Halloween: Lots of people are discussing Halloween, including Darrin Booker, whom I met for the first time a few weeks ago.

Technology: Al Mohler discusses the fifth anniversary of the iPod. “So, happy fifth birthday to the iPod. I celebrated the iPod’s birthday by loading several dozen new selections into my music library. Now, my iPod is armed with a whole new arsenal of music. It was the least I could do in recognition of such an auspicious occasion.”

10 years 4 months ago
Matthew Henry once wrote regarding family worship, “Here the Reformation must begin.” If we are to experience the fullness of God’s blessings and are to be as faithful to Him as we can be, we must begin with the family, the very building block of God’s kingdom. This is something that was understood by the first and second generation Dutch-Canadian Christians among whom I grew up. Every meal was begun with prayer and every meal ended in a time of family worship. I do not recall any exceptions. This was the expectation of all families, and I am quite sure that nothing short of natural disaster would interfere with this family worship. It impacted myself and my family deeply.

Outside of those Dutch circles it seems that family worship is far less common. I find it strange that at a time when there is such a great deal of discussion about the priority and nature of worship, so little attention has been given to family worship. Don Whitney seeks to remedy that in his new booklet entitled Family Worship: In the Bible, in History & in Your Home.

While at 32 pages this book is merely an introduction to family worship, it is at once valuable and convicting. Dr. Whitney takes a logical approach to the topic. He begins with proving from Scripture that family worship is an expectation God has for all believers and then shows how believers through the centuries have understood the importance of this discipline. One chapter is dedicated to the elements of family worship, which he identifies as reading Scripture, prayer and singing. After answering several “what if” situations, a final chapter encourages familes to begin worshipping together today. A small discussion guide wraps up the book.

As in all of his books, Dr. Whitney depends primarily on Scripture and secondarily on the consensus of great Christians of the past to support his arguments. And as with his previous books, what he writes is both convincing and convicting. I was convicted that I need to increase the priority of family worship and to seek to make it not something that we do most of the time, but something we do all the time. In this small way I can show my children just how important it is that we give priority to the time we spend hearing from and crying out to God.

In truth, I had but two minor complaints about this book. The first was the length. This cannot be helped, for the booklet is intended to serve as only an introduction to this topic, but I would love the opportunity to read more on this topic (and especially from the pen of Dr. Whitney). The second, related to the first, was that Dr. Whitney did not include a “recommended resources” section at the close of the book. Still, by referring to the footnotes I found a few other resources that looked promising.

Family Worship is a great introduction to a topic of great importance. I recommend it for any and all Christian families. There is not a family that cannot benefit from this book.

10 years 4 months ago
Paul Jones, organist and Music Director at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia is, by all accounts, a very talented individual. He was privileged to serve alongside James Boice (who once said “Paul is everything I ever prayed for in a music director”) and now works closely with Philip Ryken in serving one of America’s foremost Presbyterian churches. Singing and Making Music, subtitled “Issues in Church Music Today” is Jones’ attempt to distill and share some of his years of accumulated wisdom and knowledge.

Singing and Making Music is not a traditional book, emphasizing an argument that moves logically from introduction to conclusion, but is a collection of essays dealing with the common theme of worshipping God through music. To some extent this leaves the book feeling a little bit disjointed and without a consistent flow. At the same time, this format allows the author to cover a wide range of topics without having to bridge one to another. I feel that this is a suitable format for such a book book. Jones covers a great deal of ground through the book’s thirty-three chapters which are grouped under four headings: Corporate Worship, Hymnody and Psalmody, Issues and Composers and Composition. Here is a selection of chapter titles:

  • Sermon in Song: Sacred Music as Proclamation
  • Sacred Music as Prayer
  • Authenticity in Corporate Worship Music
  • Trinitarian Hymnody
  • What Psalm Ascriptions Tell Us
  • Writing Hymns
  • Choir for Hire: Should Church Musicians Be Paid?
  • Luther and Bar Song: The Truth, Please!
  • Musical Ignorance versus Music Arrogance
  • J.S. Bach and Musical Hermeneutics
  • The Anatomy of a Hymn Tune
  • Criteria for Good Church Music

While any Christian could benefit from reading this book, the target audience is clearly intended to be other music directors or worship leaders. With my limited knowledge of musical theory, I was occasionally unable to follow or understand the author’s arguments. This was particularly true of the chapters which discussed topics which are far more theoretical than practical to me, such as “The Anatomy of a Hymn Tune,” a chapter in which we read the following: “Such intervallic relationships between voices other than the melodic one (i.e., the altor, tenor, and bass) have to do with harmonic choices. The harmony throughout the hymn tune is functional, yet colorful, with numerous intentional dissonances.” For all I know, he may have just insulted my country or provided a recipe for chocolate brownies (though I suspect not).

Thankfully, the majority of the book is perfectly accessible to a person like myself who loves music, but knows very little about it. Jones is always gracious but always biblical when dealing with some of the more contentious issues facing churches struggling with the subjects of worship and music. He argues that Christians ought to avoid the world’s musical trends and to develop music that is distinct. The book’s main points can be summarized under the three following headings. First, worship practices must be measured by the Word of God. “Scriptural principles should inform all our thinking, traditions, and practices in worship.” Second, we need to comprehend the pastoral nature of music ministry. “Music is not in competition with pastoral work. It is pastoral work in the sense that it can provide many of the same kinds of spiritual care and leadership that pastoral ministry provides.” Third, we should ensure that budgets and practices are informed by these truths. “Music in worship cannot be truly conformed to biblical standards and examples of excellence unless it is actively supported by the church leadership in word and deed and is adequately funded.” You can see a logical progression from theory to practice. A church should move from asking “Why do we do what we do in the way that we do it? How should we be doing it according to Scripture? What will it take to make it so?”

While Jones serves in a large church and surely enjoys a large budget, he is sensitive to those who serve in smaller churches and may have only a limited number of resources, both financial and human, to dedicate to music. He provides suggestions on the first instruments a church should purchase and the type of music director a church should eventually seek. He suggests when a church should seek to hire a music director and what type of responsibilities he should enjoy. There is even a chapter providing instruction on purchasing an organ.

Always practical and biblical, Singing and Making Music was an enjoyable read and one that is suitable for both the laity and those in leadership. Ligon Duncan, in his endorsement for this book, described it with the phrase “constructively provocative.” I believe that is an apt description. This book is deeply biblical, uplifting and constructively provocative. It is well worth reading.

10 years 10 months ago
Whatever Happened To The Gospel of Grace?” is exactly the sort of book you might expect a traditional, Reformed pastor and theologian to leave as his final message to the world, for before this book was published, James Boice, long-time pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia went to be with the Lord. This book stands as a call to the church to rediscover the principles upon which the Protestant church was built. It was Boice’s conviction that much of what passes as Christianity today is anything but. The church will only be able to be an effective witness for God when it returns to the foundation of the five solas that defined the Reformation (Scripture alone, Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone, glory to God alone).

The book begins with a critical examination of the modern evangelical church. The author shows that where the evangelical church was once known for and defined by what it believed, today it is increasingly defined by its style. He is especially critical of the church growth movement, saying that this movement adjusts Christianity to the desires of our culture. The modern church does not understand that Christianity can only thrive by offering people not what “they already have, but what they so desperately lack – namely, the Word of God and salvation through Jesus Christ.” His thesis (found on page 36) is that “the chief problem [with the church] is that we have forgotten God and are not really living for His glory…the reason we do not think about Him is that we have forgotten the meaning and importance of these essential doctrines.” The doctrines he refers to are, of course, the five solas.

He turns to an examination of the pattern of this age. He shows how the world’s patterns of secularism, humanism, relativism, materialism and pragmatism have infiltrated the church. Perhaps even worse is the onset of mindlessness where people in the world and in the church no longer use their minds, deliberately choosing ignorance as a way of life. Set against these principles are the absolutes of the Reformation which need to be related to our culture in a new and relevant way.

The bulk of the book is dedicated to an examination of each of the five principles. Each section is a fascinating, Scriptural study. Though he is a theologian, Boice was primarily a pastor and thus a great communicator. He relates difficult principles in a way that the laity can understand and not become overwhelmed.

Having related the principles, Boice spends the final section discussing their application to our worship and to our lives. I found this section disappointing and for a time was almost convinced that it had been written by a different author. Where the first part of the book praised the Reformers, this section lauded the pope and Brother Lawrence. It also seemed to end very suddenly without tying the ideas together and providing a satisfactory conclusion.

Regardless of my annoyances with final section I highly recommend this book. Boice left behind a thought-provoking study of the principles upon which the Protestant church was founded. He provides a respectful but at times necessarily harsh call for churches to re-examine their principles and determine if they truly are living for God’s glory alone.

11 years 6 months ago

Too often, when Christians discuss worship, they go little further than arguments about styles of music. The “worship wars” that have plagued the modern church are a prime example of this. Many churches have fallen apart and many Christians have been deeply hurt over styles of music. Churches that have sought to be progressive and contemporary have often done away with hymns, throwing away hundreds of years of Christian tradition in the process. Other churches have refused to sing any song written in modern times, indicating an irrational bias towards days gone by. In the process worship has come to be nearly synonymous with music. Church services are often structured around a time of worship, led by a worship pastor, and this is followed by a time of apparently non-worshipful teaching led by a teaching pastor.

These worship wars are a terrible distraction, for as believers who have access to the New Testament we know that worship extends far beyond music. Worship is to encompass all of life rather than only select parts. Worship by the Book is an attempt by four men, D.A Carson, Mark Ashton, Kent Hughes and Timothy Keller, to unravel the meaning of worship as well as to suggest ways that corporate worship, done as the church gathers together, can be most meaningful and most faithful to Scripture.

The book begins with an essay by Carson entitled “Worship Under the Word” in which he builds a framework around which each of the other authors will write. The heart of the essay is a lengthy definition of worship and a twelve-point examination of this definition. Carson’s definition is as follows:

Worship is the proper response of all moral, sentient beings to God, ascribing all honor and worth to their Creator-God precisely because he is worthy, delightfully so. This side of the Fall, human worship of God properly responds to the redemptive provisions that God has graciously made. While all true worship is God-centered, Christian worship is no less Christ-centered. Empowered by the Spirit and in line with the stipulations of the new covenant, it manifests itself in all our living, finding its impulse in the gospel, which restores our relationship with our Redeemer-God and therefore also with our fellow image-bearers, our co-worshippers. Such worship therefore manifests itself both in adoration and action, both in the individual believer and in corporate worship, which is worship offered up in the context of the body of believers, who strive to align all the forms of the devout ascription of all worth to God with the panoply of new covenant mandates and examples that bring to fulfillment the glories of antecedent revelation and anticipate the consummation.

This is an unusually long and detailed definition of worship, yet one that for precisely those reasons is exceedingly useful.

Following Carson’s introduction, each of the three co-authors is given one chapter to provide insight about worship within their tradition. The first of these is Mark Ashton, who is vicar of the Round Church at St. Andrew the Great in Cambridge, England. His essay is entitled “Following in Cramner’s Footsteps” and he proposes that the Anglican Church recover the principles Cramner used to draft the Book of Common Prayer. He suggests each aspect of a worship service needs to meet three criteria: is it biblical, is it accessible and is it balanced? Despite coming from a tradition that seems far removed from mainline evangelicalism, I suspect the bulk of believers with agree with most of what he writes, at least until the final paragraphs where he writes about infant baptism and presumptive regeneration. I was a little bit concerned about a vague, underlying spirit of pragmatism that seemed to lie under the surface of some of what he wrote. Within the sample services, for example, is an outline of a guest service in which they have dumbed-down their Bible translation, opting for the Good News Bible in place of the New International Version. Despite this, there was much within his essay that was of practical value.

The second essay was written by Kent Hughes, pastor of the College Church in Wheaton, Illinois. At the heart of Hughes’ essay, “Free Church Worship,” were his six distinctives of Christian worship: it is God-centered, Christ-centered, Word-centered, consecration, whole-hearted and reverent. I especially appreciated his emphasis on reverence, as this is sorely-lacking in many contemporary churches. He closed with some useful thoughts on music in corporate worship.

The final essay was written by Timothy Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in New York City. Keller is seen as a trend-setter within the Presbyterian Church of America, so I looked forward to his essay which was entitled “Reformed Worship in the Global City.” Keller contrasted and compared contemporary worship and historical worship and proposed a middle-ground, but not one as simple as an even distribution of elements from each. His essay was built around an examination and defense of the Reformed worship tradition. He examined its variety, sources, balance, core, traits and tests. I particularly enjoyed his explanation of the service structure at their church and the cycles of praise, renewal and commitment.

While it was generally a strong essay, it seemed to come apart a little at the end. The author wrote about the importance of including unbelieving musicians in the worship team as a way to evangelize them, arguing that God’s common grace given to musicians brings as much glory to Him as do believers using their talents in His service. I much preferred Kent Hughes’ take on this same issue. In the previous chapter he wrote “Musicians must see themselves as fellow laborers in the Word and must lead with understanding and an engaged heart. Those who minister in worship services must be healthy Christians who have confessed their sins and by God’s grace are living their lives consistently with the music they lead. The sobering fact is that over time the congregation tends to become like those who lead.” I was also a bit disappointed by the content of the bulletin inserts of Redeemer Church that were included within this essay as they seemed to favorably quote Mother Teresa, writing that the most important need of the poor is to be wanted.

Despite a few small missteps, I found this book fascinating and convicting. I would encourage any pastor or worship leader to buy this book and to read it through at least a couple of times. It will provide valuable insight into planning worship services that will lead believers into a time of worship that goes far beyond the music. Worship like these men describe is becoming increasingly rare. I hope this volume can help many churches recover worship that is done by the Book.