Worship: Adoration and Action
By Donald A. Carson
Reviewed by Dr. James Rosscup
5.2 (Fall 1994) : 211-213
This is the fifth in a series by the Faith and Church Study Unit of the Theological Commission of the World Evangelical Fellowship. The other volumes dealt with biblical interpretation, the church, prayer, and justification by faith. A team of writers contributed the thirteen chapters, each addressing an area of his expertise.
Carson's emphasis in the opening chapter is on who is being worshiped and who is worshiping. Without undercutting techniques, traditions, and the activity of worship, he aims to see worship in its essence, whatever way it is expressed. It is God-centeredness, true godliness, whether through inward reverence or outward obedience in service to God (13). Carson sees God-centered living in every area of life`in thought or in action and as an individual or in a congregation`as adoration of God (17-18). Worship, then, is far more than corporate actions in a place during a "service" or part of a "service" such as before or after a sermon (14; cf. 189). David Peterson, author of Chap. 3 in this book, has another book looking at the essence of worship (Engaging with God [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993]). In defining this essence, Peterson's work rates high among English works during this century.
Writers who favor different traditions of worship contribute chapters describing them in their most attractive form, in some cases offering critiques. They look at worship the Presbyterian, Anglican, charismatic, Reformed Dutch, and Lutheran ways. One wonders why he finds no Baptist, Methodist, or Bible-church chapters, or discussions of other missing groups. However, he does find "Charismatically- Orientated Worship" in a Baptist church (Chap. 11).
Other chapters address "Theology of Worship in the Old Testament" (Chap. 2), "Worship in the New Testament" (Chap. 3), "Patterns of Worship Among Students Worldwide" (Chap. 12), and "Worship as Adoration and Action" (Chap. 13). These chapters, along with Chap. 1, show how worship saturates different parts of Scripture.
The discussion of how worship relates to stages of OT history is insightful, well-organized, and carefully researched. Readers who relate Ezekiel 40-48 to the future millennial era will have difficulty with the treatment of 43:10, however. The writer puts these details on holiness in the "final and ideal relationship" between God and his covenant people (46). He concludes that the "only adequate fulfillment is described by John in the closing chapters of the Apocalypse"`i.e., Revelation 21-22. He should have explained his reasons for placing Ezekiel's description in the ultimate state. The chapters seem to describe conditions before the ultimate situation. Reasons for locating them earlier include the presence of death, the gathering of Israelites in their land with stated tribal boundaries, and exact measurements of a temple smaller than those for the new Jerusalem in Revelation 21. Nevertheless, the chapter on OT worship has a full description of the significance of worship.
Peterson's chapter on the NT is articulate and relates worship to every aspect of daily life, not just when congregations meet. It looks at key terms in some detail: proskynein (grateful submission to God), latreusin (service), and leitourgein (priestly service). It also discusses Jesus Christ's perfect worship, the way of worship He makes possible, Christ as the object of worship, sacrificial obedience as worship (Rom 12:1), and the relation of worship to Christian ministry. Later, the chapter examines congregational worship in Acts and the epistles (as in the Lord's Supper, 1 Corinthians 11), in Hebrews, and in Revelation. The writer maintains that wherever a Christian is, worship is "repeated self-surrender . . . in obedience of life" (83). It is constantly engaging with God in confession, thanksgiving, intercession, selfdedication, and praise (90). Worship, the chapter says, also involves keeping in view the responsibility for a priestly prophetic task in relation to the world (Rom 15:5-6; Phil 2:14-16; 1 Pet 2:9) (91).
Chapter 12 on "Patterns of Worship Among Students Worldwide" is provocative. Worship can be praising God in song, thanks, adoration (as in other listings, terms overlap one another), witness to non-Christians, attitude toward studies, the way of serving God on the job, personal relationships, and convictions on social and ethical issues. It is a whole lifestyle reflecting gratitude to God for His worthiness (189-90). "True worship acknowledges that every part of our life comes under God's control" (190).
The chapter also evaluates how aims and emphases in the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students relate to OT and NT worship (cf. Chaps. 2-3). Then it analyzes how worship habits reflect these aims. Finally, it discusses features of modern youth culture and campus life that are against biblical ideals. The writer candidly admits that sometimes people view worship as distinct from other phases of a meeting (e.g., Bible exposition, discussion, prayer), as though these were not also worship. This is not always the case, however (194).
Some of the many principles to stimulate readers are: (1) It can be worshipful to repeat lines when singing, as the psalmist sometimes does; (2) choruses such as "I love you, Lord . . . " can express devotion, though it is good also to mingle hymns about God first loving us or read Scripture about this; (3) rather than an imbalanced use of choruses, it is healthy to balance a worship time with different aspects "that feed our understanding of who God is and what he has done for us in Christ" (194-95), to maintain doctrinal balance. One Christian songbook has virtually no reference to the cross, Christ, the Holy Spirit, and God the creator (195). One danger in choruses is that they tend to be man-centered. (4) Raised hands may gain such popularity that they in effect replace the bent knee; and what people share in a socalled "word of knowledge" may incite more interest than the reading of Scripture. (5) Practices of believers in other parts of the world can challenge those in the West, as when people in South Africa pray four times daily, an hour at a time (196). (6) It helps to keep oneself teachable and flexible, able to join in new ways to express worship. (7) Christians need to be on guard to see that it is not just a catchy song, but that the words of a song are biblical. Beyond these examples, the chapter has even further beneficial principles and dangers as cautions, if not as wake-up calls (197-200).
The book provides a wealth of thought to enhance worship privately or corporately. Many parts bear marks of thorough research (cf. the chapter footnotes at the end). Though often rewarding, at times it is lengthy, detailed, and requires high motivation. All in all, this reviewer recommends it as a book with definitive concepts of worship as God-centered discipleship.