Recalling the Hope of Glory: Biblical Worship from the Garden to the New Creation

By Allen P. Ross
Grand Rapids : Kregel (2006). 591 Pages.

Reviewed by Paul Lamey
19.2 (Fall 2008) : 282-285

Allen Ross is professor of divinity at Beeson Divinity School, Birmingham, Alabama. His contributions to evangelical theology have been primarily in the area of OT exposition (series commentaries on Proverbs in Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Genesis and Psalms in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, larger commentaries on Genesis Creation and Blessing, and Leviticus Holiness to the Lord). In Recalling the Hope of Glory: Biblical Worship from the Garden to the New Creation, Ross delivers a stimulating book that spans the disciplines of exegesis, biblical theology, and systematic theology. However, the book probably fits best within the larger discipline of biblical theology as Ross attempts to survey the theme of worship throughout Scripture. The author relates the genesis of his thoughts on worship as beginning when he was a boy growing up in a German Baptist Church. Ross has since traversed many denominations and in the meantime immersed himself in the message and backgrounds of Scripture. His rich heritage and study have culminated in a work that is neither overly erudite nor too simplistic.

In recent years a few books have made unique contributions to the church’s understanding of worship, such as Hughes Oliphant Old’s Worship: Reformed According to Scripture, John Frame’s Worship in Spirit and Truth, also his Contemporary Worship Music: A Biblical Defense, and Ryken, Thomas, and Duncan’s festschrift in memory of James Montgomery Boice, Give Praise to God: A Vision for Reforming Worship. Ross’ work stands apart from these and other works in that his stated goal is different:

The intent of this book is to take the readers through the Bible so that they may see these patterns and principles emerge and in the process understand more fully their Christian heritage and thereby discover ways to improve their worship. This is not simply a theology of worship; it is an inductive study of the biblical material as it was revealed over time, for the purpose of identifying the abiding theological truths that must inform our worship today (64).

The book has ten parts which are further divided into twenty-eight chapters. The first of two tables of contents lists the contents in “brief,” and the second gives a complete outline of the book’s detailed structure. Both are useful in reading and reviewing the material. A moderate number of footnotes in which readers will find a treasure trove of additional resources and excursions deal with most technical matters.

Part one (chapters 1-2) covers foundational matters in which Ross moves the reader from creation to eternity with a conservative approach affirming the historicity and authority of Scripture. He introduces worship by examining the Lord’s self-revelation and seeks a definition of worship. Ross maintains a Trinitarian emphasis in defining worship. Part two (chapters 3-5) covers worship in the original creation of the garden, emphasizing the image of God. Part three (chapters 6-8) is an overview of worship during the patriarchal period. Ross’s discussion of Abraham’s altar building as “proclamation” was enlightening. Part four (chapters 9- 12) examines worship under the leadership of Moses. Here Ross explores the institution of a holy place and worship leadership in Israel. In part five (chapters 13- 17) Ross summarizes the celebratory aspects of worship expressed as praise in Israel. Here he covers the use of the Psalms in worship and seasonal celeb rations. Part 6 (chapters 18-20) is an examination of worship reform in summarizing OT prophetic literature. Part seven (chapters 21-24) looks at worship in anticipating the New Covenant with particular attention to Jesus’ teaching on worship, including a chapter on communion (chapter 24). Part eight (chapters 25-26) details patterns of early church worship with an emphasis on Acts and the NT epistles. Ross does not delve into extra-biblical material such as the Didache and early church fathers. Part nine (chapters 27-28) is a wonderful section on the future realities of worship in glorious perfection. Part ten does not contain formal chapters, but concludes the work with Ross’s fifteen “Basic Principles for More Glorious Worship.”

A few areas caught this reviewer’s attention. First, Ross notes that “The Bible itself does not give a comprehensive definition of worship; it simply describes things that people have done or should do when they receive the revealing words and works of God” (50). He also rightly eschews the popular approach “of explaining worship on the basis of the etymology of the English word” (ibid.).

The subject of worship in general and music in particular is a loaded minefield in the church today. Ross’s tenacious commitment to the biblical text and less to various traditional applications was refreshing and created a greater appreciation for Scripture. “For serious, thorough study of the subject, people need to consult the Bible every step of the way. . .” (65).

Readers will appreciate Ross’s consistent emphasis on the centrality of the Word in worship. The author writes that “Whenever proclamation has been lost to worship, worship loses its way and becomes empty ritual” (146), and “if the revelation of God inspires fear and adoration, it also leads to spiritual renewal in the worshiper” (53).The Word has always given shape to other aspects of worship. Writing about the Passover, Ross remarks, “Without this proclamation, people would think of it as just a good meal” (160).

Additionally, his commitment to the authority of Scripture is conspicuous. Regarding the origin of Israel’s worship, H e writes, “It is hard to accept a theory that says that the whole religious system of Israel was simply borrowed from the pagan world and then artificially credited to God’s revelation at Mount Sinai” (132). The following lengthy quote captures the author’s commitment to a thoroughly biblical understanding of worship:

Worship begins with the response to divine revelation. But if little time or attention is given to the revealed Word of God, read, proclaimed, or taught, then to what do people respond? The result is that worship becomes superficial or sentimental. If the church is truly interested in recapturing the spirit and nature of the prophetic and apostolic ministry of the Word in worship, then there will have to be a greater emphasis placed on reading, teaching, and preaching the Word of God, but it has to be with clarity, accuracy, power, and authority (429).

This reviewer found few areas of disagreement or concern. In a section entitled “The Savior in the Garden,” the author’s failure to discuss the proto-evangelium of Gen 3:15 (cf. 114-16) is perplexing. Second, Ross’s passing reference to a “covenant of works” without further explanation (107 n. 57) seemed out of place in light of his consistent emphasis on the explicit covenants of Scripture. The author has no discussion of normative principles of worship. This raises some interesting questions. For example, though dancing was a part of Israel’s liturgy on special occasions, one wonders how the author believes this should be a “part of the praise of the people of God” today (507). Yet these are minor issues in light of the magnitude of the work. With further clarification, the author could have remedied these concerns, but the volume would have then grown well beyond its current 500+ pages.

Ross gives the reader a helpful 54-page, topically divided bibliography (513-67). Notably absent from the bibliography are John Frame’s works on worship and specific volumes from the works of Hughes Oliphant Old, both of whom have made significant contributions to the church’s understanding of worship. Ross’s work has no author index, but it does have Scripture and subject indexes.

This volume is a major resource that should be on the shelf of every serious student of Scripture. Ross is to be commended for delivering a fine volume that makes a valuable contribution to biblical theology and the church’s grasp of worship.