Monday, November 10, 2008

Book Review -- A Primer on Worship and Reformation

A Primer on Worship and Reformation

(The following review refers to a pre-publication galley copy, which the fine folks at Canon Press were kind enough to send me.)

Releasing this week is Douglas Wilson's latest, A Primer on Worship and Reformation: Recovering the High Church Puritan. As the title would indicate, the book is a short overview on how the right worship of God is vital to rescuing wayward American Christianity.

The first chapter, "They'll Know We Are Christians By Our Schlock," laments the state of American Christianity, which is far too often driven by cash registers than by the Word of God. Wilson applies his usual "serrated edge" to provide a brief inventory of relics, a list of the wackiness that often passes for expressions of Christian devotion. But instead of dwelling on Testamints and praise song hand motions, he proceeds to sketch out the cultural trends that have brought us to this place, such as rugged individualism and pietism. By doing so, he highlights the false dilemma accepted by those seeking to address such issues in the church: endure heresy or embrace schism. However, there is a third way: namely, that of reformation.

To advance this alternate approach, Wilson adopts the term "High Church Puritan." As he explains, he uses "Puritan" in its original sense: "one who has a deep desire to purify the Church, but who has no intention of voluntarily separating from that Church if he doesn't get his way immediately." Hence the qualifier "High Church," which signals a serious understanding of the covenant and the bond it creates between Christians -- even those in error. For those dismayed by the frivolities and idolatries of modern evangelicalism, neither doctrinal apathy nor schism are viable options. Rather, the task at hand is to work within the church to reform it. As always, reformation in the church -- and in ourselves -- begins and ends with Scripture.

As Wilson argues, true evangelism is much more than simply exhorting individual believers to share the Gospel with those around them. Rather, evangelism is the work of the Church, which seeks to transform the culture by first being transformed herself by the right worship of God. To encourage reformation of our worship, Wilson devotes chapters to each of the following:
  • Covenant renewal worship -- as summarized in Jeff Myers' pattern of call, confession, consecration, communion and commissioning;

  • Thundering the word -- for modernist methods of interpretation cannot be allowed to trump what Scripture teaches about itself;

  • The Lord's Supper -- which is an indispensable source of spiritual life;

  • Recovery of the Psalms in worship -- because God has given them for our use and benefit;

  • Right understanding of the Sabbath -- for the Lord's Day is not a drab observance of rules, but rather a joyful time of resting and feasting; and

  • The place of children in church -- because the blessings of the covenant are for them, and they should be nurtured in the faith instead of taught to doubt.

I've read quite a few books on worship, but I really enjoyed this one. Wilson does not try to prescribe a one-size-fits-all approach to worship, and he freely admits that worship can look different from church to church without sacrificing its integrity. Instead of focusing on the nuts and bolts, he looks at the larger picture of the concerns and values that churches should bring to their worship. Plus, instead of simply berating Christians who worship in a trivial (or even blasphemous) manner, Wilson sees them as brothers and sisters in need of loving correction. Although brief, A Primer on Worship and Reformation packs in quite a bit of great material, all of which is useful for establishing a foundation for the right worship of God. I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in Christian worship, whether they spend Sunday mornings in the pulpit, the choir or the pew.

(Note: the official release date is November 11, but Canon Press is offering free shipping on all orders placed prior to this date.)


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