A preacher walks into a church. A church member asks him, “Can you please preach on worship.”
The preacher says, “Sure. I’ve got a great sermon on John 4:24, ‘Worship in Spirit and in Truth’.”.
The church member says, “No, that wouldn’t do. The last three preachers preached on that same verse. Do you have something else?”
The preacher thought for a while and said, “Nope. I’ve got nothing.”
With today’s book, you will know how other books in the Bible, verses other than John 4:24, speak on worship.
Hi, my name is Terence and I’m your host for Reading and Readers, a podcast where I review Christian books for you. Today I review Biblical Worship: Theology for God’s Glory, edited by Benjamin Forrest, Walter C. Kaiser Jr., and Vernon M. Whaley. 544 pages, published by Kregel Academic in February 2021. Take note, this is a very new book. The list price is USD42.99, available in Amazon Kindle for USD29.92, and available in Logos for July and only July for USD9.99. A very new book for a very low price. I don’t think you will ever get this book at a cheaper price.
And yes, I know July ends in a few days but in the last episode, episode 47, I did call attention to this deal. If you missed the deal and don’t want to miss another one, subscribe to Reading and Readers, and get book reviews on free or nearly free books.
Popular vs Academic
Today’s book, Biblical Worship, is a Logos Book, which to some, is a signal that today’s book is not a book for you. Because the Logos Books are academic, scholarly, technical books, targeting pastors, academics and serious Bible students. But wait… today’s book is about worship. If it’s archaeology, nobody says anything, few know, few care. Worship, everybody has an opinion.
Now, there are many good worship books written for a popular audience. Let me give you a few: “Corporate Worship: How the Church Gathers as God’s People”, a 9Marks book, written by Mark Merker. Only 176 pages.
Another one by Keith and Kristyn Getty, the worship powerhouse couple, “Sing!: How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family and Church”. This is also only 176 pages.
If you would prefer a shorter book, you can read “The Reset: Returning to the Heart of Worship and a Life of Undivided Devotion” by Jeremy Riddle. I got to know of this book from the “Redman & Riddle” podcast hosted by Matt Redman and Jeremy Riddle. It’s like sitting in a lounge over coffee with two accomplished worship leaders tackling worship challenges with titles like: Encounter vs Entertainment or Comfort vs Confrontation or Holiness vs Helpfulness.
The point I’m making is there are tonnes and tonnes of great resources on worship so why would anyone want to read a 544 page book by boring old scholars? In fact, if you read the three books I just suggested, the total page count of those three books is still less than this one book.
Let me explain the difference between books written for a popular audience and books written for a more academic audience.
Books for popular audience like the 9Marks book or the Gettys book or the Riddle book, they are written with one eye on the Bible and one eye on how the church or the family or the individual should worship.
On the other hand, for today’s book, Biblical Worship or other academic books on worship, what the writers do is they take the Bible, they tear some pages and they chew on these pages. After some years of sucking the ink off those pages, they then write about what they have tasted and it is good!
It’s not that one type of book is better than the other, different methods, different audience, but I am pushing you to go beyond your comfort zone to read titles that you normally would not.
Systematic Theology vs Biblical Theology
Speaking of types, today’s book is a theology book. There are two ways to go about theology: Systematic Theology and Biblical Theology. The label Biblical Theology is a bit confusing because it doesn’t mean that it’s more biblical than Systematic, it just means its focus is on the books themselves. That doesn’t seem to explain much, so I will give an illustration because I think its important you know the difference between Systematic and Biblical Theology for you to fully appreciate what you get in today’s book.
Imagine, if you will, in front of you there are 66 packs of M&Ms; those brightly coloured button-sized chocolates.
The Systematic Theologian would tear open all 66 packs and put all the red M&Ms in one pile, all the blue M&Ms in one pile and so on. Then he would study the redness of the reds, the blueness of the blues and so on. Eventually, he will tell you what is the essence of redness. This is the Systematic Theologian’s training, to open up 66 books of the Bible to tell you what is the holiness of God, what is sin, what is salvation and so on. This is how most Christians understand theology.
Now, we come to the other approach: Biblical Theology. If you give 66 packs of M&Ms to him, he opens them but he doesn’t put all the red M&Ms in one pile. He takes the pack, picks out the red M&Ms, and places them next to the original wrapper with all the other colours nearby. When you ask him what is the essence of redness, he picks up the red M&M in front of you and tells you what it means to be red while holding the wrapper and the other colours in his other hand. One way of doing Biblical Theology is to tell you the holiness of God in Genesis, Exodus and so on and perhaps relating the holiness of God to other attributes of God, like love or justice.
Which is better: Systematic or Biblical? That’s not a good question because we need both. Biblical Theology is helpful when we want to see how a concept or idea is presented differently from one book to the next. But we still need to do some Systematic Theology to unify the elements, otherwise we risk pitting the Apostle Paul against the Apostle James, we do that when we only see the differences and not what they share in common.
I needed to explain Biblical Theology because that is the big selling point of today’s book. It’s a Biblical Theology of worship.
Consider the structure of the book: The book is divided into two main parts, Worship in the Old Testament and Worship in the New Testament. There are 21 chapters for the Old Testament and 13 chapters for the New Testament.
“Woah… Woah there Terence. Why are we making life so difficult? Why don’t we just do a word search on the word ‘worship’, study those verses and we will know what the Bible says about worship.”
That doesn’t work because:
- You don’t know what you are missing. For example, in the Old Testament, sacrifices are a vivid, visual and fragrant, element of worship. That means when we go into the New Testament, when Paul says living sacrifice, he is using worship language. When he says he is being poured out like a drink offering, that is also worship without using the word worship.
- What you get is not what you are looking for. For example, when the magi worshipped baby Jesus, they didn’t worship him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. The magi’s worship is different from the Christian worship today. Thus the use of the worship there is not helpful to formulate what is Christian worship.
That’s why it is helpful to study what each book in the Bible teaches about worship. Hence, why in today’s book, we have 34 chapters from 36 contributors. The contributors are professors of the Old Testament or professors of the New Testament. They have written journals and commentaries. There are some recognisable names in the list. These are people who spend a life time chewing on their favourite pages of the Bible.
It’s easy to see which chapters refer to which books because the chapters are subtitled worship in Joshua, worship in Judges and so on.
Some chapters are groupings of books. One chapter that looks at worship in the united monarchy, another chapter looks at worship in the divided kingdom. One chapter is on the pre-exilic minor prophets. Another chapter is on the post-exilic minor prophets.
But there is one Bible book that gets special treatment. Instead of sharing a chapter with others, it gets six chapters all to itself. Star treatment.
Guess which book would that be? Hint: This is a book on worship. Another hint: Which Bible book has the most chapters. 150 chapters.
And the answer, of course, is the Psalms.
In the New Testament section, we see groupings, the synoptic gospels is one chapter, pastoral epistles is one, prison epistles is another. The last chapter has a wonderfully anticipatory title: Hallelujah, what a saviour! Worship in the Apocalypse. The whole book ends with a short epilogue from the editors followed by a Scripture index.
From the Table of Contents, I can see that it nearly covers the whole Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. Nearly covers but not completely. That’s because there are some books missing: Proverbs, Job, James and most disappointing of all, Daniel. We don’t just miss Daniel and his friends and their faith in God. We also miss out on a deeper look at King Nebuchadnezzar’s worship of God. And how the nations will worship God in the last days. It’s a big gap in an otherwise comprehensive set of essays.
Let’s look at one chapter from the Old Testament and one chapter from the New.
Worship in the Old Testament
From the Old Testament, I have picked the chapter on Joshua, which is chapter 5 and is titled, “Trust and Obedience as Worship to Yahweh: Worship in the Book of Joshua” by J. Michael Thigpen.
The editors have instructed every writer to divide their work into three sections: context, theology and significance.
So for context, Thigpen begins by telling us how he defines worship and how definition connects with the whole theme of Joshua. The definition is important because we would other wise not connect trust and obedience to worship. Then he gives us a summary background of Joshua, which is helpful to establish the context.
Then moving to the next section, the theology of worship, he begins by unpacking Joshua 1:1-9 where God prepares Joshua to be a leader. Thigpen writes:
Joshua saw the miracles in the wilderness. He was nearby when Moses spoke with God in the tent of meeting. He had been obedient and called for the people to trust and obey at Kadesh-Barnea (Num. 13–14). Joshua had heard the law given at Mount Sinai, and he had personally affirmed submission to it. He had heard Moses’s exposition of the law just before his death. He had all the experience he needed to believe God would keep his promises, to prompt him to be courageous, to be obedient, and to spend a lifetime meditating on God’s great acts.
But God never once mentions Joshua’s experiences or memories. Instead, God points him to the Scriptures that existed at his time—the book of the law of Moses. This sets the tone for the rest of Joshua, emphasizing that the word of God, the Scriptures, are the bedrock of all worship.
I’ll tell you the significance of this theological insight to me.
Every Christian knows that our worship is built on the Word. But what about personal testimonies? Is it wrong? That is not the correct question. The question is where is the place of personal testimonies?
And we see here, that Joshua could have relied on personal testimonies, God could have asked Joshua to remember what he had seen. But instead, God emphasises Scripture, “This book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth”. God emphasises Scripture without dismissing Joshua’s experience.
Thigpen tells us that this is important for two reasons. First is authentication. Israel cannot determine what is true and false from Joshua’s personal experience. It can only do that through Scripture.
Second is continuity. What links Israel from one generation to the next is not Joshua’s personal experience, it is Scripture.
Both of these reasons are true for us today.
You nod your head but you ask, “How is this related to worship?”
Thigpen makes the case that worship is a matter of life and death. He expounds from Joshua 2 and 7, which contain the story of Rahab and the story of Achan. Thigpen writes:
If the story of Rahab helps to confirm the life-and-death nature of worship, the account of Achan inscribes it in stone. Not worshiping the Lord, not trusting and obeying, is deadly.
Worship is a matter of life and death. You can chew on this statement for a long, long, time. And by chewing on it, reflecting on the stories of Rahab and Achan, you can draw significance in your own life and situation.
Worship in the New Testament
There is more to say in Thigpen’s essay but I want to move to something from the New Testament.
My next on is Chapter 31 titled, “Grounded in Allegiance to Christ and Affection for God: Worship in John’s Letters” by Andreas Köstenberger.
Unlike Thigpen’s essay, Köstenberger writes only two paragraphs for the context. One paragraph to summarise the three letters of John and one paragraph to explain that John doesn’t directly talk about worship and there is still something here to learn that applies to worship.
In the next section, he writes under the heading Personal Experience, Köstenberger comments on 1 John 1:1, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched — this we proclaim concerning the Word of life”.
John’s worship of Jesus—the Word of life—is grounded in personal experience. John had encountered the Word that had become flesh in Jesus—the life-giving Word—and had come to embrace him as the God-sent Messiah and God-given atonement for the sins of the world and placed his faith in him. This personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in turn, became the ground of fellowship with others and of the message John proclaimed (vv. 2–3). Thus, properly understood, worship — defined as recognizing the true worth of God’s gift in Jesus and a believing response to it — is at the root of Christian fellowship and proclamation.
From personal experience, Köstenberger goes on to elaborate on propitiation, love, spiritual warfare, confession, love revisited and faith.
Then he concludes the essay by summarising the theology of worship and tying it with the significance of it for biblical worship in two paragraphs. You will note that a big chunk of this essay is in the middle section, the theology of worship, which I will talk about later.
I picked Köstenberger’s essay as an interesting contrast with Thigpen’s essay. Thigpen says, “God never once mentions Joshua’s experiences or memories.” On the other hand, Köstenberger says, “John’s worship of Jesus is grounded on personal experience.”
What each writes on worship for their assigned books is entirely consistent. It’s when we put the essays side by side that we can see tension. Is it because Thigpen and Köstenberger are in conflict? Or, more worryingly, is it because Joshua and John are in conflict? This kind of thing happens in Biblical Theology.
That is not to say that Systematic Theology guarantees no conflicts but Systematic Theology comes with a mindset to harmonise all the data, its danger is it might interpret the data apart from where the data came from.
Another contrast between Thigpen and Köstenberger’s essay is how they portion out their words for the three sections. The editors instructed contributors to organise their essays in three sections but the writers were free to write as much or as little in those sections.
Some writers wrote a lot for significance and some like Köstenberger wrote very little. As I read this book from cover to cover, it was a jerky experience. It’s like watching a movie with a long draggy ending, then in the next movie, the ending just suddenly happened. You are left wondering, “Is that it? Is that how it ends? Oh.”
Who is This Book Perfect For
The target audience for this book is clearly the preacher, pastor or serious Bible student. If you are going to write a paper on worship, preach on worship or teach on worship, then this is a helpful book. Recent scholarship, reliable scholars, every chapter has its own bibliography which is a source of other leads.
But I want to talk to the everyday reader who I think can benefit from a little stretching of the reading muscles. Who would normally not reach for an academic book because that’s not your thing.
We all know our worship is ultimately based on the Bible. We may watch YouTube, listen to podcasts, read books, blogs and tweets but ultimately we know we get our understanding of worship from the Bible. The problem is very few of us would read the Bible from cover to cover to study worship. That’s why we read the 100, 200 page books because someone else did the hard work.
What I’m saying here is instead of reading that, which is okay, it is good, why don’t you try going nearer to the Bible. Why don’t you read an essay on what is worship in Joshua? What is worship in the Letters of John? Get a more solid grasp of the source material.
Reading this book, or any Biblical Theology book, will help you be a better Bible reader, a better Bible thinker. You will be more familiar with the themes and outlines of the books of the Bible. You will see how the writer takes a verse and walks you to the conclusion, so that next time you can take a verse and make your own biblical conclusions. Your understanding of worship will be more than Jesus said we are to worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:24), you can see worship in every book of the Bible. And isn’t that a worthy goal? If everybody did this, would we have worship wars?
This is not to say that this book is the definitive word on worship and everything here you should accept without consideration.
There are statements in the book that I am not fully behind. For example, in one essay it says that the Jerusalem walls in Nehemiah was purely for consecration not for defence. That’s my first time hearing it so I need to study it a bit more before I get behind it.
In another essay, it says that priests and Levites, their roles are fulfilled by worship pastors today. Once, I would have just accepted that as true. Now I think you need to back it up a bit more and with more nuance. The way I understand it, you can’t say worship leaders are priests because we are all priests. You have to explain how does the priesthood of all believers work in that scheme.
But overall, many of these statements are not the main thrust of the essay, so accordingly, I set them aside. These statements do not derail the main points of the essay, or the approach, the Biblical Theological approach the writers take, that we can learn.
And if you like the Biblical Theology on Worship approach, what other books can you consider? There are two books here that were cited so often that the editors acknowledged them in their introduction.
“For the Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship” by Daniel I. Block. 432 pages published by Baker Academic in September 2016.
“Recalling the Hope of Glory: Biblical Worship from the Garden to the New Creation” by Allen P. Ross. 592 pages published by Kregel Academic in November 2006.
If you like the idea of Biblical Theology but on other topics, you will be glad to know that today’s book is part of a series called, “Biblical Theology for the Church”. There are only two books in the series for now, the other topic is on Biblical Leadership. So there is more goodness to come.
There is another series of Biblical Theology that I thoroughly enjoy, which is the NSBT, New Studies in Biblical Theology. It’s a wonderful series and quite a few of NSBT books were quoted in today’s book. There are 53 books in this series and counting, with titles on race, prayer, redemption, covenant, death and the afterlife, and many more. I’ve read 7 of them and they are just splendid.
Today’s book, “Biblical Worship” is available for the very, very low price of USD9.99 in Logos. Just go to the Free Book of the Month link, it’s not the free book of the month, just scroll down pass the many good deals. I honestly don’t see how you can get this book at an even lower price.
And even if you missed Logos’ offer, I hope you got something out of today’s book review that might encourage you to try a Biblical Theology book, if you have never tried one before. Or get away from the online chatter and just draw nearer to the Bible to know what the Bible says about worship.
This is a Reading and Reader’s review of Biblical Worship: Theology for God’s Glory, edited by Benjamin Forrest, Walter C. Kaiser Jr., and Vernon M. Whaley.
Today’s episode is a special episode because 1) it’s the first time I release four book reviews in a month, whew! It’s tiring! And 2) I’m releasing this out of the normal schedule because I want to get it out before the month, and the deal, ends. If you don’t want to miss book reviews on free books, or on good books, then subscribe to Reading and Readers, a podcast where I review Christian books for you. Tell all your friends and they will thank you for it. I am going to take a well deserved rest, I’ll see you in two weeks. Bye bye.
- Biblical Worship: Theology for God’s Glory, edited by Benjamin Forrest, Walter C. Kaiser Jr., and Vernon M. Whaley. Amazon. Logos.
- “For the Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship” by Daniel I. Block. Amazon. Logos.
- “Recalling the Hope of Glory: Biblical Worship from the Garden to the New Creation” by Allen P. Ross. Amazon.
- New Studies in Biblical Theology Series. Logos.