A Primer on Christian Worship: Where We've Been, Where We Are, Where We Can Go

Article excerpt

A Primer on Christian Worship: Where We've Been, Where We Are, Where We Can Go William A. Dyrness. Eerdmans, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-8028-6038-5. 154 pages, paperback, $18.00.

William Dyrness identifies two related objectives for this volume: "to introduce (and sometimes interpret) the current conversations about worship for worship leaders, pastors, and lay leaders"; and "to seek to awaken the average worshiper to the importance of these issues" (pages viii-ix). A more comprehensive goal, he adds, is "to encourage the process of worship renewal - and the related theological renewal - that has begun in many places." He brings to these tasks his own viewpoint as a Protestant in the Reformed tradition; however, he also emphasizes the ecumenical nature of his approach to exploring Christian worship. As a professor of theology and culture, he believes that contemporary differences among Christians are more about culture than about historical and theological substance (page 13). Here, he notes especially the impact of today's media culture on worship.

Initially, I thought that Professor Dyrness's stated objectives might be too ambitious for a primer and for a book of 154 pages, but with an efficient and accessible style, he effectively discusses key aspects of worship renewal, offers appealing insights, and raises provocative questions - several of which are provided at the end of each chapter.

After creating a framework and making clear his motivations for the volume in chapter one, in chapter two he presents a "Looking Back" at worship in the Middle Ages and in the Reformation period. Here, he surveys the symbolism of medieval worship, the elements of the medieval Mass, and the efforts of this period to stimulate a deeper faith. He then turns to a brief overview of the approaches of Martin Luther and John Calvin and the reformers' "quest for a purified worship." Dyrness contends that medieval worship and Reformation spirituality continue to determine the development of Christian worship for both Catholics and Protestants (page 42).

In chapter three, Professor Dyrness offers a definition of worship, on each element of which he elaborates: "Christians believe worship is 1) a set of culturally embedded and corporate practices 2) through which God forms them into the likeness of Christ, 3) in and through the story of Jesus Christ, 4) by the power of the Holy Spirit, in order that 5) they might live their lives to the glory of God" (page 45). He then provides a sampling of the styles of spirituality identifiable in the Protestant tradition. The survey is presented to help the reader appreciate that the various movements within the Protestant tradition, along with the Catholic and Orthodox traditions, make up our shared heritage. …