Worship Book Round-Up

I have mentioned that corporate worship has been our theme and focus during the month of January. I have come to realize in recent days that thinking about and participating in the gathered worship of Christ’s church on the Lord’s Day is one of the greatest delights of my life! There are a number of books that have been helpful to me in this area of worship that I would mention today. Some of these I have read within the last month, others within the last year.

Worship: It’s Priority, Principles, and Practice by J.C. Ryle

If you do not presently have the time to devote to an extensive study of worship through numerous resources, then at least get this short, inexpensive little pamphlet by J.C. Ryle (34 pp, $1.40 @ wtsbooks.com). As with everything Ryle writes, this work is clear, thorough, and powerful. You could easily purchase several of these to give to a small group or simply make available. I have been posting quotes from this work the past couple of Sundays.

Christ-Centered Worship by Bryan Chapell

This is a wonderful source-book for anyone who is involved with planning worship. I could go into much more detail, but the book is divided into two parts. The first part speaks to the issue of structure in worship, and the idea that corporate worship has always been intended to tell a story (ie: recognizing who God is at the beginning of the service leads immediately to recognizing who we are before him, thus making confession of sin appropriate). Chapell devotes several chapters to the way various church traditions, from Rome to Luther to Calvin, etc., have worked out how this story should be told in worship. This is a foundational sort of idea for anyone planning worship, and Chapell does an excellent job of unpacking it. The second half of the book is devoted to the various elements of worship, with chapters on Scripture reading, confession of sin, etc. Here, he gives concrete examples of how these might be done. So, so useful.

Worship in Spirit and Truth by John Frame

In my limited experience, I have always found Frame to be a clear communicator, gifted with the ability to speak of lofty, complex subjects on a popular level. That is certainly the case in this very unintimidating book (less than 200 pp). In a very down-to-earth manner, Frame gives a basic biblical-theological framework for thinking about worship, speaks to the specific elements of worship, and also interacts with contemporary issues in worship. The book is somewhat provocative at times, as Frame distances himself from what he considers to be overly-strict interpretations of the regulative principle and the Puritan tradition of worship. Frame also includes questions for discussion at the end of each chapter, making it a very practical resource for a Sunday school class or small group. Perhaps the only draw-back here is that Frame is constantly alluding to issues in the Presbyterian / Reformed tradition, which would are simply outside the experience of a Southern Baptist (including this Southern Baptist!). However, one could easily use Frame’s book as a guide through a series on worship, making use of and excluding whatever material was pertinent to the group. A great introduction to the issues in worship, written from a Reformed, thoroughly biblical perspective. Read and be challenged!

A Primer on Worship and Reformation: Recovering the High-Church Puritan by Douglas Wilson

This is good reading to stir you from your slumber about Sunday morning worship. As with everything Wilson writes, this book is provocative, for good or for ill! While I may dissent at some points, the big idea he is arguing for here, that worship is the way God advances his Kingdom in the world and that something of universal, eternal significance is taking place when Christ gathers his people to worship, is exactly the picture I want to have before me and my people every Lord’s day morning when we gather together.

Engaging with God: A Biblical Theology of Worship by David Peterson

This is simply an excellent example of Biblical theology applied to a specific, important issue in the life of the Christian church. There are no sample orders of service or nuts-and-bolts sorts of appendixes included here. Instead, Peterson lays out an invaluable biblical-theological foundation for thinking about what worship is. One of the major points that Peterson effectively develops over the course of the book is that New Covenant worship encompasses all of life (ie, Rom 12-16, Heb 13), so he does not spend as much time speaking about the practice of the gathered church on Sunday mornings, but shoots for a broader framework. I do not think a week has gone by since I read this book over a year ago that I have not remembered something that Peterson wrote. I would consider this essential reading on the subjects of worship and biblical theology.

Worship by the Book, ed. D.A. Carson

This book has become something of a standard in recent days in all discussions of worship. Carson writes the introductory essay on worship, and is followed by three chapters, each written from a different historic tradition. Mark Alston, an Anglican; R. Kent Hughes, Free Church tradition; and Tim Keller, a Presbyterian. A helpful set of sample worship orders is included at the end of each chapter. Very stimulating, though, really, not even in the top five of the books listed here that I would recommend.

Return to Worship by Ron Owens

This book is different from all the rest, written in a popular style by a worship leader with a reverence for corporate worship and a heart for revival. The book is made up of a series of personal letters written by Owens on a variety of issues at stake in worship. The first half of the book are letters written to the church; the second half of the book are letters written to worship leaders. Some chapters are better than others (ie, some could perhaps be more theologically nuanced, like his discussion of the Sabbath), but the author reveals a very warm heart throughout the book, which is one of its greatest draws. I read this book a year ago, and still remember a number of excellent points and appeals that Owens made; I truly benefitted from this book. The chapters are short, and ideal for discussion with church members; one could easily assign specific chapters for reading and exclude others.

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About Eric Smith

Sinner saved by the grace of Jesus, husband of Candace, father of Coleman and Crockett, West Tennessean, pastor of Sharon Baptist Church, student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
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