Book Review: Worship by the Book

Worship by the Book. Ed. D.A. Carson

Worship by the Book is neither a comprehensive theology of worship or a “how to” manual on corporate worship.  “Rather, after a preliminary chapter on the biblical theology of worship, the remaining three chapters move from theological reflection to practical implementation of patterns of corporate worship in the local churches [the authors] represent.” (7). The preliminary chapter, by Carson, provides an overview of recent developments in the area of a theology of worship and looks at the subject of worship through the lens of biblical theology.  Three points of emphasis emerge from Carson’s chapter: 1) worship encompasses the whole life of a Christian; 2) the corporate worship of the church is a key element of worship that the people of God must participate in; 3) all worship must be done according to God’s standards. As Carson puts it, we must ask the question, “What does God expect from us?” (29)


Chapter 2, written by Mark Ashton with C. J. Davis, deals with the topic of worship from the perspective of an Anglican minister. Not surprisingly, this chapter provides an informative defense of Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer.   Davis’ defense is probably a bit overstated, however he strongly supports his belief that Cranmer was extremely balanced and measured in his overhaul of the church’s liturgy.  As Davis points out, “I a time of reformation some were bound to make novelty their authority rather than the Bible.” (75) Cranmer didn’t that mistake.  Anyone who is not familiar with Anglican history or Cranmer’s work would benefit from this aspect of the chapter.  Additionally, Davis provides an extremely candid portrayal of the Current state of the Anglican church.

Chapter 3, written by Kent Hughes, addresses worship from the perspective of Free Church worship.  In this chapter Hughes does an excellent job of balancing what the Scriptures say about “whole life worship” and “gathered worship.” as Hughes puts it, “Because worship is a way of life, you cannot worship corporately on the Lord’s Day if haven’t been worshipping throughout the week–apart from repentance.” (141) For someone ministering in a Free Church context (Baptist, Independent, etc.) the practical suggestions and personal experiences will provided wise guidance for planning and leading the church in gathered worship.

Chapter 4, written by Timothy Keller, addresses worship from the perspective Reformed Church worship.  For anyone interested in church history, this chapter provides an excellent description of the Calvinistic roots of reformed worship.  At times Keller leaves the reader wanting more details to support his conclusions, especially with reference to his negative evaluation of Zwingli’s view of corporate worship (Keller concludes the Zwingli made the gathered worship service into an intellectual classroom atmosphere).  Keller’s presentation of Reformed worship makes it clear that a balance between simplicity and transcendence is key to reformed worship.  One strange element to this chapter is Keller’s justification for allowing unbelievers to play an instrument in the music portion of gathered worship.