Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Review of Engaging With God: a Biblical theology of worship By David Peterson

Engaging With God: a Biblical theology of worship endeavors to describe biblical worship with an eye toward applying the principles found in Scripture to contemporary Christian worship. Taking the Protestant canon as its outline (moving from Genesis to Revelation), this thoroughly biblical book welcomes the insights of scholars from various traditions without alienating the informed layperson by getting lost in technical details. Peterson’s extensive scholarly interaction is largely relegated to endnotes.

In the introduction, Peterson hypothesizes that “the worship of the living and true God is essentially an engagement with him on the terms he proposes and in the way that he alone makes possible.” This hypothesis is tested throughout the book. From start to finish Peterson finds strong support for the idea that worship is defined and enabled by God himself. Unlike so many pagan and polytheistic worship practices, biblical Christian worship does not aim to provide for God. Neither is Christian worship an attempt to manipulate God. Rather, Christian worship is the thankful response of people who have received abundantly at the hand of an incredibly generous God.

Disregarding popular suspicions about the relevance of OT Scripture to modern life, Peterson begins his investigation of biblical worship with the chapter Engaging with God in the Old Testament, which contains an examination of the priesthood, temple, and sacrifices of the OT. It is shown that the people of Israel were delivered from bondage in Egypt in order to worship God in a holy blood covenant. From the earliest days of the nation, the people of Israel were expected to worship God with their entire lives – not just in cultic ritual. God chose a tabernacle as his place of dwelling among his people. He gave the people his name and his presence through no merit of their own. Underlying all of the provisions of the cult were the mercy and grace of a holy God. Temple worship, in all its glory, came and went. The people were judged and sent into exile. What remained was a prophetic hope. One day God would give the people a new and better temple.

In chapter two, Honouring, serving and respecting God, Peterson examines the OT vocabulary of worship. Here he explores the concept of worship as “homage or grateful submission.” Bowing in worship, though common in the Ancient Near East, was a special way for Israelites to show honor and respect for God. That bowing down became representative of many acts of devotion toward God. The ancient Hebrew and Greek (LXX) words for bowing down were similar in function to our English word worship. Another important concept in worship is found in two terms used to refer to service. Latreuein and douleuein, are both translated as ‘worship’ and are both literally about service – in the case of douleuein the service of a slave. Scriptural vocabulary makes clear that God is to be reverenced, respected, and served.

Peterson follows up his chapter on worship terminology with a fascinating chapter about Jesus and the new temple. This chapter explores the relationship between the old and new covenants, especially concerning temple worship. Jesus is presented (particularly from Matthew and John’s gospels) as the fulfillment and elevation of the Old Testament. Matthew and John present a clearly divine Christ – the new temple. Jesus’ presence and preaching at major feasts throughout John’s gospel served to reveal that Jesus was the greater and true temple.

Jesus not only replaced the temple, he brought a new covenant. In Jesus and the new covenant Peterson examines the religious life of Jesus. Jesus was ever obedient to the Father’s will. He attended synagogue. He did not come to break the law. However, in some sense, he was above the OT law. He came to fulfill it. He came as Lord of the Sabbath. He came to infuse it with deeper meaning. His disciples were welcomed into God’s kingdom through a New Testament. Christ reinterpreted and transcended the paschal meal, introducing the Lord’s Supper.

Continuing his exploration of worship in canonical order, Peterson next turns to the book of Acts. Temple and community in the Acts of the Apostles begins by noting the early disciples’ relationship to the temple at Jerusalem. At its start the church met at the temple to instruct and encourage one another and to preach Jesus as Lord. The church continued to pray in the temple at the appointed times. Before long though, Christians were expelled from both temple and synagogue. Stephen was accused of speaking against the temple and was stoned. Soon, pagans were brought into the community of faith. The exclusive message of Christianity also found opposition among pluralistic, diversity celebrating pagans of that day. Nevertheless, Jews and pagans alike were bowing down to, praying to, and serving the Lord Jesus. The Christian community emphasized teaching in their gatherings. Their way of fellowship included sharing of material goods. The church ate meals together. Peterson argues that the church regularly had normal meals together, perhaps including the Lord’s Supper as part of the meal. The church was committed to prayer and praise.

Paul and the service of the gospel begins Peterson’s overview of the books attributed to Paul. For Paul, the entire life of the converted is worship. The worship that was once rendered to lifeless idols should now be offered to God. Only Christ’s sacrifice made such worship possible. Paul’s theology of worship includes the ministry of the gospel, which enables others to offer themselves as a ‘living sacrifice’ to God.

Serving God in the assembly of his people explores NT congregational worship in Paul. The church gathered to meet God together. Everyone was welcome to contribute. Spontaneity was part of the gathering. Thanksgiving, prayer, and praise were made as a congregation. The whole group was holy – temples of the Holy Spirit. The congregation consisted of members of the body of Christ, seated in heavenly places. For Paul, edification of the church was a primary concern of congregational worship. Christians met with God as they ministered to one another. Peterson again emphasizes that the Lord’s Supper is largely about Christian fellowship. The chapter ends with a diagram depicting the vertical and horizontal aspects of worship. “God ministers to us and we respond to God as we minister to one another.”

The relationship between OT and NT worship is further explored in The book of Hebrews and the worship of Jesus. The letter to the Hebrews finds the fulfillment of OT rituals in the person of Jesus Christ. The superiority of the new priesthood and covenant, which transcend OT limitations, is plainly shown. The blood of Jesus, shed as part of his perfect worship, allows the church to participate in Christ’s worship. From its teaching regarding the work of Christ, congregational application is developed. The book of Hebrews emphasizes that Christians gathered for mutual encouragement – such encouragement served to prevent apostasy. Together, the congregation drew near to God and confessed its faith in Christ. The theme of congregational care for one another, even if only by continuing to assemble together, resounds clearly in the book of Hebrews.

Worship in the Revelation to John points out that the word for bowing down, proskynein, appears twenty-four times in the book of Revelation. The book calls for faithful worshipers of God to be prepared to resist evil government and false religion – bowing to God rather than man. God’s people are described as priests to the surrounding world. The faith that pleases God is revealed as faith that believes God’s promises to the end. Those who endure to the end will participate with angels and glorified saints in worshiping the risen Lord Jesus.

The final chapter, Worship and the gospel – a summary, is a brief summary of the book. Peterson concludes that his hypothesis has been supported by the biblical evidence. “Throughout the Bible, acceptable worship means approaching or engaging with God on the terms that he proposes and in the manner that he makes possible.”

The Epilogue presents Peterson’s picture of what the principles delineated in his biblical survey of worship might look like if put into practice. The worship meeting Peterson envisions is a blend of fixity and freedom. The Lord’s Supper is celebrated informally, within the context of a fellowship meal. The worship flows over into daily life.

Though this book is clearly academic (published by IVP’s academic division), it is quite practical. At the end of sections and chapters are clear applications for contemporary Christian worship. Such a thoroughly Scriptural book challenges the reader to respond in worship.

The premise of this book carries profound implications for Christian worship. Worship begins and ends with God himself. Not only does God determine how he is to be worshiped, he initiates and enables that worship. Without his gracious enablement no human since Adam could render pleasing worship to God. This recognition ought to make it easier for us to receive divine instruction concerning appropriate and pleasing ways to worship.

One interesting application Peterson makes is with regard to spontaneity in worship. He advocates that time be allotted in the public meeting for prophecy and other congregational contributions. Though it might be difficult to put into practice, such a pattern could permit edification of the body in ways that are thoroughly Scriptural and needful. It just may be that the church’s leadership cannot replace what the congregation has to offer the body.

Peterson’s approach to table worship is also noteworthy. The author argues that the Lord’s Supper ought to be largely about horizontal fellowship, rather than individual spiritual intimacy with God. From his perspective, the Lord’s Supper was originally a meal – not a mysterious transformation of substance.

If you are looking for a prepackaged philosophy of worship, this may not be the book for you. If, however, you want to know what the Bible says about worship this is a good place to start. Peterson’s gathering of biblical data is impressive. This orderly overview of what the Bible has to say on this vital subject is a great place to start in developing a philosophy of worship.

I really appreciate Dr. Peterson’s emphasis on the horizontal in NT worship. It is sometimes forgotten that we are to build one another up when we meet together. It is true that, as Christians, we are constantly seeking to glorify God – no matter what we are doing. When we come together to worship one of the main ways we glorify God is by building up the body of Christ. The body of Christ is very near to the heart of God. As Jesus said to Peter, “If you love me, feed my sheep.”

I also believe that there is good biblical support for the contention that the congregation should contribute in public meetings. When the church comes together the body is edified when the gifts of the spirit are manifested. God encourages, comforts, and edifies us through our brothers and sisters. No church should silence the congregation.

Peterson’s take on the Lord’s Supper runs contrary to common church practice here in the USA. Perhaps that is why he writes so much on the subject. Embracing his suggestion that the Holy Eucharist be celebrated in the context of an ordinary fellowship meal is tempting. Such a change would probably bring new emphasis to the unity of the redeemed community. That would doubtless be a good thing. Also, the casual nature of this new interpretation of the ancient ritual might help the church see that all of life is sanctified by Christ.

For some reason, water baptism gets almost no attention in this book on worship. Fasting is also neglected. It certainly cannot be blamed on lack of biblical material. Perhaps length limitations prevented exploration of these important subjects.

Baptism in the Holy Spirit gets even less attention than water baptism. Peterson’s cursory mention of this baptism in association with Acts 2 leaves much to be desired. According to Peterson, the Spirit’s “coming is indicated by the gift of prophetic speech and ‘tongues’ for the purpose of proclaiming the gospel to people from every nation.” Yet, no mention of anyone manifesting the gift of prophecy is to be found in chapter two of Acts. Neither is the conclusion that tongues were for the purpose of proclaiming the gospel to people from every nation supported by this text. Indeed, the tongues did attract attention – they served the function of a sign (see 1 Cor. 14). The 120 did declare the “mighty acts of God.” However, we can only guess what particular acts were confessed. What is sure is that Peter preached the gospel to a crowd in a language that was generally understood, making the necessity of a gift of languages for the communication of the gospel doubtful.

Such critiques aside, I found this book to be helpful and challenging. This book is so full of Scripture and restatements synthesizing Scripture that I found it to be of great devotional value. It is a great place to start when developing a philosophy of worship.