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Recovering Mother Kirk: The Case for Liturgy in the Reformed Tradition

D. G. Hart

Reviewed by: Larry Wilson

Date posted: 03/19/2006

Recovering Mother Kirk: The Case for Liturgy in the Reformed Tradition, by D. G. Hart. Published by Baker Academic, 2003. Paperback, 263 pages, list price $24.99. Reviewed by Larry Wilson.

Don't let the word liturgy scare you away. Darryl Hart's recent book, Recovering Mother Kirk: The Case for Liturgy in the Reformed Tradition, argues forcefully. not for what most of us mean by liturgy. But for the confessionally Reformed commitment to the church and the means of grace that God has entrusted to her. By liturgy, Hart means "an understanding of Calvinism that is firmly rooted in the ministry of the church in her gathering for worship. Liturgicalism is not simply concerned with the content or order of worship services; it involves the life of the visible church through her officers, ordinances, and public worship" (p.12). Running through the book is a "concern for all Christians to recognize the means that God has ordained and promised to bless in the salvation of his people" (p. 252). Hart, an OPC ruling elder, was until recently the academic dean and professor of church history at Westminster Theological Seminary in California.

Recovering Mother Kirk brings together sixteen essays that Hart wrote between 1993 and 2000 and organizes them in five categories: "The Church's Commission," "Contemporary Worship," "Office and Ordinances," "Presbyterian Parochialism," and "Worship and Revival." Because of their separate origin, the essays can stand alone or be read out of order. On the other hand, the essays really do fit together well and flow nicely as a unified book. In an outstanding chapter, "Spirit-Filled Worship," Hart shows with a sound discussion of John 4 that truly Spirit-filled worship involves worship "in spirit and in truth," where the worshipers expectantly trust the Holy Spirit's simple, but effectual, working by the Word and sacraments. Another excellent chapter, "The Keys of the Kingdom," highlights what is really essential to healthy Christian growth. "The Irony of American Presbyterian Worship" scrutinizes a curious phenomenon: liberal American Presbyterians often maintain historic forms of worship shaped by Reformed theology, while conservative American Presbyterians experiment widely with modern forms of worship shaped by non-Reformed theology. These and other well-written chapters abound with insight and provoke thought.

Hart writes from a settled conviction that biblical piety is churchly, so he doesn't refrain from taking exception to anything that might challenge or undermine true piety. "Revived and Always Reviving" argues that seeking revival controverts seeking reformation. He makes a good case against revivalism. but does that exclude revival in any sense? I'm not persuaded, but it was still worth reading.

Recovering Mother Kirk makes for lively and challenging reading. Hart is a competent historian, an acute analyst of the contemporary scene, and a skillful writer. Even if you don't agree with all his assessments, he can help you develop discernment about contemporary pressures on believers in light of their historical antecedents. With its pointed application of the Reformed faith, Recovering Mother Kirk is really a pastoral theology text intended to help flesh out a biblically Reformed piety and ecclesiology in modern North America. Recommended.

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