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For the Glory of God by Daniel I. Block

David A. Booth

For the Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship, by Daniel I. Block. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014, 432 pages, $34.99.

Worshipping the Lord is the most important thing that we do, so the Bible is filled with teaching that bears either directly or indirectly on individual and corporate worship. The vast quantity of scriptural material on worship, which includes every historical period and every genre, makes attempting a biblical theology of worship a daunting task. Therefore most books on worship focus on reclaiming aspects of the historical tradition, specific topics such as the sacraments, or pragmatic discussions designed to make worship more appealing to the communities in which we minister. While such studies may be of significant value to the church, surely those committed to the core Reformation principle of sola scriptura will want to develop a theology of worship that flows organically from the totality of what the Bible teaches. What we need is a work from a scholar with a profound understanding of the Old Testament and how it applies to modern Christians. Ideally, such a work would reflect the wisdom gained from decades of committed worship with God’s people. It would seek to reform our practices to bring them into greater conformity with God’s Word, and it would be crafted with clear prose that is a delight to read. For the Glory of God is that book.

This volume clearly owes its existence, in part, to the deep concerns Block has with many of the practices that pass for private and corporate worship in the evangelical world. Block agrees with the five maladies that professor Edith Humphrey[1] has identified as plaguing worship in the North American church:

(1) trivializing worship by a preoccupation with atmospherics/mood (it’s all about how worship makes me feel); (2) misdirecting worship by having a human-centered rather than God-centered focus (it’s all about me, the worshiper); (3) deadening worship by substituting stones for bread (the loss of the Word of God); (4) perverting worship with emotional, self-indulgent experiences at the expense of true liturgy; and (5) exploiting worship with market driven values. (xii)

Although this volume is specific in its criticisms, the book is primarily a positive exposition of what the Bible as a whole teaches about worship.

The first chapter develops a working definition of worship: “True worship involves reverential human acts of submission and homage before the divine Sovereign in response to his gracious revelation of himself and in accord with his will” (23). This definition is unpacked throughout the book in twelve additional chapters along with three helpful appendices. Block rightly rejects the notion that “true worship” is mainly what takes place inside of the individual in favor of a holistic approach that involves the totality of our lives (5). The book is organized thematically. After developing “The Object of Worship” and the “Subject of Worship,” Block discusses “Daily Life as Worship,” “Family Life and Work as Worship,” “The Ordinances as Worship,” “Hearing and Proclaiming the Scriptures in Worship,” “Prayer as Worship,” “Music as Worship,” “Sacrifice and Offerings as Worship,” “The Drama of Worship,” “The Design and Theology of Sacred Space,” and “Leaders in Worship.”  The discussions are consistently and refreshingly theocentric. Confessionally Reformed Christians will appreciate how attentive Block is to listening to what the Holy Spirit is teaching us from the first three quarters of the Bible rather than treating the Old Testament as though it were God’s Word emeritus.

There are remarkably few weaknesses in this work, given the vast scope of the project and Block’s helpful willingness to consistently offer his best judgment on each topic rather than blandly acknowledging that committed Christians hold diverse interpretations. However, readers may wish to note three weaknesses in the book.

First, Orthodox Presbyterians will disagree with his views on baptism, which include immersion and limiting the sacrament to those who make a credible profession of faith. One surprise is that a scholar of Block’s abilities would repeat the notion that Jesus coming up “out of (ek ἐκ) the water (Mark 1:10; cf. Acts 8:38–39) suggests support for the immersionist interpretation” (147) when it almost certainly refers to Jesus coming out of the water at the side of the river rather than standing erect after being immersed in baptism. This can be seen by looking at the parallel passage in Matthew 3:16 that uses the preposition from (apo ἀπὸ) for Jesus coming out of the water. While both “ek” and “apo” can be used for coming out of the side of the river it is nearly impossible to see how “apo” could be used to refer to Jesus emerging from the Jordan after being immersed. Furthermore, Block compares the baptism of Jesus with the baptism of the eunuch in Acts 8:38–39 without noting the plural verbs. Yet, “they both went down into the water” and “they came up out of the water” clearly indicate the transition between water and land and not the mode of baptism.

Second, Block seems to confuse the doctrine of divine impassability with the erroneous notion that God lacks emotions. He therefore rejects WCF 2.1 for what it was never intended to teach (203).

Third, Professor Block’s insightful and robust treatment of the Sabbath lacks an adequate presentation of the New Testament passages which make clear that the Sabbath day has been moved from the seventh day to the first day of the week. At one point he writes: “In Acts the apostles never suggest that the seventh-day Sabbath does not apply to Christians or that it is to be replaced by an alternate day” (278). The lack of an express command in the New Testament to move the Sabbath from the seventh to the first day of the week apparently leaves Professor Block reluctant to bind anyone’s conscience to maintaining Sunday as the prescribed day of Sabbath rest. Orthodox Presbyterians, while recognizing the lack of an explicit command, would deduce the shift to a Sunday Sabbath as a good and necessary consequence of the Apostolic pattern and therefore obligatory for all Christians. These are relatively minor criticisms for such an ambitious book.

This volume is overflowing with extraordinary biblical insights presented in a clear and balanced manner. I picked up this volume expecting to learn a little bit more about worship. I put it down knowing the LORD and his Word better. What more could one ask? This is not only the finest book that I have ever read on worship, it is one of the best Christian books I have read in the past several years. I could not recommend this work more highly.

Endnote

[1] William F. Orr Professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

David A. Booth is an Orthodox Presbyterian minister serving as pastor of Merrimack Valley Presbyterian Church in North Andover, Massachusetts. Ordained Servant Online, December 2015.

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Ordained Servant: December 2015

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