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Thursday, October 23, 2014

"For the Glory of God" (Daniel I. Block)

TITLE: For the Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship
AUTHOR: Daniel I. Block
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014, (432 pages).

What comes to mind when we think about worship? I suppose many of us would be thinking of music styles, Church services, and of course the age-old distinction between traditional vs contemporary songs debate. Edith Humphrey criticizes the modern rendition of worship in five ways. They are 1) too much about feelings; 2) too human-centered; 3) too lacking in the focus on the Word of God; 4) too emotional and experiential oriented; 5) too market-driven. Author and Professor of Wheaton College agrees and this book not only expands on what Humphrey had written, but focuses on recovering the biblical understanding of worship. The writing of this book was inspired by the basic question: "What does God think of what we are doing?" Christians ought to do that too.

The Format
The book comprises 13 chapters, all arranged topically. Broadly speaking, the first three chapters set forth three fundamental questions:
  1. What is worship according to the Scriptures?
  2. Who is the object of true worship?
  3. Whose worship is acceptable to God?
Two chapters are dedicated to how worship can be practiced in daily work and family life. This is followed by four chapters that deal with ordinances, the use of the Word, prayer, and music in worship. The last three chapters work on the drama, the design, the theology, and the role of leaders to cultivate genuine worship. These 13 chapters provide at least 13 different ways in which biblical worship can be understood and practiced. 

Brief Notes
Block spends some time critiquing the various ways in which people define biblical worship. Some are too subjective while others do not show a consistency between the Old and New Testament. Others tend to be too narrow in practice and shallow in theological truth. Block affirms that the goal of all authentic worship is the worship of God, not the pleasure of man. This must be shaped by Scripture, and Block aims to help us locate the principles and patterns of worship that should direct our worship today. For Block, the three expressions of worship are dispositional (worship as attitude, inside); physical (worship as gesture, outside); and liturgical (worship as ritual, in life). He provides 8 powerful summaries of what worship is, and diagrams a chart to show us how worship envelopes our whole lives. The "Object of Worship" must be truth and not falsehood. Readers learn of the temptations of many idols as well as how Block debunks the false dichotomy that some people have, such as that of the New Testament showing God as "loving" and the Old Testament paints God as "wrathful."

The "Subject of Worship" addresses the popular "come-as-you-are" invitation to Church. Block goes back to Genesis and studies the worship as offered by Cain and Abel, the "gradations of Holiness at Mount Sinai" and proposes that true worship needs clean hands and hearts; and true worship must be on God's terms, not man's. The key is in our inner self-awareness and humble access to God in Christ.

Worship is not just ceremonial but also ethical in terms of creating a loving community; exercising gratitude; accepting one's obligations in life; and a life that says "God is First!" The Decalogue provides a biblical example of how our vertical worship (first three commandments) leads to a horizontal life of worship (the rest).

On Family Life and Work, worship is a response to how we see God revealed in us. According to Genesis, the notion of "family" is not our Western definition of a "nuclear family" but the entire world. Block lists many examples from both testaments on how the biblical characters' fear of God leads to respect for fellow workers. Worship is beyond religious rituals. Working well is worshiping God.

Thankfully, just when I thought Block is about to propose an "Everything-Is-Worship" kind of a book which can blunt the true meaning of worship, he comes back to describe worship ordinances, like Baptism, the Eucharist, and Marriage, and the familiar symbols of worship. This is quickly followed by a chapter on the place of the Word, with elaborate references to how the Old Testament and New Testament describes worship. What really helps is the way Block opens up the Word and lets the Word draw us in to "rediscover the joy of reading and hearing Scriptures together with other believers." This reading and listening includes the use of music and other literary devices. That is not all. Block consistently argues from Scriptures and demonstrates his points with ease and reverence.

So What?

I appreciate the way Dr Block begins with the fundamental proclamation that God is first and foremost and over all in our attitudes, our gestures, and our rituals. By setting the foundations of what worship is, and to touch on what it means for worship in our family, vocation, work, and other activities outside the Church services early, Block reminds us that true worship is not simply singing or making music one day a week. I means presenting ourselves as living sacrifices, honouring God in all we think and do, and to let this act of worship inform our weekly gathering in formal worship. He shows us convincingly from Scriptures that worship is directly or indirectly emphasized throughout. He not only describes what worship is, he also touches on what worship is NOT. He dispels dualistic ideas of worship, and is especially strong on the heresy of New Testament depicting God as "loving" and the Old Testament painting God as "wrathful."

The illustrations in the book alone speaks profoundly; like the comparison of "blended" and "distributed" approach to worship; the gradations of holiness; the comparison of the tabernacle and temple; the basic church floor plans and implications; and many tables and figures that give this book a dimension beyond words. Every chapter contains wisdom and practice. This book sets a new bar on teaching and learning on the biblical theology of worship. I find my own understanding of worship reinforced, expanded, and profoundly touched. "For the Glory of God" deserves to be on the bookshelves of every Christian leader in ministry. I always feel encouraged whenever I read a good book. This definitely ranks highly as a huge shot of encouragement.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Baker Academic and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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