Book Review – Reformation Worship

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Reformation Worship is a wonderful book that needs to be on the bookshelf of every discerning Christian and I suspect it may very well be a volume that has a massive impact upon the gathering of God’s people in years to come.

The book has a simple format. There’s three essays by the editors followed by a new translation of a large number of Reformation liturgies.

Gibson writes first, giving us a Biblical overview of worship. His chapter treads over well-worn ground but is a pleasure to read nonetheless. There are interesting elements and observations, not least the affirmation of the basic structure of worship in the Bible (“call-response-meal” – in itself perhaps a healthy rejoinder to the questions in some quarters on the necessity for the Lord’s Supper) and a great summary of the book of Revelation in the categories of a liturgical movement (p.18).

As Gibson lifts our eyes heavenward (after first showing us the history of worship on God’s earth as God has been at action) one can’t help notice the heart lifted and willing to respond to the conclusion of his chapter – a call to worship.

Earngey’s second chapter traces the liturgical changes that the Reformation brought. Here we see the fruit of his doctoral research. I had the pleasure of talking some of this material through with him in situ last year and it’s a pleasure to now see it written down. Again, the ground here is well-trodden but the synthesis is no less helpful for it. As he takes us through the key issues of the place of Scripture, preaching and how Christ’s sacrifice is appropriated we see the need for precision in how our liturgy is formed. Perhaps the greatest strength of the chapter is that it prepares us well for the many translated Reformation liturgies that follow. Without it they were in danger of standing alone as abstract pieces, but Earngey has given us a helpful guide with which to assess and appreciate them.

In chapter three the authors lay out their raison d’être.

The argument of this book on Reformation worship is irenic. The liturgies collated and presented here are a subtle encouragement for the modern church to reflect critically on how she worships today.

It is an artful synthesis of what has come before as Biblical overview and historical analysis are combined to leave us in no doubt over what is required for proper worship and the manner in which the liturgies they have included in the book show us how these requirements were pursued. They work their way through a multitude of different factors, arguing cogently and clearly and, above all, persuasively. I was left realising that my own view of liturgy is far too small in that I have vastly under-estimated what can be achieved.

The rest of the book is a re-translation of Reformation liturgies both famous and more obscure. As I’ve already noted, their reading is vastly enhanced by the essays that have come before.

If I had one criticism of the book it would be that there was room for more to be said. I would have appreciated a detailed critique of modern worship forms (although the preface from Ferguson dips it’s toe into the topic).

In this unique compilation of essays and translated liturgies we have a thoroughly thought-provoking book right when we need it. It might be a fair critique that some of our Reformed low-church ways of meeting as church are an over-reaction to particular forms of ritualistic churchmanship with their associated errors in theology. Hillsong we are not, nor would it be accurate to describe many evangelical Sunday meetings as “happy-clappy”, but could it be that we’ve lost a sense of what communal worship ought to be? Reformation Worship is a step back towards a right centre ground and I can’t recommend it enough.

Australian readers can get a copy here.

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  1. Michael Calder

    Hey David, how well does this book address the sacraments and the place of them in worship?

    1. David Ould

      hi Michael. It’s addressed regularly throughout. There is some interesting analysis also through the pieces on the various translated liturgies.

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