I know that I haven’t been blogging much lately, and I know that my book reviews aren’t usually my biggest hitters, but please, please, please read this review because this is an important book.
I am a product of the worship wars of the 1970’s and 80’s, and have spent far too much of my life as a Christian believing that worship was unaffected by doctrine. However, the early church fathers, and the reformers and all of the heavy weight thinkers through out church history have had a very different view on worship. They believed that what we believe is true must determine how we act, and there is nowhere that this is more important than in the corporate worship services of the Body of Christ. Worshipping with Calvin by Terry Johnson makes the compelling point that we should follow their example.
Johnson’s biggest strength is when he acts as a conduit, presenting the biblical and historical view on Christian worship in a tidy, readable package. Calvin and his reforming compatriots did nothing without careful consideration and deliberate exegesis, and Johnson does a wonderful job of presenting how that worked out in their view of Christian corporate worship. Having once been under the misapprehension that much of the practices of the reformers were trappings left over from the medieval papacy against which they were protesting, I was impressed at the thoroughness with which Johnson dispelled this commonly held myth. On the elements of worship, and the doctrine that forces their necessity, Worshipping with Calvin is clear, concise and meticulously exegetical and historical. I have been deepening in my understanding of reformed doctrine and practice over the last five years, but portions of this book explained issues that had previously been unclear for me.
Unfortunately, there are times that the author gets in his own way and allows his personal soap boxes to cloud what could have been a paradigm shifting book. The first chapter is a muddled tirade of bad history and poorly stated Barna surveys. This last inclusion is ironic, considering the author goes on to lambaste George Barna personally, and the use of his demographic studies, in chapter 8. I wish the author had jumped from the preface (which is excellent) immediately into the heart of the matter which is found beginning in chapter 2. There was a culturally insensitive portion of at the end of chapter 8 that made me cringe a little. Additionally, when referring to contemporary trends in American evangelicalism, the author often jumps to the extreme fringes. The churches to which he refers have claimed association with neither Calvin, nor reformed doctrine, and to include them as negative examples feels too much like a disingenuous straw man attack. In fact, as my friend Sarah pointed out in her excellent review, he occasionally criticizes models and practices that have fallen out of mass favor. Conversely, when emphasizing the importance of the use of historical hymns, Johnson fails to acknowledge groups like Indelible Grace, Red Mountain Music and David Crowder who are making an effort, often as a direct result of their reformed doctrinal leanings, to encourage and promote a return to the very hymns Johnson praises. This is more unfortunate when many in this movement are members of Johnson’s own denomination.It makes me fear that Johnson will alienate the very people who are most likely to read, and most in need of, this book.
This brings me to the first sentence of my review. This is a very important book. It is vital that we begin to understand that the word Reformed has deep and abiding implications. During the reformation, men and women faced imprisonment and death not primarily because they believed in five Solae, but because the truth of what they believed changed every single detail of the way they worshiped. If we say that salvation is all about God, and that we bring nothing to the table, we must, by application, believe the same thing about the way we worship the God who has saved us. Worshiping with Calvin should be widely read and discussed among anyone who considers themselves a Calvinist, or reformed. I only ask that you give the author as much of that grace we all talk about as you can handle.
I received no compensation for this post. I was provided an electronic copy for the purpose of review. I was not required to provide a positive one.