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How Far Off Are We from the Reformers' Vision for Lent?

I utilize a wonderful little liturgical resource in some of my worship planning for the chapel services at Knox Seminary, where I both study and teach. This book is a devotionally-oriented compendium of the collects (the short prayers, invocations which "collect" the hearts of the people at the beginning of worship) of the brilliant liturgical reformer, Thomas Cranmer. This book presents the week's collect along with a few historical observations of how the prayer was written and then offers a page-length devotional meditation on the collect.

The Fine-Meshed Filter of the Gospel

Cranmer composed, edited, or re-purposed these historic liturgical prayers, and they have become for the Anglican tradition some of the most beautiful gems of the Prayer Book. Reformation scholar Diarmaid MacCulloch says that the collects are "one of the chief glories" of the entire tradition of Anglican worship.* Studying the origins of the collects of Cranmer would be a formative exercise for any earnest worship leader interested in how a gospel-centered thinker edited the "worship words" of his tradition to be more in line with the good news of Jesus Christ. In writing his liturgies for the English church, Cranmer took the received Roman liturgy and not only translated it into English but "gospel-ized" it. In other words, Cranmer edited out everything in the liturgy that he felt was not in line with the Gospel, and he replaced it with an enormous spotlight on the finished work of Christ's life and death. He ferreted out every last hint of works-based righteousness, and replaced it with what Paul calls "a righteousness that is by faith from first to last" (Rom 1:17, NIV).

God's Word is a fine-meshed filter, sifting out self-righteousness in parts per trillion. The Law says that our righteousness isn't really righteousness after all. And the Gospel says that God didn't need our righteousness anyway. I was reminded of all this when I opened up my book to Cranmer's collect for the first Sunday in Lent. Here it is.


The Collect for the First Sunday in Lent

O Lord, which for our sake didst fast forty days and forty nights; Give us grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdued to the spirit, we may ever obey thy Godly motions in righteousness, and true holiness, to thy honor and glory, which liveth and reigneth, &c.


Like the Collects of Advent III and St. Stephen's Day, this prayer is addressed directly to Our Lord Jesus Christ. The reason is clear: Hebrews 4:15. This is an original composition for the 1549 Prayer Book. Our Reformers eliminated the medieval Collect which stressed fasting and good works as a means to earn merit, a notion completely out of line with the New Testament.


It is clear from this Collect that we cannot obey God in the direction of "righteousness and true holiness" until we are "subdued." What is in mind is the self-control of a person as St. Paul commends it in II Timothy 1:7: "For God hath not given us a spirit of fear; but of power and of love, and of self-control" ("of a sound mind" in the Authorized Version). ... The older or medieval model in commending self-control was the model of warfare, the war between the "flesh" and the "spirit." It was as if we were divided between a good "spirit" and a rotten "flesh." ... What Cranmer intends here, in place of the old model of warfare between "flesh" and "spirit," is the discipline exercised upon the whole person by the Spirit of God. Through the Spirit it becomes natural rather than against nature to restrain the evil impulse for the sake of love. The "godly motion" of the Collect is the spirit of a man or woman that has been aligned into the ways of goodness by the virtue of God's grace preceding. We are not understood here as being divided in some schizoid or dualistic manner, but rather as persons to be realigned or integrated by the rod of God exercised from love and hence for love. Remember the old saw, "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak"? Cast out that thought, like the sad rag it is! Exchange it for the glad rag: "Love subdues the spirit, and the 'motions' follow and follow and follow."**


A Great Lent Makes Much of Christ

So here's what I'm thinking, friends. Liturgy and the Church Calendar are in vogue right now. And praise God for that. I happen to think the Church Calendar is much more than extra-biblical "dead traditionalism." It is rooted in a Scriptural understanding of annual Christ-centered cycles of worship, and it is therefore a quite lively tradition. Perhaps, though, we Protestants need to think more carefully about how we re-engage and appropriate these traditions, and Lent is case in point.

Lent is a wonderful season that can go all wrong if we don't, in the Spirit of the Reformers, maintain a stubborn commitment to the very Gospel that drove them to edit, redact, and overhaul their received liturgies. Lent is one of those places where works-righteousness likes to sneak in, where the Old Adam tries to reassert himself and gain a place at the table. For in a season of fasting and repentance (both thoroughly biblical ideas), we're always tempted to make it about us and what we do for God. Lent can become far more about what we give up for God and far less about what Christ gave up for God the Father on our behalf. Lent is ultimately about Christ's fasting, not ours...Christ's earning God's favor, not ours...Christ's victory over the world, the flesh, and the devil, not ours.

Jesus fasted for forty days to secure the favor of the Father, and he did this, in the words of the Nicene Creed, "for us and for our salvation." Jesus fasted in His Lenten wilderness so that our Lenten fast could be completely freed from any sense of securing the favor of God. We fast and repent from out of the favor of God, not for it. This does a marvelous relativizing work on our works, for it puts our fasting completely on the horizontal plane (between us and our fellow human beings), not the vertical (between us and God). It means that we fast for our neighbor. How is this so?

God doesn't need one ounce of our good works. He's got the King's chest...a big pile of merit secured by His Son and placed in its overflowing, eternal storehouse.  The Father looks at the Son's spoils from His war on earth and is satisfied. But though God doesn't need our good works, our neighbor does. We fast, therefore, that we may be freed up toward the types of "Godly motions in righteousness" that bless our neighbor. When I am self-controlled, my wife and my children are blessed. When I am not self-controlled, I hurt them. Though God doesn't benefit one ounce from my good works, my neighbor does a whole lot. So, we might say that a truly Gospel-centered Lent "horizontalizes" the works of the season. 

Furthermore, a truly Gospel-centered Lent understands with Cranmer, Luther, Calvin, Bucer, and the other reformers that it is only in focusing on Christ's work for us (our justification) that enables our work for the sake of our neighbor (our vocation). Therefore, Lent in the light of the Gospel remains, just like all the other seasons, all about Jesus. 

Worship planners and leaders, a great Lent makes much of Christ. 

*Diarmaid MacCulloch, Thomas Cranmer: A Life (New Haven: Yale, 1996), 417.
**C. Frederick Barbee and Paul Zahl, The Collects of Thomas Cranmer (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 34-35. 

Thoughtful Responses to All the Modern Worship Bashing

In various spheres of the online worship conversation, a few posts (like this one and this one) have been circulating and dominating many of our social media feeds. They offer a strong (and not completely unwarranted) critique of "contemporary worship" and "megachurch worship." Their sharply critical posture, along with their provocative titles, is certainly what has attracted so many people to click, read, interact, and share. Several people have asked what I think about it all. The short answer is that I think about these kinds of posts similarly to how I have reviewed T. David Gordon's Why Johnny Can't Sing Hymns: These posts are unhelpful in actually moving the church in a positive direction, not because some of their arguments aren't worth pondering but because they caricature what they critique and, in doing so, foster a spirit that actually makes fruitful dialogue harder. In my opinion, contemporary/modern/megachurch worship (whatever label you wish to use) is simply not homogenous enough to successfully analyze it in the way these writers have analyzed it. I'm not saying that making generalizations is bad, and I'm certainly not saying that today's worship landscape doesn't need an awful lot of prophetic critique. 

Thankfully, there are a few responses out there that I think do a far better job analyzing the issues at hand and offering ways forward, and that's the reason for this post. I would love to point you to them. The first is Glenn Packiam's "What You (Probably) Don't Know About Modern Worship." Glenn's is more strictly a critique of the critique. Here's a choice paragraph:

If one wants to prove the shallowness of modern worship, examples abound; but if you want to really understand and assess the subject, you need a more careful eye. And you must account for an insider perspective. What matters is not simply what the outside observer/blogger/professor thinks is going on; what matters is also what the pastor or worship leader says is going on, and what the worshipper is experiencing. (The latter is known as phenomenological perspective— the way people describe their experience of a thing.) If all we get are theoretical assessments from afar, we will evaluate modern worship without knowing if we are actually evaluating modern worship or our impression of it— which is almost always a caricature.

The second post is Mike Cosper's "Kill Your (Celebrity Culture) Worship." Mike (I think successfully) reframes the discussion around more core issues. Here is his summary:

In our day, we should be suspicious of the overhyped promises of megachurch worship, but we should also be suspicious of overhyped laments for “the good ol’ days.” What’s truly needed today is what was needed in every age: liturgical renewal—faithful pastors leading in worship that is faithful to the gospel, comprehensible to the congregation, and formative of the soul. 

Please read those posts! 


Reflections on the Calvin Symposium 2016

The Calvin Symposium simply has to be named among the best worship conferences out there. The challenge of getting so many different voices and perspectives in one place engaging in convicted yet loving dialogue is difficult, but the folks at Calvin have done a remarkable job of creating that space and setting the tone. My own experience as a conference attender, worshiper, panelist, and breakout session leader was shaped therefore not only by the content of the conference but the actual people in the room. I will share my impressions of the panels and breakouts I was a part of, for what they’re worth to others.

David Bailey, Sandra Van Opstal, Rawn Harbor, Myself, Monique, Ingalls, (not in picture) Ed Wilmington, Wen Reagan

I participated in four events and sat in on a host of others. Some of my highlights were being led by Bruce Benedict and his Hope College crew, deftly blending their band with the organ in a pipe rock extravaganza. It was also great conversing with worship scholars like Wen Reagan and Monique Ingalls about the national and global contemporary worship movement (check out this book that they both contributed to for fascinating historical and ethnomusicological insights into contemporary/modern worship). Another fabulous highlight was sitting in on Sandra Van Opstal’s pretty remarkable exposition of her new book, The Next Worship, which I look forward to reading and reviewing in more detail—there is a lot for me to learn under her tutelage.

Worship Leaders are Eager For This

The big surprise for me was to find how many people packed the lecture hall for my repeated workshop on “The Worship Pastor.” The room was electric, and people were resonating with what we were talking about. I was talking with individuals for long after the breakout ended, and I was hearing similar stories: “I’ve been feeling like what I’m doing has pastoral impact on people, and what you’re saying really helped define and awaken those thoughts.” I talked to lead pastors, as well, whose eyes were being opened to what the vocation of their counterpart worship leader really is.

Worship leaders are ripe and ready to take on the pastoral mantle. I’m not talking about formal ordination and formal “pastor” in their title. I’m talking about ownership…ownership of the reality of what they are already doing, shepherding souls, impacting faith-walks, and making disciples.

And Finally…My Hero

Dr. William Lock, my vocal and church music professor during some very formative college years

Most people didn’t know that a quiet legend was walking among us at the conference. His name is Dr. William Lock, who faithfully taught voice and church music for over 40 years at Biola University. And Dr. Lock has left an indelible mark on my life. He taught me to think critically about worship, church, and culture, and he was one of the first people to really encourage me as a writer. He gave me space to grow and wings to fly, and it’s high time I give this great mentor of mine a major shout out on this blog, which owes way too much to this man. 


The Case for the Emotional Worship Leader

My Facebook feed blew up this morning with this intense and quite moving footage from a New Zealand wedding. They're engaging in a sincere and powerful Haka ritual, and though I don't understand a word of it, I think I get it...and I think you do, too.

Our Love-Hate Relationship with Emotions

Let's face it. We evangelicals have a checkered past when it comes to emotions and worship. The Second Great Awakening--that early nineteenth century movement of westward-sweeping revivals--polarized the various Reformational and evangelical traditions. The wild reports of mass conversions following emotionally-charged revival meetings elicited usually one of two responses. On the one hand, the movement was greeted with great success, and its accompanying methods were championed as the way forward for evangelicals. On the other hand, emotionalism was looked on with great suspicion. Charges of false conversions and manipulation abounded. 

And we evangelicals today have inherited this schizophrenic relationship with emotions and worship. With a very broad brush, we can say that it tends to be (just as it was then) the more "thoughtful" traditions (i.e. the ones that place high emphasis on biblical fidelity and theological precision) that are more skeptical of dragging that clumsy bag of emotionalism into the worship service. Out of these traditions today, one can hear in their criticisms of today's worship the echoes of the tracts put out against the "enthusiasm" of the Second Great Awakening some two hundred years ago: "it's all just sappy emotionalism;" "they're just brainwashing congregations;" "they're encouraging you to turn your brains off and 'just feel'."

Because our suspicion of emotions is buried deep in our historical psyche, even a post like this, entitled, "The Case for the Emotional Worship Leader," is greeted with at least a raised eyebrow.

Emotions and Worship's Punchline

I've been doing a lot of thinking over the last few years about the nature of emotions and their relationship to worship. One of my best friends, who recently completed his Ph.D. at Baylor specializing in the philosophy of emotions, has been a mentor from afar...occasional dialogues, texts, emails, and book-exchanges. I've read books like Robert Roberts' insighful Spiritual Emotionshelpful sections in Jeremy Begbie and Steve Guthrie's Resonant Witness, and key portions of Brian Wren's Praying Twice. I've studied Reformational worship leaders and liturgical architects like Thomas Cranmer, Martin Bucer, John Calvin, and Martin Luther, who all pre-dated the Second Great Awakening, in hopes of learning from what responsible emotional worship leading looked like before we developed some of our hangups. And I've certainly done a lot of prayerful "practition-ing" on the local level, in dialogue with the pastors, musicians, choir, and worship leaders at Coral Ridge.

I've come to the conclusion that we've got a lot of ground to plow when it comes to emotions and worship. I don't really know what it looks like on the other side, but I do know that our historical PTSD over the abuses of the Second Great Awakening have had the residual effect on many of us of stunting our emotional engagement in worship. I have explored these things in the most succinctly systematic fashion I can in my book, The Worship Pastor, in the chapter entitled "The Worship Pastor as Emotional Shepherd"...which will be released (thankfully) mid-October of 2016 (updates of the book's progress here).

Now that I've raised these issues, I want to ask a few questions about the above video. I'll first tell you about my reaction: I was deeply moved. I was deeply moved because on this sacred day, there was enacted an historic ritual, and this ritual was performed with intense amounts of sincerity and heart. The ritual may have been foreign to us, but if you're like me, you found yourself nearly weeping at the end. 

God seems to have created us all with a kind of emotional resonating chamber that reverberates on similar frequencies to one another. A ritual from a culture half a world away from me echoes in my heart simply because emotions are a human, trans-cultural reality, and when they are on display in an intense and authentic way, they immediately begin to ring in my soul. Emotions, surrounded in ritual, are a powerful thing. This bride, groom, and these other men were doing something that led the other people in the room (and you and me). They took us somewhere. They took us on a journey of tension and release, whose punchline was, "Welcome to the family...we are for you, not against you."

Worship has a punchline. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ. And what if we worship leaders could wisely, responsibly, and faithfully tap into our own emotions so that that punchline has a greater opportunity to resonate with others? What if our rituals can surround (and appropriately safeguard) our emotions while nonetheless setting them free? What if, in our leadership, our emotions could be so appropriately deep and sincere that they cannot help but resonate?

I'm not talking about hyper-emotionalism and breakdowns on the platform. I'm talking about something that's very context-specific, but nevertheless bold. From the stateliest liturgical setting to the freest charismatic moment, what if we could find a way to emotionally lead that was faithful to the ritual and excited all the best frequencies of the emotional resonating chambers in the room?

How do we go about it? How do we toe the line between faithful shepherding and careless manipulation? Where's the boundary past "emotional resonance" to emotionalistic carelessness? These are all very important questions, and we need to answer them. For now, I just want to try to blow open the issue so that we can continue faithfully and pastorally responding to these questions, and a wonderful New Zealand wedding ritual moved me to do so.


Worship as Jesus Renewing His Wedding Vows

Metaphors are powerful, but this one's more than a metaphor...

Pastors from time to time are asked by older couples to join with them in what is most often a quaint yet meaningful ceremony. After decades of marriage together, committed husbands and wives sometimes desire to renew their wedding vows with one another. It's a time for each to remember and recount what they've committed to, and to declare their intentions to remain faithful for the next set of years God would grant. As I reflected on this, the more it became obvious to me that this is exactly what weekly corporate worship is. 

Continuity of Worship Practice

There are some theologians out there who see a lot of discontinuity between what God was doing in the Old Testament and what He did in the New. I am not one of them. In fact, when it comes to worship, I think those of us in evangelical traditions have been quite underserved in mining the wisdom of the theology and practice of worship in the Old Testament. We tend to too cheaply cry "fulfilled in Christ!" before exploring how we can engage (rather than jettison) the worship habits of ancient Israel. Take, for instance, the annual worship calendar of Israel's feasts and festivals. Thoughtful Christians who choose to recognize a Christian year (Advent, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, etc.) can understand that "fulfillment in Christ" means not abolishing the annual worship cycles of ancient Israel, but worshiping through an annual pattern that interprets those Israelite rituals in light of Christ (check out my post about that here).

A Responsive Reading on Two Mountains

One Old Testament worship concept we don't hear a lot about these days is worship as covenant renewal. When the Israelites gathered for worship at certain times, there was a keen sense that what they were enacting, from sacrifices to songs to responsive readings and prayers, was a renewal of God's covenant with them and their covenant with God. Recall Deuteronomy 11. Just after God re-gave the Law to Israel and reminded them that the Law was ultimately about their hearts (Deut 10), He tells them about the consequences of keeping and breaking that Law--blessings for obedience, curses for disobedience (Deut 11:26-32). With this (Mosaic) covenant established, God prescribes a ritual of covenant renewal to enact the ratified covenant once Israel enters the promised land. One set of Israelites are to go up to Mount Gerizim and shout forth the blessings of the covenant, and the other set is to go up on nearby Mount Ebal and shout forth the curses. This ritual was intended to help Israel remember their vows and to assure the people that God would remember His.

One Mount to Rule Them All

So what of this worship practice for folks like us who sit on the other side of the Christ-event? Are covenant renewal rituals like this done away with because Christ has come, or is there a way to see these practices somehow re-enacted in Christ? Think with me about another mountain that a lone Israelite would ascend--the hill of Jerusalem. But this time, He didn't have to shout the Word of God because He is the Word of God. Think about the life's journey that this Hero took from birth to that final ascent, perfectly obeying the Law of His Father, withstanding temptation and never straying to the right or to the left. This thirty-year journey was His keeping of the covenant, earning all the blessings shouted from Mount Gerizim long ago. And then the final stage of that journey, arriving on the hilltop of Golgotha, was his bearing of the covenant curses--the dread of Ebal--in our stead. Hallelujah, what a Savior!

If Gerizim and Ebal find their fullest expression in Jesus, how could we reimagine those mountainous moments in our worship today? Well, perhaps the elements of historic Christian worship already do this. Worship services that walk through Confession of Sin and Assurance of Pardon / Absolution are re-enacting Gerizim and Ebal in and through the One who earned their blessings and bore their curses. Confession of Sin is a response to the Christian's acknowledgement that we have not kept the law (yet again for another week) and justly deserve those forever covenant curses. And yet the proclamation of forgiveness in Christ becomes a two-fold statement that (a) the penalty of those curses has been paid in full upon the cross, and (b) Christ's successful law-keeping has earned for us the righteousness required by the Law and shouted at Gerizim.

"Look Into Each Others' Eyes and Repeat After Me..."

This all brings us back to where we started. Many of Israel's rituals (including the Gerizim-Ebal response) were designed for "remembrance" (a rich biblical word) so that, when they were enacted, Israel would remember and feel yet again the affectionate "I love You" that they so needed to hear from Yahweh. Worship is no less for us. It is the Bridegroom Christ renewing His wedding vows with the harlot He irrevocably loves, the Gomer He won't let go. It is Christ reminding His Church that he took all the covenant responsibilities (the blessings and the curses) upon His own shoulders precisely so that His wayward Bride was free to return...not having to earn the relationship, but merely receiving it by faith. 

Worship is Jesus gazing into our eyes, repeating the vows He made on that bloody wedding day in that open-air chapel of Golgotha: "It is finished." Worship is Christ's reassurance that we can stop clamoring for sources of life outside of Him: reputation, power, wealth, know, the usual-suspect idols. We can cease scraping for significance in a world that offers it to us in millions of insufficient ways. We can receive our Husband as a gift and rest our weary head on His steady chest.

There is more ground to plow when it comes to engaging practices like Ebal and Gerizim. Perhaps some creative liturgist can write a song or craft a reading that divides the congregation into two or offers a worship leader / congregation call-and-response to more concretely place that ritual in the language of Confession and Absolution. But in the meantime, let's all tarry for a bit around that mystically wonderful idea that worship is a weekly reliving of a wedding day. 


New Album Coming in a Few Short Months!

God is always giving us a new song to sing. We've been writing and dreaming about this next handful of songs for the church for quite a while. In fact, a lot of the hardship that Coral Ridge has gone through over the last year has threatened to forestall if not shut down this project. But we, being both stubborn and confident in our Warrior-King Jesus's power midst the fiery darts of the enemy, have pressed forward. And we want to share a little bit about the uniqueness of this project.

A New Kind of Production

If you've been following my blog over 2015, you know I've been doing a lot of thinking in the area of emotions and the affections. You know, too, that I've been interacting with brothers and sisters from charismatic backgrounds and traditions beyond my own, trying to learn from the wisdom that I believe they do have to offer me when it comes to worship and emotional/affective formation (some of the fruit of that thinking will come out in my book this year). The more we had conversations together, the more we sensed that we wanted to try something a little different for both of us. My thoughtful, artistic, passionate friends wanted to take a stab at shaping songs that came from a more hymn-based, theologically informed, and historically-rooted context. I wanted to take a stab at giving my songs in demo form over to these qualified producers to see how they might take, tweak, restructure, and reimagine my songs through their lens. 

So...Dan Bashta and the hard workers over at 1971 Sounds in Atlanta are currently working on our new EP, and we should be able to lay down some vocals in February. I can't wait to hear what they have come up with, but thanks to a test run (see below), I'm excited to tell you it's going to sound different...and amazing.

A New Kind of Songwriting

Julie Anne Vargas and I have attempted to write a different batch of songs this time around. They were occasioned for where our church was at and where we were at. They are songs which, for us, fill holes in what's missing in our worship and where God is leading. There are no retuned hymns on this record, but I will say that the songs we've written are heavily haunted by both hymns and Reformational liturgies. Here's what we're cooking:

  • a call to worship song that interacts with the spirit of Thomas Cranmer's opening prayers of his 1552 liturgy...the 10 commandments, hearts cut wide open, and a driving beat
  • a love song to Jesus, grounded in His cruciform love for us
  • an intense worship song that tarries between the bronze serpent and the crucified Son of Man
  • a call to worship song that casts the service under the banner of Christ's finished work
  • a fresh big rock song based on Revelation 4-5

The Test-Run Was Wildly Successful

Last April, we did a dry run and worked with 1971 on reimagining our "His Be the Victor's Name." It is different, and I love it. I think you will, too. My hope is to release it early.

So please stay tuned for more updates. You can probably expect the EP to hit some time around March or April.


Jesus Loves Me releases TODAY!

A while back, Coral Ridge Music purposed to write kids' songs for our local church that gave shape to the liturgical rhythms we hope to instill in our little ones. We wrote several songs that our kids currently sing, and we're writing more. We've written songs of praise, songs of confession, and songs of grace and absolution. The first-fruits of this labor was a project tackled by our interns this past summer: the laying down of our additional verses to "Jesus Loves Me." Our goal with this was to provide simple ways for kids to sing about sin and grace. We wanted it to be accessible, yet profound. Below are the lyrics. We hope you enjoy it. It's available everywhere, and it only costs a buck!

iTunes | Bandcamp | Spotify

Jesus Loves Me (Lyrics)

1. Jesus loves me this I know
For the Bible tells me so
Little ones to Him belong
They are weak but He is strong

Yes, Jesus loves me
Yes, Jesus loves me
Yes, Jesus loves me
The Bible tells me so 

2. Though I try to run away
God pursues me every day
Sin might lead o’er farthest hill
Jesus’ grace goes farther still

3. Though the enemy accuse
What I have, I cannot lose:
This is mine, no more, no less
Jesus blood and righteousness!

4. When I doubt in guilt and shame
God reminds me of my name:
Child, adopted by the King
He’s my Father, so I sing:

Words: Anna B. Warner, 1860 (verse 1); William Bradbury, 1862 (refrain); Zac Hicks, 2014 (verses 2-4)
Music: William Bradbury, 1862 

Come Take a Week-Long Worship Class With Me - March 2016

Knox Seminary | AT704 | Worship

Join me March 7-11 at Knox Seminary in Fort Lauderdale! This is an open invitation to worship leaders and pastors wanting to deepen their understanding of worship, liturgy, and pastoring. It's tailor-made for people on the go who can't commit to a semester's worth of class but might be able to do some good reading ahead of time and then break away for a week. My hope is that pastors would see the value of something like this for their worship leaders and then funnel some of the church's resources to get their worship leader down here. It's a Master's-level course, so it's not for the faint of heart, but I promise (as someone who is a practitioner first and a philosopher second) that the applicability of this course will be rich and vast. We won't stay in the realm of theory but will be able to address the real and pressing questions before worship leading in the 21st century. I'm putting the finishing touches on the syllabus as I write this, and here's the course description & objectives.

Course Description

This course will explore the theology and philosophy of Christian worship, particularly from a Reformational perspective, with an eye toward practical implications for worship in the twenty-first century. Its aim is to provide existing and future pastors, worship leaders, and other church leaders with the necessary foundational anchors for future biblical reflection and application in their own local worship context. 

Course Objectives

At the end of this course, the student will be equipped to: 

  1. Synthesize the broad Scriptural witness into a biblical theology of worship, with a knowledge of the most important biblical passages that apply to worship’s philosophy and practice.
  2. Defend the philosophy of Christ- and Gospel-centered worship and craft services with this preeminent vision.
  3. Answer some of the most important questions before the Church about worship today, including: worship’s relationship to mission, contextualization, active participation, etc.
  4. Articulate a philosophy of worship to aid the student in current or future church leadership opportunities.
  5. Explain and implement a pastoral vision for worship leadership, with special attention to worship as spiritual formation.

The Content of the Class

To say the same thing in another way, we're going to explore three facets of worship thinking and practice: biblical theology, liturgy, and pastoral ministry. (1) I want to expose the class to the broad biblical witness about what worship is and does (BIBLICAL THEOLOGY); (2) I want to argue for and train students in what it means to implement a historically-rooted, Christ-centered worship service structure which can fit a variety of styles and contexts (LITURGY); (3) I want to inspire students toward a pastoral vision of what worship leading is all about...a kind of sneak peek at the content of my book (PASTORING).

The Books We Will Read

We will read all or portions of the following books ahead of time so that our pump is primed. The class will not be a regurgitation of the material but it will use it as the foundation and jumping off point for important discussions. 

Daniel I. Block, For the Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2014).

Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape Our Practice (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009).

James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, & Cultural Formation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001). 

James B. Torrance, Worship, Community, & the Triune God of Grace (Downers Grove: IVP, 1997)

We'll also read excerpts from Tim Keller, Mike Farley, Jean-Jacques von Allmen, Simon Chan, and yours truly, to be read in class or distributed by PDF beforehand.

The Format of the Class

The class will be a mixture of lecture, in-class reading, and lots of dialogue and discussion. For those taking it for credit, there will likely be an exam on the last day and a paper due several weeks after the class has ended. But people are free to audit the class, as well, which frees you up from those other things.

For Pricing & How to Apply/Enroll

Very simply, contact Lori Gottshall at Knox Seminary, and she will set you up.