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Friday, September 6, 2013

Book Review: "Story-Shaped Worship" by Robbie F. Castleman

Story-Shaped Worship: Following Patterns From the Bible and History 
Robbie F. Castleman
IVP Academic (imprint of InterVarsity Press)
PO Box 1400
Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426
Copyright: 2013
ISBN: 978-0-8308-3964-3; $16.00
Reviewed for Deus Misereatur by: Rev. Dr. Michael Philliber

Foundational Formularies - 4 Stars out of 5

     In my experience, after years of sitting in the pew and now years of standing in the pulpit, many people have given little thought to the "why, wherefore, and how come" of Christian worship. If there is any gauge by which to decipher the rightness or wrongness of any worship service, it is usually a subjective, "Was I blessed" or "I really felt like it encouraged me" kind of decoder ring. That's what makes "Story-Shaped Worship" by John Brown University associate professor of biblical studies and theology, Robbie F. Castleman, an important resource. This easily readable, 224 page paperback, is primarily pitched to worship leaders and pastors who are already standing in the batter's box, but can quickly be picked up and enjoyed by a majority of Christians. As Castleman herself notes,
"The purpose of this text is to help evangelicals, especially those in historically independent communities of faith, rediscover in the great story of God's salvation related in the Bible, God's design for worship that is focused on God's pleasure" (13).
     Instead of taking the reader through various extra-biblical formularies, systematic theologies, or liturgical handbooks, she guides her audience through the Bible. Unlike many works that hen-peck choice pieces in the Scriptures, Castleman walks through the Biblical narrative from Genesis, to Exodus, then Leviticus, and on through the New Testament. From the stories of Cain and Abel, Moses, David, Isaiah and others, She works out a simple seven-fold structure of worship that is God-focused;
"God initiate worship by divine call, and those called respond with praise and thanks; worshipers confess their unworthiness and need for divine forgiveness; God extends a means of forgiveness; God speaks; the people hear the word of God and respond to his words in a variety of ways, including sharing a common meal; and divine blessing then releases the worshipers to their homes and work" (80).
     Throughout "Story-Shaped Worship" the audience catches that there are various levels of worship rhythm. The corporate worship has a rhythm, as noted above. But then there is also the weekly rhythm, the observing of the Lord's Day week-in-and-week-out.
"It's good for God's people to enter into the rest of God in this rhythm of grace in order to worship the God who has faithfully kept his promises. God's people are still identified by the God they worship and serve through the biblical rhythm of hallowed time" (58).
     If there is a weak part of the book it is the historical section. Here Castleman walks the reader through the Synagogue, the early church document The Didache, on into the Reformation. Some of the historical material is flatter, and more simplified, to the point of obscuring important distinctions and differences. But the author recovers, and regains momentum in the final chapter of the book where she wraps up her material, and hands them over to the reader.

     "Story-Shaped Worship" was a pleasure to read, primarily because Castleman right reminds her readers that worship is not about us, our pleasure, our likes and dislikes, but about God's own pleasure. Worship is "an exercise in humility because it reminds God's people who is really on the throne and in charge" (106). This is a book that would be especially ideal for worship leaders and planners, pastors, and elder boards across the denominational and independent spectrum. It will remind the intensely liturgical why their worship is the way it is, and it will aid the barely liturgical to find a way out of the "Consumer-is-king" morass. I highly recommend the book.

{N.B. If you desire to use this review, feel free. Just let me know where and when you're using, and give credit where credit is due.}

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