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Thursday, September 25, 2014

"For the Glory of God" by Daniel I. Block, a Review



For the Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship
Daniel I. Block
Baker Academic
Baker Publishing Group
6030 East Fulton Road
Ada, MI 49301
www.bakerpublishinggroup.com
Hardback – ISBN: 9780801026980; e-book – ISBN: 9781441245632; August 2014; $34.99
Reviewed by Rev. Dr. Michael Philliber.

4 Stars out of 5
Measured Examination

In numerous aspects, the subject of “Worship” is tired and tuckered out. The “Worship Wars” have ground on for decades with no real resolution. Simultaneously, the Christian music industry continues to shape what is, and isn’t, sung in churches via Christian Radio and chart-topping hits. Also many popular and prosperous churches have moved to a Burger King - “Have it your way” – approach to Christian worship, as evidenced by everything from voluntary communion to multiple “worship services” conducted concurrently in the same building, each catering to niche populations. It seems that the whole subject of worship is no longer worth wrestling with, nor merits thinking over. Nevertheless, Daniel I. Block, Gunther H. Knoedler Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, and author of several books, essays and commentaries,  has chosen to address the subject of worship in his new 432 page hardback, “For the Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship”. Block presents a scholarly work, inviting Evangelicals, Independents and Protestants of every stripe, to recover the importance of worship, and summoning them to journey with him through its “whys” and “ways”. In many respects, this is an irenic work that warrants some engaged thought by church leaders, as well as church members.

In “For the Glory of God,” the author lays many of his cards out on the table right up front. To begin with, Block approvingly rehearses Edith Humphry’s five maladies that plague worship in the North American Church: (1) Trivializing worship; (2) Misdirecting worship; (3) Deadening worship; (4) Perverting worship; and (5) Exploiting worship (11). Next, he states the two foundational principles of the book; First, true worship is about the glory of God, rather than human pleasure; and second, the Scriptures guide us in how to worship God (25). Block then brings out the legitimacy of looking at the Old Testament – what he calls the “First Testament” – with regard to this subject, “Although most assume that unless the New Testament reiterates notions found in the First Testament the latter are obsolete, we should probably assume the opposite: unless the New Testament expressly declares First Testament notions obsolete, they continue” (25-6). Finally, the author crafts a working definition of God-honoring, Biblical worship: “True worship involves reverential human acts of submission and homage before the divine Sovereign in response to his gracious revelation of himself in accord with his will” (39). This chapter helps the reader to see that there are no hidden agendas in what follows, but that the author is fairly and forthrightly upfront.

Block then goes on to tackle a host of matters in “For the Glory of God”. Each chapter follows a basic pattern of looking first at the Old Testament, moving to the New Testament, and then coming around to how it all helps the reader to think about the facet of worship he has just covered. The author hikes through various topographies, examining the terrain, flora, fauna and the wildlife, while diligently keeping to the trail. The several landscapes include the object and subject of worship; daily life, family life and work as worship; the many ordinances and rudiments of worship to include hearing and reading Scripture, prayer, music, sacrifice, the liturgical calendar, design of sacred space, and role of leadership in worship. The reader will quickly recognize that much of the discussion and observation is relatively technical, with transliterated Hebrew and Greek words on most every page. Though at first glance this looks daunting, once one gets used to the rhythm, the rhyme and the reasoning, it becomes easier to decipher and decode what Block is saying and doing.

“For the Glory of God” comes to endings and inferences that might not always be appreciated. To mention a few instances: Block’s analysis of the seventh-day-of-the-week Sabbath, rather than a first-day-of-the-week Christian Sabbath leaves one wondering if he thinks the seventh-day Sabbath is still the divine norm. Similarly, the way the author comes at the subject of a worshipper vocalizing love for God will likely unsettle many. Likewise, his acceptance of some form of credo-baptism will close the book for a few, and the fact that he doesn’t attack those who hold to paedo-baptism will possibly disappoint others. But whatever decision the author makes with regard to a specific topic, and he always comes down on one side or the other, he is careful to be gracious and generous in announcing those conclusions. It is an irenic work.

“For the Glory of God” makes several important observations. For example, the way the author presents the Old Testament as still the authoritative Word of God for us today – that it all applies except where specifically changed by the New Testament – is refreshing. I have been saying this for years, and was tickled pink to find a scholar of Block’s caliber saying the same thing. And the author makes good on this framework by applying it to each issue, walking the reader through the delicate dance of Old Testament as normative and New Testament as interpreting the Old through the finished work of Jesus Christ. Another of the author’s valuable insights comes in regard to the Ten Words of God, how the Gospel of Redemption is its ground and foundation. Block rightly detects that the Ten Commandments do not begin with the first, but with the prologue; “Contrary to popular visual reproductions of the Decalogue, this document does not begin with a command ( . . . ) but with the gospel. ( . . . ) This glorious gospel sets the stage for the stipulations that follow” (90).  There are other sound, solid and, for some folks, shocking observations. But they are all manifestly examined and documented.

To claim that “For the Glory of God” is an irenic work does not mean the author is afraid to make bold statements, or that he shies away from strong verdicts. If he sees that something is amiss in the North American Church, with regard to worship, he calls it out. With regard to casualness in worship Block clearly states, “Right of access may not be taken for granted or claimed as an entitlement; the invitation to worship is neither universal nor unconditional. ( . . . ) having experienced the grace of Christ in salvation does not mean that we may be casual about worship or that our cultic expressions of worship are automatically acceptable to God” (84). And with respect to the way leaders mishandle the Old Testament, he challenges his readers, “Fourth, evangelicals must be cured of their schizophrenic disposition toward biblical regulations concerning sacrifices and offerings. On the one hand, our leaders constantly declare that First Testament cultic laws no longer apply, but on the other, they cajole and pressure God’s people to tithe” (251). There are other instances where the author will be very candid and direct as he applies what has been gleaned from Holy Scripture. But it will always be with a measured, gracious tone.

“For the Glory of God” may strike a reader as pedestrian at times, but while the book unfolds, it slowly becomes obvious this is the author’s irenic style. Whether you agree with most, all, or few of Block’s conclusions, reading this book will bring you to think more clearly about why your church worships the way it does or doesn’t. It is an ideal book for pastors, worship leaders, elders, worship teams and committees. And it model manuscript for laymen who are coming to the realization that there just has to be more substance and basis for our worship of God than personal impulses and pleasures. I recommend the book.

Many thanks go to Baker and Net Galley for the free, temporary loan of the electronic copy of this book used in this review.


[Feel free to publish or post this review; and as always, please give credit where credit is due. Mike]

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