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Friday, April 20, 2018

"Reformation Worship" ed. by Jonathan Gibson and Mark Earngey. A Review



Reformation Worship: Liturgies from the Past for the Present
Ed. by Jonathan Gibson and Mark Earngey
New Growth Press
1301 Carolina St., Suite L-101
Greensboro, NC 27401
ISBN: 978-1-948130-21-9; 23 April 2018; $69.99

Many American Presbyterian and Reformed believers are either out of touch with their Reformation roots, or have only snippets of information. One area where this is glaringly clear is in regard to worship, and specifically liturgy. Jonathan Gibson, assistant professor of Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary,  and Mark Earngey, doctoral candidate at the University of Oxford, have accomplish a yoeman’s job in their new 736 page hardback “Reformation Worship: Liturgies from the past for the Present”.  This weighty tome is ideal for liturgists, worship leaders, pastors, seminary professors, and highly interested parties. It is a reference work that “aims to recover and reaffirm the significant part that worship played in the Magisterial Reformation, both for the Reformers and for their churches” (xxiii).

The volume’s Foreword, penned by Sinclair Ferguson, lays out the benefit of this work. It gives “impressive testimony to the way the Reformers in various countries devoted much attention to the subject of worship” (xv).  As Ferguson goes on to note, the rediscovery of the gospel and the reforming of worship were two sides of the same coin! And so the liturgies spelled out in the book “should stimulate careful thought, and cause us to ask how we can apply their principles today in a way that echoes their Trinitarian, Christ-centered, biblically informed content, so that our worship, in our place and time, will echo the gospel content and rhythm they exhibit” (xix).

Gibson then pours forth several pages unpacking the worshipful structure of the biblical story, from the primeval Eden to the perpetual Eden of the new heavens and new earth.  He remarks that since “grace restores nature, and with it worship, the general structure of worship in Eden remained: call-response-meal” (8). Earngey makes his own contribution by mapping out the Reformers’ ideas and principles in fashioning their liturgies. Then both authors team up to give examples and thoughts to how these historical liturgies can inform the way we worship. As they noted, the “recovery of the gospel in the Reformation was ultimately a worship war – a war against the idols, a war for the pure worship of God” (49). They state firmly, that their work is meant to be “an irenic plea for the Church (and especially her ministers) to engage again with the two-millennia-old question: “How then shall we worship?” Through examination of the Reformation liturgies from the past, there is a wealth of treasure for the present” (73).

The remainder of the book consists of looking extensively at twenty-six liturgies from the Reformation; twenty-six! They begin with Martin Luther and his various orders of worship, and work their way to the Palatine Church Order and the Middleburg Liturgy. Did I say they rehearse twenty-six liturgies? It is a full volume! Each chapter begins with a brief historical sketch of the liturgical craftsman, the immediate environment, and the responses each received. Then the form of worship is charted in an easy-to-peruse diagram. And finally, the whole order is presented in a modern English version translated or updated by the authors. Twenty-six in all! I was happily exhausted when I finished reading through them! But I was also better informed and encouraged in how my congregation worships and follows much of these older patterns.

“Reformation Worship” will inspire worship leaders who have roots in the Reformation. It has the potential of interesting those whose traditions are more independent but are finding their existential rootlessness problematic. Not only will this be a worthwhile volume to take up and read; but it will likely remain a primo reference work for many years to come. I highly recommend the work!

Thanks to New Growth Press for providing, upon my request, the free copy of the book used for this review. The assessments are mine given without restrictions or requirements (as per Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255).

If you would like to obtain a copy, you can go here: Reformation Worship.

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