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  • Writer's pictureKim Arnold

Books on Worship: Beyond Typical Recommendations



One of the many tools I took away from my time at seminary was learning how to vet a book. I learned that not all “Christian” books are truly Christian, and not all theology books reflected my personal convictions. I also learned that not all publishers are created equal. From these lessons, I have determined which authors and publishers I trust, giving me the confidence to read authors I have not read before if they are produced by publishers I trust. 


Because my degree is in Church Music and Worship, I studied hundreds of texts on worship philosophy, worship theology, worship history, and hymnody. Part of the process of learning how to vet a book came from studying the following texts. Here is a brief description of worship texts that I found helpful in my studies. These texts all impact worship practice at varying levels, making them important documents of study for any person in worship leadership. 


Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative by Robert Webber


Robert Webber wrote many excellent books on Christian worship in his life. In Ancient-Future Worship, he explains the importance and necessity of grounding our worship in the Bible and history. Webber interacts with worship history from biblical times, through important teachings from church fathers and reformers, and continually discusses the impact of worship decisions today. Early in the book Webber explains the difference between Eastern Christianity’s emphasis on creation, incarnation, and re-creation and  Western Christianity’s emphasis on creation, the fall, and redemption. Not only does he rightfully handle the development of Christian worship through the teachings of church fathers, but he also summarizes how our Western lenses have sometimes skewed our understanding of true, biblical worship.


“A dominant error of some Christians is to say, ‘I must bring God into my story.’ The ancient understanding is that God joins the story of humanity to take us into his story. There is a world of difference. One is narcissistic; the other is God-oriented’” (Webber 23).


Christ-Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape our Practice by Bryan Chapell


Similar to Webber, Chapell situates the story of Christian worship in all of history from biblical times forward. As the title suggests, Chapell shows how the Gospel is found in the entirety of Scripture and where Christ’s story is revealed in historical liturgies. Not only does this book tell the stories of the Reformers and their impact on Christian liturgy, but Chapell also provides examples of how to structure liturgies today, drawing from biblical sources and documents from church history. Of particular note, Chapell compares the liturgies of different theologians, revealing the similarities and differences in the inclusion and placements of specific liturgical elements.


“Skilled worship leaders may select music with the intention of leading worshipers from adoration to confession to assurance to thanksgiving and preparation for instruction, but this is not the norm. The more likely mindset is that worship leaders will select and sequence music that will wake people up, then get them fired up, then settle them down for the Sermon, and send them home afterward feeling good. Perhaps this is a crass way of explaining it, but such an approach is instinctive and understandable if one has little sense for the history and purposes of the church’s worship” (Chapell 70).


Recalling the Hope of Glory: Biblical Worship from the Garden to the New Creation by Allen P. Ross


I have used Ross’ writings as a textbook, as a research document, and as an aid in personal devotions. His overall theme reveals God’s initial design for worship in the Garden of Eden, and how, once sin destroyed our fellowship with Him, we have continually strived for a communal relationship with our God, which we anticipate in fullness when we see Him in glory. Ross provides deep detail into worship from the time of Eden, progressing through Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and eventually New Testament worship. He discusses the qualifications for worship leaders in the Old Testament, leading into his chapters on prophetic worship reforms. Ross gives ample discussion to early Christ-centered worship, pointing to ultimate heavenly worship in the eschaton. If you have ever wanted to study biblical worship in-depth, this book is for you. It is saturated with Scripture and definitions and clearly articulates the purpose of everything God instituted in biblical worship.


“One might be inclined to minimize the importance of the tabernacle and the later temple for any consideration of what might be included in planning buildings for Christian worship, thinking that because they are in the Old Testament they are no longer relevant. But since the old sanctuary was patterned after heaven’s eternal places, it remains relevant for our instruction. Its principles and purposes should help us think more seriously about what we construct for worship” (Ross 189).


Biblical Foundations of Corporate Worship by Scott Aniol


Aniol is probably the current eminent scholar on Christian worship. In his latest book, he clearly articulates the basis and need for a regulative principle of worship in our services. Aniol correctly exegetes biblical passages related to worship and points to important documents from church history that uphold the regulative principle. He helpfully places Old and New Testament passages of worship side-by-side and discusses their relationship in a biblical context. This is a brief book, but it is packed with profound truth and is written in an easy-to-read style.


“We come to corporate worship not to perform rituals out of duty, not primarily to evangelize unbelievers, not even to express what is already in our hearts. We come to corporate worship to meet with God and renew our communion with him” (Anoil 45).


Lovin’ on Jesus: A Concise History of Contemporary Worship by Swee Hong Lim & Lester Ruth


Lim and Ruth’s seminal work details the progression and development of the contemporary worship movement. Not only do they discuss the music of the movement, but they discuss key factors that contribute to the formation of church liturgies (worship services), such as time, space, prayer, and preaching in contemporary worship. Their book is based on years of research, and they write in an easy-to-read manner. They specifically discuss the impact of time and space on worship practices, in which they note that “flow” became an important characteristic of modern liturgies. If you have ever wondered how contemporary (modern) worship got to where it is today, this is a great place to start. Lim and Ruth accurately describe how contemporary worship developed in the twentieth century and how it continues today. 


“Two qualities that have characterized contemporary worship more broadly: a dedication to relevance regarding contemporary concerns in the lives of worshippers and a commitment to adapt in order to target intended listeners” (Lim and Ruth116).


Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship by Scott Aniol


Aniol’s text provides a broad understanding of the function and purpose of music in church services. He includes a chapter on the influence of popular culture on church music and a helpful and needed discussion on the importance of beauty in worship. His dialogue on the use of affections in worship helps distinguish between the engagement of emotions in worship and the over-emphasis upon emotionalism in many church contexts today. At the end of each chapter, there are discussion questions, which make this an ideal text to use with any group that helps lead weekly worship services.


“Our goal should be that our theology drives our methodology. Personal preference or taste is not the primary criterion. Our methodology of congregational worship should come from our understanding of the Word of God” (Aniol 235).


Conclusion

These texts cover multiple topics, but I especially appreciate their focus on worship practices from history. Worship is not something that we determine. It does not only occur at 9:00 am on Sunday mornings, in a specific pew with certain music. Worship is all of life lived to the glory of God. I urge every person who speaks into worship liturgies to read these texts. They will provide insight into what we do when we gather and why we do it.


All of these texts were required reading as part of my degree in seminary. But as I mentioned earlier, through my time at seminary, I learned how to weigh a book against Scripture, and which authors and publishers to trust. Here are a few points that help me in developing reading lists:


  1. Does the author have a proven track record of being doctrinally and theologically accurate to God’s Word?

  2. If I do not know the author, but I trust the publisher, I’ll look at who endorsed the book. Are the endorsers reputable theologians?

  3. If I do not know the publisher, I’ll see what other works they have produced.  Do those books line up with my theological convictions?


At the end of the day, I want to bring honor and glory to God in all that I do. Choosing books that help explain theological concerns and how they impact the Christian life helps me fulfill that desire. If that is a longing for you, I hope these books and suggestions help you on your journey with Christ and others.




Kim has been married to her college sweetheart, Jason, for 24 years and they have one son who is a high school senior. Most recently, Kim completed her Ph.D in Church Music and Worship from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. She has presented at Evangelical Theological Society and The Society of Christian Scholarship in Music, and her works have appeared in The Hymn, Artistic Theologian, and Baptist History and Heritage Journal.


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