Thursday, February 04, 2021

Books about corporate worship

These are the books I've found most helpful on the subject of corporate worship - with the caveat that this is not at all meant to be a list of the best books on the subject, just the ones I've meandered through in my idiosyncratic reading and found helpful.

Peter Leithart's Theopolitan Liturgy is the most recent addition to the list - the only book from my Christmas haul that I've finished reading so far.  It's helpfully slender, and makes a strong biblical case for the importance of corporate, liturgical worship.  Creation and culture exist for worship; in the liturgy, far from using created things and cultural forms in a strange way, we restore them to what they always existed to do.  Reality is liturgical all the way down (you could also consult James Smith on this one), and human life is inevitably shaped by sinful, idolatrous liturgies or by Christian worship.

Alexander Schmemann's book For the Life of the World comes from a very different theological and ecclesiastical context than my own - he was an Orthodox Priest - and consequently there are some things in this book which I find off putting.  But the flipside is that it opens up a very different perspective.  Schmemann more than anyone has taught me to value the sacraments.  I could have learnt that from Calvin, if I'd been paying attention, but perhaps it took someone speaking from slightly further away to get through to me.  The liturgy matters at least in part because sacraments matter.

On the practical side, Hughes Oliphant Old's Leading in Prayer has been invaluable for shaping prayer as a substantial part of corporate worship.  The idea of a service of prayer - of corporate worship as substantially a conversation between the congregation and the Lord - is largely absent in contemporary evangelicalism, as far as I can tell, which adds to the general impression on approaching this book that it belongs to an earlier era.  (The cover design and language trend in the same direction, to be honest).  This book springs from years of pastoral experience, and gives a large number of written prayers which the author has used in worship - not with the idea that they would necessarily be used as printed, but as worked examples.  The whole assumes a more formal structure to worship than I could get away with regularly in my context, but it's nevertheless helpful for thinking about the shape of worship and the nature of public, led prayer.

Karl Barth's Homiletics can stand here for more extensive engagement with Barth's theology of preaching - probably I'd have to include large chunks of Church Dogmatics I/1 and I/2 to get the full effect, as well as some of the essays from The Word of God and Theology.  If Oliphant Old helps with the human side of the dialogue that is corporate worship, Barth has really helped me to see preaching as the other side.  Of course, in preaching a human being stands up and speaks, but what Barth sees so clearly is that the church counts on the fact that the Lord himself is speaking as his word is preached.  Preaching is encounter.  I dare say I could have learnt this from many places, but I actually learnt it from Barth.

I'm sure there are others that I've missed here, but there's a few that I've found useful.


  1. Steve Palmer5:30 pm

    One of the best among those you've missed being being "Reformation Worship" by Gibson and Earngey, my copy of which I lent to someone a while ago...

    1. It didn't feel like it was in my interests to mention it... I am down your way in February if you want it back!

  2. For me James K A Smith certainly stands out in recent times while Robert Webber's "Worship is a Verb" is a classic.