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Worshipping with Calvin

Worshipping with Calvin: Recovering the Historic Ministry and Worship of Reformed Protestantism by Terry L. Johnson

Having been a long time conversation partner in the worship debates and the development of Presbyterian worship and theology, Terry L. Johnson is the right person to write a book with the name Worshipping with Calvin.  Terry builds a case for Reformed Worship along the lines of it being bible filled, church aware, gospel structured and spirit dependent.  Also, he rails against the contemporary worship movement with its emphasis on emotional highs and loose structure as providing no theological and biblical foundations for believers to truly grow in their faith.  What turns out is a book that is well-researched and builds a strong case for the enduring legacy of Reformed Worship.

In speaking about the nature of prayers of the Reformation Terry writes, “Consequently, while all the prayers of the Reformation era orders of service are based on Scripture, they followed the Patristic example in that some were prescribed and others were “left to the discretion of the minister,” as the rubrics say of Calvin’s prayer of illiumination (113).”  The nature of their prayers was drawn from the pages of Scripture itself, prayer for civil authority, Christian ministry, all men, sanctification of the saints, and for the afflicted, while the very words of the prayers were sometimes left to the creativity and mind of the preacher.  What this did was allow the congregation to hear prayers from its minister that were in keeping with God’s Word that would enrich and teach, while giving some liberty to the heart of the minister.  This kind of bible filled prayer was key in keeping with the gospel message of the Scriptures, bringing God’s Word to bear on even the prayers, so personal and beautiful, of the ministers. 

One of the most obvious but much needed admonitions of Terry to his readers is his writing about tradition.  At one point he writes, “First, by honoring universal practice congregations can join hands in worship with the church of the past, the church triumphant, using the forms that they used before us; singing their hymns and psalms, praying their prayers, preaching expositorily (as they did), and generally using their order (265).”  There is a common bond we have with the church going back centuries and this is no less apparent in our structures of worship, preaching, and prayers.  Terry makes the case earlier that the early church fathers moved through preaching Sundays book by book through the Scriptures.  Reformed churches that carry on this practice remain in solidarity with these ancient fathers and their practices. 

I would say the greatest weakness of the book is Terry’s kneejerk reaction to the Contemporary Worship Movement.  His criticism that the Contemporary Worship movement gives way to market driven approaches and pop culture is spot on, yet he offers no takeaway from these approaches that is positive.  He quotes from Sally Morgenthaler about video clips being used in church service but offers no way in which these clips could be used for believer’s good.  I’m not part of this contemporary worship movement but I’ve seen my share of video clips in Reformed and Presbyterian evangelical churches that is not over the top but really emphasizes the points of the sermon.  Terry gives a rather unbalanced view of Contemporary Worship and blacklists the entire movement without giving credence to those churches (Reformed) that use these elements well.

I really enjoyed this book, especially the chapter on how the church has a past to contend with, a past with a rich view of worship.

Thanks to EP Books and Cross Focused Reviews for the copy of this book in exchange for review.


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