Engaging With God: A Biblical Theology of Worship, by David Peterson, was assigned reading by Dr. David P. Nelson, to partially fulfill the requirements for PMN-6540 Ministry of Worship in the Master of Divinity program at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
The following is a book review submitted by Brett W. Marlowe during the Spring Term, 2008.
“The heavens are telling of the glory of God;
and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands,” Psalm 19:1 (NASB).
The Psalter expresses the vastness of God’s majesty and splendor. While God is far beyond human comprehension and understanding He has prescribed for us a way to communicate with Him through worship. Worship is never to be considered something we formulate as a creative self-expression, but rather worship is obedience unto God. God has created us to worship Him and Him alone. Therefore, failure to worship Him is disobedience and disobedience is sin. “The essence of sin is holding back of a true knowledge of God and its implications, and therefore a failure to worship him acceptably,” (Peterson, 169). Grasping an understanding of worship is vital to the Christian, yet it seems so little effort is made to discern God’s heart in understanding it through His Word. This critical review will discuss David Peterson’s Engaging With God, which is a biblically sound and practically expounded approach to worship.
Peterson’s Purpose in Writing
“Worship of the living and true God is essentially an engagement with Him on the terms that He proposes and in the way that He alone makes possible,” (Peterson, 20).
This definition of worship presented by Peterson is the thesis of the book. It is critical to meditate on the fact that worship is all about God not us and we can only come to Him on His terms. Worship is to be a life-orientation and should never be restricted to something that we do solely on Sunday mornings. Since God prescribes the way in which we can approach Him we cannot live according to our pleasures during the week and then expect to meet with God on Sunday.
Peterson’s purpose in writing is to help people understand what the Bible teaches about worship and to discover what pleases God, (Peterson, 19). Culture, tradition, and preference should not dictate worship, but rather the principles outlined in Scripture. Worship should be in accordance with Scripture and the life of the Christian should exhibit a Scriptural worldview. Peterson seeks to define what a Scriptural worldview looks like and how that connects with worship. Worship is a lifestyle. Before the church can model this Scriptural worldview on worship, it must first begin with each individual believer. The life of a Christian should also be characterized by worship; corporately in a gathering as well as individually.
Summary of the Literature
Peterson begins by looking at worship in the Old Testament. “A theology of worship must consider key themes such as revelation, redemption, God’s covenant with Israel and the call for his people to live as a distinct and separate nation,” (Peterson, 23). Each time God revealed Himself to the Children of Israel they were to respond in obedient worship. A careful study of the Old Testament, specifically the building of the tabernacle and the giving of the law, reveals “that the Holy One can be approached only in the way that he himself stipulates and makes possible,” (Peterson, 35). Various sacrifices described in Leviticus were to be presented in a specific order; burnt offering, associated cereal offering, peace offering, sin offering, and guilt offering. Animals offered as sacrifices had to be slaughtered and placed a certain way upon the altar. God’s purpose was to set apart for Himself a people that would maintain the distinction between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean, (Peterson, 40). Maintaining this distinction is to be the very heart of a worshipper. Each time God’s people failed to worship Him by defiling the holy or making unclean the clean, they experienced grievous consequences.
God alone is to be central to worship. Idol worship is as prevalent today as in Old and New Testament times. Paul combated idol worship in the Greco-Roman world and taught consistently on how God’s people could live holy and consecrated lives in the midst of pagan culture (i.e. Acts 14:11-18; 17:22-31; 19:24-27; 1 Cor. 8:7-13; 10:14-22). “Conversion from idols was the necessary preliminary to a life of service to the living and true God,” (Peterson, 168).
Peterson discusses the teaching of worship in the New Testament, specifically in the Gospels, Acts, Paul’s Epistles, Hebrews and Revelation. While there is theological and prophetic continuity between the Old and New Testaments, the concept of worship undergoes a drastic change. Jesus has now come to fulfill the work of the New Covenant. “The law was not abrogated or rejected by Jesus, but fulfilled and transcended in Him…obedience to the Father ultimately led him to offer himself in death, as the final and perfect expression of uncompromising worship,” (Peterson, 129). The New Covenant in Christ is that He has come to replace “the Old Testament temple and the whole method of approach to God associated with it…a genuine engagement with God depends on the word of the Lord,” (Peterson, 137). In the Old Testament, the temple represented God’s revelation and purification of sin for His people. In the New Testament, the incarnation and the sacrifice of Christ is the fulfillment of those same requirements. “The temple of the new age in John’s gospel is not the church but the crucified and resurrected Son of God,” (Peterson, 97).
The Lord’s Supper, Believer’s Baptism, sound biblical preaching and teaching, prayer, and fellowship are essential elements of God-honoring worship. “Calling upon Jesus as Saviour and Lord, as an initial response to the gospel and as a lifestyle of dependence on prayer, is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian,” (Peterson, 159). Worship in the New Testament describes the total life of the Christian (i.e. Romans 12:1-2). Worship that glorifies the Father involves convicting proclamation and servant demonstration of the Gospel, (Peterson, 194). The foundation of God’s Word being faithfully and accurately proclaimed and the outward expression of an inward manifestation of His presence through acts of service are required for worship. “What really pleases God is the willing self-offering of his people, in obedience to his will,” (Peterson, 236). Peterson makes the statement that “a genuine relationship with God will involve ongoing expressions of submission to his [God’s] character and will, in the form of personal and corporate acts of obedience, faith, hope, and love,” (195). Worship that pleases God is closely related to serving others. Peterson makes well the point that serving is essential to the assembly of God’s people.
Strengths and Weaknesses of the Literature
Peterson’s work is well written. A definite strength of the book is the biblical focus on the teaching of worship by surveying both the Old and New Testaments. While he interjects his own interpretation and exegetical understanding of the passages of Scripture, he stays focused on understanding worship through the lens of Scripture. Obviously, this is essential in forming a biblical theology of worship.
Emphasizing the rich teachings on worship in the Old Testament is also a strength of the book. This emphasis serves as a reminder of the importance in studying the Old Testament. The Old Testament is often discredited and put on the shelf with the attitude that the church is founded on the New Covenant, and therefore, it is obsolete. Peterson illustrates the fact that we cannot understand worship that pleases God without carefully studying God’s revelation in the Old Testament, (Peterson, 23).
In addition to strengths of the book there are also notable weakness. Peterson uses a biblical theology approach, which means that he tracks specific meanings and uses of words in the original Hebrew and Greek languages. While the word studies of the original languages are helpful for in-depth theological studying, it may be a little overpowering at times for the average reader. While it is clearly not an exhaustive work on the topic of worship it provides little information from the “Writings” literature of the Old Testament (i.e. Psalms, Proverbs, etc.). These Old Testament books are gold mines for hymns, songs, and spiritual songs. Furthermore, the New Testament makes numerous references to these books and their theological significance. Therefore, it is this student’s opinion that Peterson’s thesis would have been strengthened had a discussion on the Writings of the Old Testament been included.
Potential Uses and Audience for the Literature
Every ministry of the Lord’s Church must be grounded in worship.
“Worship is the supreme and only indispensable activity of the Christian Church,” (Peterson, 15). Peterson’s book is not a “how-to” book on designing congregational worship services, but it is insightful for those involved in weekly worship planning. Such an audience would include: pastors, worship pastors, ministers of music, musicians, dramatists, artists, etc. It is absolutely vital for all who lead in worship to understand the purpose of worship – to engage with God and edify the body of Christ. It is not to perform or meet the personal preferences of people (what Peterson refers to as informalism and formalism), but to establish a theological foundation of worship that enshrines human needs and preferences. Worship is not purposed to satisfy the likes and dislikes of the congregation, but to satisfy the heart of the Father.
Peterson distinguishes between the formal and the informal groups and the need for finding balance. While these two categories are not theological categories, they are directly related to the life of the congregation. Formalism can be very liturgical and narrow in focus, while informalism may lack preparation and seriousness, (Peterson, 160). An example of this in today’s church might be differing views on using a large screen and projector to display the words to music and Scripture versus the use of hymnals. Some may view the screen as a help to worship while others may view it as a hindrance. A definite problem apart from personal preference would be that some would to stop bringing their Bible’s to corporate worship since the words are made available on the screen. While worship was created by God to unite His people, sadly, it often becomes one central object of division, (Peterson, 15). “Vitality and meaning will not be restored to Christian gatherings until those who lead and those who participate can recover a biblical perspective in their meetings, seeing them in relation to God’s total plan and purpose for his people,” (Peterson, 21). Unless God’s people understand a biblical perspective of worship and it is taught with conviction and modeled with passion by pastors and other worship leaders, churches will fail in honoring and pleasing Him.
“If God has called you out of darkness into His light, you should be worshipping Him. If he has shown you that you are to show forth the excellencies, the virtues, the beauties of the Lord who has called you, then you should be humbly and gladly worshipping Him with the radiance and the blessing of the Holy Spirit in your life,” (Tozer, 100).
 A. W. Tozer, Whatever Happened to Worship? (Pennsylvania: Christian Publications, Inc., 1985) 100
The following was a review of Engaging With God: A Biblical Theology of Worship, ed. David Peterson. (InterVarsity Press, 1992) 293 pp. This review was submitted by Brett W. Marlowe for the Spring Term, 2008 in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the Master of Divinity degree at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.