Transcending the Worship Wars
Bryan Chapell's book Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon has equipped thousands of pastors with practical counsel and a theological basis for directing their congregations toward Jesus. Now, the president of Covenant Seminary has exhibited the same attention to history, sensible advice, and the biblical witness in his latest book, Christ-Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape Our Practice (Baker Academic, $24.99, 320 pp.). He was interviewed by CT editor-at-large Collin Hansen.
What is—and is not—Christ-centered worship?
Christ-centered worship is not just talking or singing about Jesus a lot. Christ-centered worship reflects the contours of the gospel. In the individual life of a believer, the gospel progresses through recognition of the greatness and goodness of God, the acknowledgment of our sin and need of grace, assurance of God's forgiveness through Christ, thankful acknowledgment of God's blessing, desire for greater knowledge of him through his Word, grateful obedience in response to his grace, and a life devoted to his purposes with assurance of his blessing.
In the corporate life of the church this same gospel pattern is reflected in worship. Opening moments offer recognition of the greatness and goodness of God that naturally folds into confession, assurance of pardon, thanksgiving, instruction, and a charge to serve God in response to his grace in Christ. This is not a novel idea but, in fact, is the way most churches have organized their worship across the centuries. Only in recent times have we lost sight of these gospel contours and substituted pragmatic preferences for Christ-centered worship. My goal is to re-acquaint the church with the gospel-shape of its worship so that we are united around Christ's purposes rather than arguing about stylistic preferences.
How does liturgy facilitate corporate worship in a Sunday morning service?
Liturgy is simply another term for the order of worship. Every church has a liturgy, although it may vary from being quite simple to very ornate. Understanding the gospel-shape of worship allows us to make Christ-centered choices about how the aspects of each church's liturgy—an opening song, a prayer of confession, or a benediction—are furthering the gospel message in our services. There is no "one right way" to acknowledge the goodness and greatness of God. But knowing that the beginning of the service has this goal allows us to make appropriate liturgical choices about the songs sung, the scriptures read, and/or the prayers offered in the opening phases of a worship service. The same will be true for those aspects of worship that involve confession, assurance, thanksgiving, etc.
What encourages you about contemporary worship trends?
The most enduring and edifying worship is a combination of rootedness and reach. Because every generation is building on the insights God has given previous generations, it is appropriate that we understand and honor the roots of our worship. At the same time, worship should not idolize the past. God has more to teach his people and more people to reach. Each generation should be making its own contribution to worship with commitments to rootedness and reach so that our children honor their forefathers and are able to minister to their children. I am thankful for many of the contemporary worship discussions that seek to fulfill these goals by considering the ancient and future practices of the church. New tunes for old hymns, new words for old tunes, a resurgence of interest in the profound expressions of the early church, and a zeal to understand the communication pattern of the rising generation—all are signs of a new balance and maturity in the worship of the church.