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This book stands apart from the hundreds of other Christian ‘worship’ books published in the past few decades.
William Taylor’s new book is, to date, the world’s most biblically aligned book about Christian ‘worship’ because it is centrally and mostly about “the whole of life”, rather than about “what Christians do in church”.
1. The NT consistently applies ‘worship’ vocabulary and concepts to living our whole lives for God’s glory.
2. The NT never offers ‘worship’ as a paradigm for Christian gathering, but instead gives us a different framework for conceiving of and directing our gatherings.
Some other authors have recognized the first truth. Taylor is the first so far to devote the majority of a ‘worship’ book to it.
Few authors have acknowledged the second. Taylor addresses this in chapter 5, and on pages 121-124 Taylor dismisses three NT texts claimed by some people to apply ‘worship’ vocabulary to Christian gatherings.
Grounded in NT exposition, Taylor shows consistently that, to honour God (to ‘worship’ God, to act for God’s glory) according to Jesus and the NT, we must stop focusing ‘worship’ on our Sunday Christian gatherings, and instead address ourselves to living every hour for God’s glory. “If we are still using the language of worship to describe what we do in our meetings and buildings, we need to ask ourselves whether we have quite as big a view of what Jesus has accomplished as the NT authors do” (p100).
Taylor’s new (2021) book has important similarities with Vaughan Roberts’ ‘True Worship – What is the Nature of True Christian Worship’ (2002). Both books are the publication of five sermons, with the first three addressing fundamental NT ‘worship’ texts: John ch 4; Romans 12:1-2; later chapters of Hebrews. The most important similarity is that both books articulate and expound the biblical truth that Christian worship is the whole of life. But while Roberts’ book was still largely about Christian gatherings, Taylor keeps the focus more on the whole of life.
In Chapter 1, addressing John 4, Taylor notes, “It is so strange that even many of the best books on worship take what we have seen in John 4 and immediately apply it to when we meet together, usually focusing especially on what we do on a Sunday. … we should think of worship first and foremost in terms of our daily lives … we worship God at work … in the hair salon … in the hospital”.
Chapter 2 expounds Romans 12:1-2, the famous NT text presenting whole-of-life worship. Conceiving of church as worship, and those leading church as ‘worship leaders’ (p32), “is close to blasphemous … It denies the finished work of Jesus on the cross.”
Taylor might have done more to disentangle this truly Christian whole-of-life ‘worship’ from Christian gatherings. His chapter 5 addresses corporate Christian life, but the way he begins that chapter tends to perpetuate the view that the NT’s ‘worship’ texts are the right place, or at least a good place, to look for the NT’s teaching about gatherings. It would have been better to explain that the NT does have consistent and coherent teaching about Christian gatherings, and that we have no reason to expect that the ‘worship’ texts are the place to look. Rather, we should ask afresh which texts inform us most about Christian gatherings. The text Taylor chooses to expound in this chapter / sermon (Ephesians 5:18-20) is good and relevant, but, apart from the nearly parallel Colossians 3:16-17) he does not suggest other key texts (such as Acts 2:42, 1 Cor 14, Hebrews 10:24-25).
Taylor hints at two different ways we might consider the worship described in this book as “revolutionary”:
1. “This understanding of the mercies of God [Romans 12:1] that enable Christian worship is truly revolutionary. It contrasts absolutely with all other systems and methods of worship” (p30). So Taylor sees the gospel as the heart of this revolution. “Jesus … has now allowed and enabled radical, revolutionary worship from the Christian believer 24/7. There is no need for special ceremonies to make us more agreeable to God. We no longer need special experiences of God … to worship” (p35); “the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus has revolutionised our worship such that it involves the whole of life” (p3).
2. If modern readers might think that Taylor is the one being revolutionary, Taylor notes that using ‘worship’ for ‘what Christians are doing in church’ is a modern innovation. He points back 350 years: “the Reformers who wrote the [Church of England, 1662] Book of Common Prayer didn’t use the word ‘worship’ for the services and liturgies that they wrote. … the things we’ve been considering are not quite as revolutionary as we imagine.” (p115)
[Andrew Dircks is Senior Minister of Christ Church Hawthorn in Melbourne, Australia. His academic thesis was a comprehensive analysis of the ‘worship’ vocabulary of the NT, and he is currently writing a book on the broader subject.]