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Ron Rienstra


First Things First

Teaching about worship by asking the right questions

Marva Dawn's writing about worship displays an interesting trajectory. The prolific Regent College teaching fellow has thought deeply and written widely on a number of important topics, and her books have received well-deserved acceptance and acclaim. But the seeker-sensitive baby-boomers who run the show in so many North American churches have remained resistant to her provocative word about worship's glorious worthlessness. So she keeps trying. In each published iteration—culminating in her most recent effort—her message stays essentially the same, but it becomes somewhat better enculturated: a bit more inductively argued, a bit more fairly illustrated, a bit easier to understand. She's reaching out, while trying not to dumb Dawn.

Her first book on worship, Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down (Eerdmans, 1995), argued that many churches have confused worship with evangelism, to the detriment of both. But the book was widely understood—or misunderstood—as a defense of classically based music and traditional forms of worship. Her sharp criticisms of certain worship styles and patterns were perceived as polemical and élitist. (The charge of élitism could hardly be avoided, given the book's title.) She sought to correct these misunderstandings in her second book on worship, A Royal Waste of Time (Eerdmans, 1999). Slightly more accessible, this volume included study questions and a handful of topical sermons. In it, the argument from her first book—worship is not a utilitarian means to an evangelistic end—was expanded: worship is not rightly perceived as useful for any other end. The worship of God has its own inherent telos.

Dawn's most recent offering, How Shall We Worship?, shows her desire to go even further to connect with a wide spectrum of worshipers and worship leaders, and assist them in thinking more deeply about worship. The promotional copy on the back of the book promises that "within an evening's read, you'll be able to navigate through the worship debates." Indeed, ...

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