For the Glory of God

Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship

Daniel Block. For the Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014. 432 pp. $34.99.

Do you get frustrated at the shallowness of some contemporary evangelical worship? Do you need help understanding a full-orbed biblical view of worship and communicating such a view to the people to whom you minister? If so, Daniel Block’s For the Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship is a book you should read.

As the subtitle suggests, Block wants to “recover” a biblical theology of worship. Why does a biblical theology of worship need to be recovered? First, he doesn’t like the pragmatism of much of today’s evangelical worship and believes the pragmatic approach can be remedied with deep biblical reflection on the subject. Second, he observes that many Christians tend to skip over the Old Testament (OT) when thinking about worship. Block, professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College outside Chicago, believes a true biblical theology of worship must incorporate all of Scripture, including extensive interaction with OT worship forms and principles. In other words, he wants to give people a biblical theology of worship, not just a New Testament theology of worship.

How Is It Different?

Block compares his book (xiii–xiv, 3–4) to other contemporary biblical theologies of worship such as David Peterson’s Engaging with God: A Biblical Theology of Worship (IVP Academic, 2002) and Allen Ross’s Recalling the Hope of Glory: Biblical Worship from the Garden to the New Creation (Kregel, 2006). For the Glory of God, however, is slightly different from both. Instead of surveying the canon of Scripture from beginning to end (like Peterson and Ross), Block organizes the biblical data from the standpoint of various worship-related themes—hence chapter titles like “The Object of Worship,” “The Subject of Worship,” “Daily Life as Worship,” “The Ordinances as Worship,” “Prayer as Worship,” and “Music as Worship.”

Another key difference Block is quick to point out is his extensive treatment of the OT data. He believes Peterson’s book, for example, is unbalanced in primarily dealing with the New Testament (NT). Block, on the other hand, wishes to recapture the OT’s full significance for a Christian understanding of worship.

Several Strengths

Each chapter of Block's book begins its biblical theology of the theme under discussion by starting with the OT, and rightly so. In most chapters, Block’s treatment of the OT is much more extensive than his treatment of the NT. As he turns his attention to the NT, each chapter attempts to show the continuities and discontinuities that determine how principles of worship should apply to the church today.

Another strength is the way the material is arranged. Since each chapter tackles a specific element of worship, the book is almost a collection of biblical theologies of worship that helps us think biblically-theologically about each worship theme. This makes it a great reference resource for those needing to think carefully about a certain aspect of worship, such as the ordinances and music. I can envision myself going back and re-reading certain portions to get a quick, chapter-length biblical theology of a particular element of worship.

Only Real Weakness

The only real weakness I see in For the Glory of God is that I don’t believe Block always connects the OT and NT appropriately. I think he sometimes flattens out the Bible by not giving the NT the hermeneutical priority it deserves. His basic principle for connecting the OT and NT, stated more than once, is this: “unless the New Testament expressly declares First Testament notions obsolete, they continue” (7, 25). Block defends this approach by pointing out that the NT authors are relatively silent on many of the specifics of worship, and that the OT contains one hundred times as much information on worship as the NT. For him, this seems to imply that where the NT is silent on the specifics of worship, we should just let the OT principles fill in the gaps, so to speak.

Specifically, I disagreed with some of the ways Block brought OT data into the NT era and applied them to the church today. Take, for instance, his statement that families should use the liturgical year to develop a sense of spiritual community, based on the fact that Israel did so in their observance of the Passover (138, 287ff). The problem is that, seen through the Jesus-lens of the NT, the Lord’s Supper seems to fulfill this function for new covenant believers. Observing a liturgical calendar might be beneficial, but to say that Christians should do this based on the OT doesn’t seem warranted. Another example of wrongly carrying over OT worship themes into the NT is Block’s discussion of sacred worship space (chapter 12). He does a good job of showing how Jesus (John 2:19), the Christian individual (1 Cor. 6:19–20), and the corporate Christian community (1 Cor. 3:16–17) all fulfill the theme of tabernacle and temple in the new covenant. But then he jumps into a discussion of how these principles should affect contemporary church design and architecture, which I think is unwarranted given the way the NT itself lays out the fulfillment of these themes.

I believe this approach to relating the OT and NT is a bit too simplistic. Perhaps the NT authors have less to say about the particular forms of worship because they’re spending their time on something far more fundamental. They’re trying to help new covenant believers develop a Christ-centered lens through which they can understand all of life, including what God had been doing under the old covenant. Once this Christ-centered lens is in place, new covenant believers can figure out many of the specifics regarding worship forms on their own. Even where the NT doesn’t explicitly terminate OT forms, we must still take into consideration the Christ and kingdom dynamics that alter the way we read and interpret the entire OT and understand its fulfillment. Block uses this fuller principle in several places, but in my opinion doesn’t do so consistently throughout the book.

This said, this particular weakness only shows up in a few places. The book on the whole is a superb resource for helping the church think biblically about worship in light of the entire canon of Scripture, and I highly recommend it. I also recommend watching these video interviews with Block.