_ Book Review: Discerning the Spirits. Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. and Sue B. Rozeboom.

Allan C. Groen, M.Div., S.T.M.

The text in boxes [edited to bold-italic text] contain reflections that occurred to me as I read.

To summarize this book, I would say it provides a basic perspective for understanding what the changing world of worship is all about, its history, the cultural setting, and liturgical principles in theological perspective.

1.      Introduction: to have wise, prayerful, loving and civilized conversation around what is happening in how churches worship in our day.

a.      The past few decades have seen swift changes in how congregations spend their Sunday morning worship hour together.

b.      The book is nearly a decade old, and may not entirely reflect what is now taking place.

Contemporary worship has not only brought new kinds of music and hymns, but has also had a major impact on how pastors preach.

2.      Chapter 1: The Things of the Spirit

a.      To know which things are of the Holy Spirit requires discernment

b.      What is valuable in CW and its critique of tradition?

c.        What is valuable in the tradition that needs to be maintained?

d.      Sharp disagreements arise. But we are, or should be, united with basic, common confessional statements: incarnation, trinity, crucifixion, resurrection, etc.

e.      We need Christian character to allow the community to thrive.

3.      Chapter 3 sets the background by pointing out the great diversity of changes churches are making and their motivations. Some of the motivations are:

a.      To make services accessible to those who are not Christians.

b.      Revivals/charismatics

c.       Praise and worship

d.      To find liturgical expressions that reflect local color, and make worship more popular

e.      Contemporary worship evolved from many sources:

                                                              i.      Mass evangelism,

                                                            ii.      small group movements,

                                                          iii.       house churches

                                                           iv.      Southern gospel

                                                             v.      African-American churches

                                                           vi.      Jesus people—Maranatha music

                                                         vii.      Willow Creek

                                                       viii.      Hillsongs Music

f.        Features of Contemporary Worship

                                                              i.      Use of new technological tools

                                                            ii.      Worship teams

                                                          iii.      Worship emcees

                                                           iv.      Seldom use sacraments, Bibles, pulpits, baptismal fonts, crosses etc. avoided

                                                             v.      Make worship ‘authentic’ ‘accessible.’

g.      Why?

                                                              i.      For evangelism

                                                            ii.      To make gospel accessible to non-religious

                                                          iii.      To respond to felt needs.

                                                           iv.      Encounter with God

4.      Worship takes place in specific cultural settings. To what extent can they adapt/adopt local language and music? Is everything acceptable?

a.      Definition; culture: “the dynamic totality of our habitual, or nearly habitual, ways of being and doing in the world.”—p. 56.

b.      Cultural adaptation is:

                                                              i.      Inevitable

                                                            ii.      Desirable

                                                          iii.      Risky.

                                                           iv.      Risky: are we being faithful to the gospel?

For older people (I am one of them) adaptations/changes can become painful. Things we have valued in the past are abandoned, and the new becomes more difficult to appreciate.

c.       Seeking wisdom

                                                              i.      From the Word—but it gives little guidance on specifics

                                                            ii.      From the incarnation: our lives and work are under grace but also judgment. “invites us to be tailors with an eye for what fits.” 89

d.      It is messy, we do our best, but we don’t always get it right.

Spiritual Tradition: If we do our work with good intent, God will use it for God’s purposes, even if we have not been so very wise.


5.      Ch. 4: Basic issue: how can the One Church live with such diversity?

a.      Risks:

                                                              i.      The risk of multiculturalism is that it might Balkanize the church, each group going its own separate ways.

                                                            ii.      Truth becomes relative: what is true for you may not be true for me.

                                                          iii.      Niche marketing might accentuate our differences

                                                           iv.      We end up with churches for different tastes

b.      Gaining some perspective: good theological reflections on:

                                                              i.      The trinity: reflection on the intertrinitarian fellowship

                                                            ii.      Incarnation: both the grace and the implied judgment

                                                          iii.      Koinonia and hospitality. A Christian community becomes a safe place for diversity.

                                                           iv.      Unity as gift and calling “In healthy churches we die to our special interests and rise to the interests of brothers and sisters.” P. 114.

 When new ways of singing etc., are introduced, those who leads such change need to invite response from the congregation. My experience is that people all too often do such things without being willing to receive responses. “Like it or lump it.”

c.       Implications:

                                                              i.      Worship leaders lead hospitably.

                                                            ii.      The koinonia includes the great cloud of witnesses, this includes witnesses from previous centuries, and witnesses from around the globe.

There are wonderful resources for worship found in the works of previous generations. Will what we write today last? Very little of it will last.

6.      Worship: Telling God’s Story. Worship is narrative engagement with the Triune God. P. 126.

a.      Worship protects us against idolatry.

b.      We may enter into conversation with boldness, not sauciness.

c.       Worship deals with grace and judgments.

d.      Praise and Lament both have their place

e.      Worship is about covenant renewal, our life in Christ, and the span of history from creation to re-creation.

There is no ruler than can serve to identify exactly what could or should not happen in a Christian service of worship. However, this book contains a good many suggestions that can help us in the process of discernment.

Worship leaders would do well to take the time to read some books such as this to equip them for their work, and they would make fewer mistakes.

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