K:JNWTS 31/2 (December 2016): 38-39
Daniel I. Block. For the Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014. Cloth. 432 pp. ISBN: 978-0801-02698-0. $36.99.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism starts with the question, “What is the chief end of man?” The answer is: “To glorify God and enjoy him forever.” When the church bears the image of her King, she glorifies God; this is seen in concrete terms in how God is worshiped. And what does the Bible say about the worship of God? That is the question which Daniel Block answers in For the Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship. The subtitle makes clear that Block has serious reservations about the way God is worshiped in many contemporary evangelical churches. In particular, he observes that many Christians fail to pay due attention to the Old Testament in their thinking about worship.
Reading Block’s For the Glory of God, one recognizes that Block is a very able Old Testament scholar who has the gift of applying his academic knowledge in a focused and pastoral manner. He has written a study of such a comprehensive nature that it will not be surpassed any time soon, although this applies more to the Old Testament material that he handles than the New Testament. Block has organized the biblical data according to the perspectives of various worship-related themes. This is shown by the chapter titles, such as “The Object of Worship,” “The Subject of Worship,” “Daily Life as Worship”, “The Ordinances as Worship,” “Prayer as Worship,” “Music as Worship” and the like.
What I find to be the two greatest strengths of Block’s work are his strong emphasis that worship ought to be God-centered and that our whole life ought to be a worship of God the Creator and Redeemer. Present-day church life is quite often greatly influenced by the idea prevalent in contemporary culture that the satisfaction of man (and, we must add, of the natural man) is the measure and rule for church life in all its aspects. Block rightly points that the contemporary melodies and hymns used in many congregations are a very clear symptom of this attitude. Real worship brings one to a realization of God’s holiness and majesty. Real worship of God is not merely one component of our life, but is bound up with all our activities.
In all honesty, I must add that Block’s book has also some serious weaknesses. I certainly do not deplore the fact that such great attention is given to the Old Testament, although I regret that the New Testament material is mostly no more than an afterthought at the end of each chapter. But when a man writes a study that sets out to be a guide for contemporary worship, we cannot but notice that he has paid insufficient attention to the Old Testament dispensation’s having been surpassed by that of the New Testament.
He states that “since the New Testament gives minimal attention to corporate worship, true Christian worship should be grounded on theological principles established in the First Testament.” Not the least consideration about this is that by taking this approach, the author is failing to do justice to the fact that only in the New Testament is the triune nature of God fully revealed. This full revelation of God’s triune nature has fundamental implications for both corporate and personal worship. While I am sure that Block would fully acknowledge my observation as such, this insight is nevertheless lacking a fundamental place in his otherwise very comprehensive treatment of his subject.
I would also emphasize that we must not follow Block in his idea that where the New Testament is silent on the specifics of worship, we should simply observe the Old Testament principles. I point in this regard to 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 its observance of the Passover. In this assertion, Block not only neglects the fact that the New Testament explicitly denies that Christians under the New Testament are to be guided by the Old Testament cultic calendar, but he also overlooks the fact that Christendom’s liturgical calendar has no explicit foundation in the New Testament. Following the church calendar must never be regarded as more than a custom that, while it can be useful, is not a biblical command.
In handling the ordinances of the church, the author defends believers baptism, while offering only a very brief excursus as to what the arguments are for the pedobaptist position. Even very early in church history, we see the Lord’s Day as the first day of the week replacing the seventh-day Sabbath as the Christian day of worship. Block rightly sees the seeds for this development as lying in the New Testament itself. In an appendix, he brings together some of the earliest Christian witnesses to Sunday worship. Some of these date from the very beginning of the second century, but the witness of the pagan Roman governor and writer Pliny the Younger is not included in the appendix. In the light of Paul’s letters to the Galatians and Colossians, I think that Block is being too charitable towards Christians who worship on Saturday rather than Sunday.
In summary, I would say that Block is an able and more reliable Old Testament scholar than he is a theologian. As long as the reader bears the aforementioned weaknesses in mind, he can certainly profit from the great insight, especially regarding the Old Testament, which he will find in For the Glory of God. The author’s exegetical skill in the Old Testament and its cultural background leaps out in every section of the book. What we certainly can learn from For the Glory of God is that our worship and our whole life ought to be God-centered and the necessity of acknowledging that we can only have access to God through Jesus Christ.
—Pieter de Vries