As I have mentioned before, this website serves the purpose of equipping and empowering worship leaders, theologically and in praxis. Often I attempt to synthesize theology and praxis (such as I did here) in a single article. Sometimes, however, the focus is on theology or praxis. In the case of theology, my desire is to introduce worship leaders to some of the best, modern scholarship on worship and liturgy. Today I offer another book review for this purpose.
Liturgical Theology: The Church as Worshiping Community
Simon Chan (Ph.D., Cambridge) serves as Earnest Lau Professor of Systematic Theology at Trinity Theological College in Singapore. His book Liturgical Theology: The Church as Worshiping Community (IVP, 2006) has garnered attention across numerous evangelical circles. As part of the Assembly of God church, Dr. Chan capably speaks to numerous denominations that have been influenced by Pentecostal and Charismatic streams of the Christian faith.
Broken into two parts, Liturgical Theology features Foundations (Theology) and Practice. Dr. Chan does not leave the reader with a well-articulated theology, but includes historical and practical liturgical examples supported by his foundations. Many approaches to liturgical study begin with a survey of the historical development of liturgy. Being a systematic theologian, however, Dr. Chan offers evangelicals a new and challenging approach, that of articulating an ecclesiology.
The Ontology of the Church
Within the introduction, Dr. Chan, while supporting his position by referencing several other evangelical scholars, posits that evangelicals have a severe deficit in their ecclesiology. He then presents his own ecclesiology in Chapter 1, “The Ontology of the Church”. This is the starting point of Dr.
Chan’s work, and one that cannot be overlooked. Since evangelicals have all but neglected a liturgical approach to their spirituality, our starting point may not be a historical one, but rather one of identity.
Dr. Chan does brilliant work defining his ontology with Scripture and supporting his Scriptural interpretations with historical understanding. He beings by noting that “the church broadly conceived as the covenant people of God is seen as a means to fulfilling God’s original purpose in creation.” Taking a nonsupersessionist position, Chan explores the relationship between the Church and Israel. With Christ as the head of the Church, we are the body of Christ and have become the presence of Christ on earth.
Exploring the role of the Spirit in the Church, Dr. Chan notes that we are in the era of the Spirit. From here he explains how the Church understands her mission when she understands herself as worshiping community and the body of Christ:
“The mission of the church could be summed up as nothing but the mission of the Spirit. The church’s very existence could be described as the Spirit’s constantly pushing the body of Christ forward toward the parousia, the final fulfillment…The essential nature of mission is for the church to be the body of Christ…To say ‘The church is the body of Christ: means that Christ as embodied is available to the world… The church’s primary mission, then, is to be itself, which is to be “Christ” for the world.”
From the ontology of the Church, Dr. Chan moves through “The Worship of the Church”, “The Shape of the Liturgy”, and “The Liturgy As Ecclesial Practice”. The key to his transitions, however, remains in chapter one and his ontology of the Church. In encouraging evangelicals to develop a sound, holistic ecclesiology, Dr. Chan is then able to move towards a sound theology of worship and sound ecclesiastical practice.
Applying Liturgical Theology
What does this mean for pastors and worship leaders? By beginning with ecclesiology, Dr. Chan suggests that this is the starting point for worship and ecclesiastical practice, of which he proposes a liturgical practice consisting of catechism and the Sunday liturgy. The challenge offered by Dr. Chan is, Can you articulate an ecclesiology? So many evangelicals are pursuing relevance, the new fad, or drawing from entertainment sources such as Jimmy Fallon, rather than turning to the Scriptures and understanding the nature of the church.
Admittedly, ecclesiology may not be the most appropriate starting point for denominations with a history of liturgy, such as Roman Catholicism, Orthodox, Anglicans, or Lutherans. Their liturgies have developed over time and reflect their understanding of self as the church. Evangelicals, including local pastors, however, must understand the nature of the Church and what that means for worship and praxis. This is what Dr. Chan performs and presents so well in Liturgical Theology.
If you are looking to understand worship and church practices, begin with this book. His starting point of ecclesiology will radically alter your approach to worship leading and serving the Church.
Jason Palmer is the Editor of TalkingWorship.com. Jason has a Bachelor of Science in Ministry with a Worship Arts Major and Music Minor. He has lead worship for evangelical churches for 7 years and desires to see worship leaders become confident in their calling.