Skip to main content

Review: Learning Theology Through The Church's Worship

Worship and theology are inextricably linked; some even say that worship is “lived theology.” The ancient formula lex orandi, lex credendi insists that the goal of theology is to make better worshippers. Yet for many years, there has been a gap in introducing worship as a way of doing theology. To be sure, there is an abundance of works on systematic, historical, and constructive theology, and many on worship theory and practice; however, their intersection is given little attention in current literature. Dennis Okholm observed this problem and offers his Learning Theology through the Church’s Worship: An Introduction to Christian Belief (Baker Academic, 2018) to fill this gap, providing a systematic theology textbook arranged as an order of worship.

The book is structured as a worship service, designed to bring readers through the typical movements of a service, stopping along the way to uncover the theology behind the Church’s worship. He opens with an impassioned argument for why theology must always begin and end with worship, claiming that it is the goal of worship to form us into deeper theologians, and the goal of theology to form us into deeper worshippers. He then moves through the basic movements of a service, which he divides as the liturgy of the Word (gathering, sermon) and the liturgy of the Table (Eucharist, sending). Ockholm touches a relevant doctrine for each element; for instance, he covers the Trinity in the creed, sin in confessions, pneumatology in the epiclesis, and eschatology in the benediction.

Okholm introduces seemingly abstract doctrines—the Trinity, soteriology, eschatology—and presents them in a way so that they will not stay within the confines of the page but enter into the liturgy of the readers. While he writes from a liturgical tradition (indicated by his Presbyterian prescriptive order that structures his chapters), his writing will appeal to an ecumenical crowd, as he seeks to establish the foundational Christian dogma rather than esoteric, denominational doctrine. (At times, though, a Reformed emphasis comes through; nonetheless, he remains charitable to all traditions in the greater Church.) His audience, stated in the preface, is for novice theologians; however, a layperson or student with little exposure to Christian doctrine would likely be inundated by many of Ockholm’s in-depth discussions. This text may be better suited as a supplementary text or as reading for an intermediate systematics course.

LTTTCW stands apart as a unique theology primer. While the content is essentially the same as most introductory texts, Ockholm emphasizes the end result of theology—worship—and writes to the end of forming worshippers of the living God. His writing is engaging, relevant, and even humorous at times. There is an array of helpful diagrams and tables that creatively clarify confusing concepts, such as the various views of general and special revelation. Okholm quotes hymns, ancient creeds, and other liturgies, and he draws from the wealth of Church’s thinkers—from Augustine to Calvin, from Barth to Lewis—to provide examples of how great theologians have become great worshippers.

Overall, this is an exciting and seminal work that destroys the unnecessary dichotomy between Christian theology and worship. This book would be ideal for seminarians, pastors, motivated armchair theologians, and even worship leaders. Okholm effectively shows how neither the teaching nor the practice of the Church exist independently; they are meant to serve as a unified vehicle for knowing, experiencing, and responding to the Triune God. Bravo to Okholm for providing such a terrific and accessible tool for living this reality!

© 2018 Leitourgia All rights reserved.
A complimentary review copy was provided in exchange for an honest review.


Popular posts from this blog

Review: Trinity Without Hierarchy

Some recent evangelical trends have insisted that the Son is subordinate to the Father. It is in response to such complementarian theologians that the contributors to Trinity Without Hierarchy: Reclaiming Nicene Orthodoxy in Evangelical Theology (Kregel Academic, 2019) write. Edited by Mike Bird and Scott Harrower, sixteen respected theologians from around the world have come together to rescue the doctrine of the Trinity and reclaim the Nicene position, that all persons of the Trinity are co-eternal and co-equal.

The first essays introduce the doctrine of the Trinity from a New Testament standpoint, followed by a set of essays that trace Nicene Trinitarianism through church history, from Athanasius to the Reformers to Pannenberg. Although written with varying levels of difficulty—from introductory surveys to advanced theological treatments—each essay is short and digestible. The implications of the doctrine of the Trinity meet the challenges of modern evangelicalism, particularly su…

Review: Practicing the Preaching Life

Most preachers burn out. So claims celebrated homiletician and preaching professor David Ward. Ward contends that, while preaching is a life-giving activity, most practices of it lead to exhaustion and life waste. In his new book, Practicing the Preaching Life (Abingdon, 2019), Ward sets out to paint a practical theology of preaching that spiritually forms preachers and brings renewal, not only to preachers, but to their listeners as well.

Ward, as a student in the New Homiletic, draws heavily on Augustine and Aristotle, who view preaching as a means to embed virtues within the preacher. He begins by establishing a correct theology of preaching: what makes good preaching "good"? What are the offices of the preacher? From there, he moves toward practical applications, including weekly sermon preparation routines and sermon forms. Ward's approach to preaching practice, however, diverges from traditional books that either offer homiletical theory with little application, o…

Review: The Significance of Singleness

In this much-needed book, theologian Christian Hitchcock develops a vision for singleness and the church. Recent evangelical tendencies, argues Hitchcock, view singleness as a problem rather than an asset, a curse rather than a blessing. Drawing from her own experiences as a single Christian woman, Hitchcock skillfully combines personal reflection, historical evidence, and biblical-theological support to claim that single persons are themselves a theologically significant group.

Hitchcock begins by tackling the problem of singleness head-on. She describes the perception of the “problem of singleness,” from pop culture to the Marriage Mandate Movement. In her view, American evangelicalism views marriage as the most desired social institution, under which nothing can compare. Most of her examples come from her experience as a student and professor at small Christian colleges, which have a notorious tendency to inflate issues of marriage. Hitchcock then turns to three figures from churc…