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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.


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