I’m an R.T.Kendall fan, and I’ve enjoyed his musings and preaching on a variety of subjects over various years. As I’ve journeyed for a little while as a self-consciously ‘Charismatic’ follower of Jesus, he has been a helpful guide through some of the more contentious issues. One of these – which is at the same time an inherent and vital part of Christian vocabulary and practise – is worship, the topic of the book I am reviewing today. Kendall has written ‘Worshipping God: Devoting Our Lives to His Glory”, and it is one of the more helpful books on worship I have come across.
As the subtitle suggests, this book offers a brilliantly holistic approach to the whole topic of worship. Rather than focusing narrowly on any one aspect of the Christian life, Kendall takes a birds-eye view, panning widely over history, denominations, and different aspects of Church and individual life. This approach is helpful; keeping from the one error or ignoring the individual’s role in worship, whilst equally keeping from making the mistake of saying it is all about the individuals response and feelings during a ‘time of worship. This book is very much a helpful ‘radical middle’, balancing Word and Spirit, and many other tensions so often at play in debates over worship.
As might be expected (his reputation and ministry is primarily as a preacher!) Kendall places a high value on preaching in worship. In fact, he writes that “there is a sense in which preaching is the most tangible link between men and the triune God“, and that separating preaching from worship is a linguistic nonsense. I’m inclined to agree, even as I think that the best ‘worship service’ is one in which the Sermon, Singing, Supplication and Sacraments are all beautifully unified and Jesus focused. Kendall challenges our very Western mindset of separating out different bits of a church service, whilst also calling us to remember that worship is indeed the devotion of our lives to His glory.
There is a wonderful thread and theme of the Glory of God running through this excellent book. Kendall is passionate about Jesus, the Glory of God, and the Sovereignty of God. This emphasis makes especial sense in conversations about how the Holy Spirit works in different people, and the way that the Gifts of the Holy Spirit operate. I agreed wholeheartedly with his observation that “all the spiritual gifts described in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 are available today should God be pleased to grant them“. I appreciate both the open-ness to all the gifts, and the stress and emphasis on God, rather than ourselves. The chapter on Gifts of the Spirit and worship is possibly one of the most helpful I have read on the subject, more alive than a wary open but cautious position, and far more biblical than some Charismatic excess. Relying on the Sovereignty of God is a safe place from which to see the Kingdom come!
The final superb thread running through this book, explored over several chapters, is that of the two kingdom themes of freedom and warfare. Kendall is helpfully and biblically matter of fact about the often misunderstood nature of Spiritual Warfare, clearly emphasising the nature and reality of the conflict, but not sensationalising it. The discussion of freedom – as a prime benefit of being a Christian – is couched in very useful and applicable terms. We see here fantastic chapters on ‘Worship and tradition’, and ‘Worship and liturgy’. Both of these are very helpful.
All of this book builds towards the aim of all worship, the chief end of man. Kendall closes this book with a discussion of ‘Worship in heaven’. This is a helpful, holistic, biblical and reasonable look at the occasionally thorny issue of worship in the Christian Church. I am grateful to have found and read it. I recommend it highly to those involved in leading musical worship, leading churches, small groups, and anyone who takes part in worshipping Jesus. If you wanted to explore some of the ideas I’ve touched on, then I’d recommend also Simon Ponsonby’s superb ‘MORE‘, which in a similar vein I believe balances the biblical tension brilliantly.