Engaging with God: A Biblical Theology of Worship

The following is a book review of

Peterson, David. Engaging With God: A Biblical Theology of Worship.Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992. 317 pp. $24.00.

Copyright ?? 2008 by Alex S. Leung. All rights reserved.

Introduction

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As the principal of Oak Hill Theological College in London, England for the past 11 years, David Peterson has been a significant vessel that God has used to elevate that seminary to be one of the largest in the United Kingdom and in the Church of England. Only recently succeeded by Michael Ovey as Principal, Peterson has shown himself to be an astute interpreter of the biblical text, being formerly a lecturer in New Testament at Moore College in Sydney, Australia. As such, it is no wonder why Engaging With God is another first-rate example of Peterson???s careful exegesis and gospel-centered hermeneutic.Subtitled A Biblical Theology of Worship, Peterson???s Engaging With God is the author???s attempt at a biblical theology of worship that is evangelical and generally free from denominational bias. Students of biblical worship would be happy to see an extensive exegetical volume finally released, as Peterson provides a full-orbed examination of what worship is according to the whole counsel of God and the entirety of Scripture ??? both the Old and New Testament.

Summary

In his introduction, Peterson establishes the nature of Christian worship as ???an engagement with [God] on the terms that he proposes and in the way the he alone makes possible??? (20). The rest of the book is hence an explanation of ???engaging with God??? as an idea that is found in the totality of Scripture. With this purpose in mind, Peterson thus begins careful exegesis of the Old (in chapters 1-2) and New Testament (in chapters 3-9) to provide the foundation for his thesis.The groundwork for his biblical worship theology is provided in the first two chapters, where Peterson examines engagement with God from the Old Testament. The ark, tabernacle and temple are shown to be the God-ordained, God-initiated means for Israel to acknowledge and live in relation to the royal and holy presence of God. Worship in Old Testament has its emphasis on God???s self-revelation: God makes it possible for His covenant people to worship Him by the cultic observance of the sacrificial system. Through a detailed look at various important worship sections in Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy, Peterson finds that it is only by ???God???s provision through the cult the covenant relationship could be maintained??? (49).Further, the author establishes that honoring, serving and respecting God are encompassed by adoration as an expression of awe and grateful submission to the LORD (73). While this includes the physical acts of bending/bowing down or falling down before God that hinted at by the Greek word proskynein or the Hebrew histahawa (57), expressing homage according to the Old Testament is not merely bending over at the waist. It further includes awe and submission that is motivated by gratitude, and so it is also a matter of heart-worship, thanksgiving that inevitably leads God???s people to serve Him (64-70). While the obedience to God???s demands in cultic activity enabled Israel to express reverence to God, Peterson concedes that ???fear of God in the more positive sense of reverence and respect is regularly on view??? (71) ??? by walking faithful in God???s ways and in keeping His commands.In Chapter 3, Peterson turns from the Old Testament to the new, beginning with an analysis of how Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament temple. Through an analysis of the Gospel according to Matthew and John, Peterson concedes that it is in the person of Jesus Christ that God???s presence and glory is fully and finally experienced, and further, that Judaism finds its destined end of worship in Christ himself. Jesus Himself transferred the significance of the temple from Jerusalem to another entity ??? not in the messianic community, but primarily in his own person and work. Christ replaces the temple as the wellspring of life and renewal for all the world, as Jesus Himself is the eschatological destination to which all nations journey to for worship. ???The divine presence is no longer bound up in the temple, but the Word who was with God ???in the beginning??? and who in fact ???was God??? ??? (93).In terms of being the fulfillment of the old covenant, Peterson argues that Jesus preached ???a new centre for Israel, in himself and the salvation he proclaimed, rather than in the synagogue, the temple, the law or the inherited customs of his people??? (112-113). Being the fulfillment of Jeremiah 31:31-34, Jesus fulfilled and transcended the Mosaic Law in his perfectly righteous life. For Jesus is shown to exalt Himself as the new standard of what does or doesn???t constitute defilement (114), and as the new authority for the determination of acceptable Sabbath behavior (116). In the sacrificial service to God and His people, Jesus gave us the ???final and perfect expression of uncompromising worship??? (129) through the offering of Himself by dying on the cross for man???s sins. By the means of the shedding of His blood, Christ inaugurated the new covenant, and thus replaced and fulfilled the sacrificial system of the old covenant.Having argued for Jesus??? as the fulfillment of the temple and the old covenant, Peterson then examines the community of apostles in Acts to show how the Christian life and ministry should be viewed as an expression of service to God. Unable to immediately disassociate themselves from the temple, the early apostles and Christians still saw the temple as a place for revelation and a place of public prayer (138), and consequently, also as a place where they experienced opposition and unrest (139) from those opposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The character and function of early Christian gatherings focused around apostolic teaching/preaching, as well as in the fellowship (Greek koinonia) of believers who eat together and pray and praise God together. The Christian community life thus can be a function of worship.Through an analysis of Paul???s underlying worship theology, Peterson advocates for the consecrated Christian life and gospel ministry as specific expressions of Christian worship. ???Missionary preaching and the establishment of churches in the truths of the gospel can be described as fulfilling a God-given ???liturgy??? or service to the churches??? (182). Supporting his theology of worship with a careful examination of Philippians, Peterson beautifully portrays the inseparability of sacrifice, faith and the Spirit ??? for worship by the Spirit is synonymous to faith in Jesus??? crucifixion and the salvific implications of his death (187). In a further analysis of the Corinthian church, Peterson explains that worship the gathered church meets in order to participate in edification (195-197). During those times when a prophetic word and the word of Christ dwells in the midst of believers, and during times when thanksgiving, prayer and praise are shared together, the assembled church thus can ???meet with God when we meet with one another??? (198). As a result, ministries that are genuinely used for the benefit of others while purposed for the glory of God can actually be an expression of worship.Through a detailed overview of the book of Hebrews ??? the one book of the New Testament that provides a thorough and integrative worship theology ??? Peterson analyses of key ???worship??? chapters within Hebrews, and argues for Christ as essentially the typology of all the Old Testament themes and symbols as previously discussed. Worshipping Jesus means worshipping Him as the High Priest, synagogue, temple, and sacrifice at one and the same time (228-230; 232-237). Under the new covenant, drawing near to God as an expression of worship is both congregational and personal to the Christian???s daily experience (237-246), and service that aims to please God is foremost obedience through Christ our mediator (230-232). Concluding with synopsis of Revelation, Peterson portrays worship in the new covenant community as in taking a stand against paganism by bearing faithful witness to the truth of the gospel (265) and in the singing of God???s praise (278).

Critical Evaluation

Engaging with God may not be an easy read for the regular layperson or the theologically untrained worship leader looking to get a biblical perspective on what worship is. The attention to exegetical detail is evident in Peterson???s analysis of worship terminology in the original Greek and Hebrew, providing for the reader plenty of transliterated terms in his presentation. While most of the text-critical arguments are moved to the endnotes, the author???s interpretive arguments for his thesis are included in the book???s body and supported by careful study of worship terminology in its original biblical context. Such an exegetical method may be put off as unimportant for those unfamiliar with it, but those who are at least a little familiar with basic Bible interpretation methods would benefit significantly from Peterson???s heavy-duty text work. A prime example of this is in his differentiation between worship as physical homage and worship in the general, abstract sense: ???When other verbs denoting bowing or kneeling are absent from context and there are no other indicators of physical movement, the more general and abstract sense of ???worship??? may be understood??? (61).Having provided a lengthy and thorough biblical analysis, Peterson???s work distinguishes itself in at least two areas. First, he demonstrates that there is tremendous meaning for today???s church when we see Jesus as the new temple ??? most notably in the need for gospel-centered preaching. Christian teaching and preaching must center on the person and work of Jesus Christ in order to be biblical in its content and its aim, especially in terms of evangelism (102) and in the building of the Messiah???s church (207). As Peterson proclaims in his summary chapter, ???Throughout Scripture, the word of God is fundamental to a genuine engagement with him??? (286).Secondly, Peterson demonstrates that the church gathers in corporate worship to build each other up ??? for mutual edification, and not just ???to worship??? as some would argue. While Peterson does show the ???central importance of the concept of edification for the meeting of God???s people??? in Paul???s teaching (196), Hebrews is his chief support of this argument (247-250). As an expression of worship, Peterson convincingly argues that the mutual up building between Christians is purposed to help each other persevere in the faith and grow in spiritual maturity in light of the apostasy that a believer can possibly fall into. With this unique emphasis on the care that the church congregation should have for each other, it is no wonder why the divinely inspired writer of the book of Hebrews exhorts us to not forsake the local gathering of believers as some professing Christians do. This argument by itself sets Peterson???s work exceptionally distinctive.

Conclusion

Peterson addresses central themes and expressions of worship throughout the Bible, each one of them supporting his thesis that worship is unquestionably engagement with God in terms He sets and ways He permits. Although this biblical theology on worship is extensive in its biblical exposition, it is a worthwhile read that will challenge the reader to examine his or her worship theology to see whether it conforms to the biblical text. While much of recent worship literature examine the English term worship, Peterson???s book fills the gap with a succinct, biblical theology of Christian worship that can be warmly accepted by churches of any evangelical denomination.

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