Daniel Block, Baker, 2014, 432 pages, 4 of 5 stars
For the Glory of God is a clear and concise biblical theology on the nature of worship. If worship were a golf ball, each chapter would commence at the tee box of Genesis and finish on the greens of Revelation.
Daniel Block is an OT scholar at Wheaton College, the author of numerous books and the senior translator of the NLT Bible. His goal in For the Glory of God is this: how does one determine the right kind of worship? The answer is crucial, for in the modern world, one’s “worship style” has become the church’s calling card—the ID that every visitor requests. “These days if people ask what kind of church you attend, they are probably not inquiring about denomination, but about worship style: traditional, liturgical, or contemporary?” (Loc. 180)
This book is written at a popular level, with thirteen chapters well-fitted for Bible studies. Chapters 1-3 address the foundations of worship, chapters 4-5 the location of worship, chapters 6-10 the various aspects of corporate worship, and the final three chapters providing a birds-eye view.
Block’s writing style is irenic. He writes with a “soft-lead pencil” and welcomes disagreement and discussion. Though he was raised in a Mennonite Brethren context, he makes a point of saying that his worship style of varied and diverse.
Examination and Evaluation
In chapter 1, Block’s emphasis on the OT takes center stage. He argues that OT and NT worship cannot be contrasted, for if they were, one must then assert that OT worship was not spiritual and only outward. It would also need to dismiss Jesus’ Bible and the foundation of the book of Psalms.
According to Block, the goal of worship is “the glory of God rather than the pleasure of human beings, which means the forms of worship should conform to the will of God rather than to the whims of fallen humanity” (loc. 376).
He could have been more clear in his explanation of 1 Samuel 16:7 (“Man looks on the outward appearance but God looks on the heart”). I agree that externals are important in worship. But Psalm 24:3 may not have been the best passage to prove this.
Block closes the chapter well by asserting worship demands awe and gravitas and must disdain flippancy and unnecessary humor.
In chapter 2, Block uses Exodus 34:6-7 to disprove the notion that the God of the OT is harsh and the NT God is merciful. He also does well to show that while worship is Trinitarian, this doesn’t mean each person of the Trinity gets equal time in our prayers and songs.
In chapter 3, Block takes issue with those who say that all worship is acceptable by stating seven reasons why Cain’s offering was rejected.
Chapter 4 was helpful, but in chapter 5, his comments bring some red flags. He suggests the nuclear family is “rare” in Scripture, but never states a strong case. Then he quotes Hillary Clinton’s book by suggesting it “takes a village” to raise a child. This line comes with African vibes and it would only take a few seconds in the village where I live to show that this particular concept has left Africa in a state of disarray.
The pain of chapter five (Block’s worst chapter) doesn’t end, however. He asserts the idea of family worship is rare in Scripture. This is like saying the importance of sending one’s child to high school is difficult to find in the Bible. If you mean that no Scripture has Isaac reading to his son the Sinai Picture Bible, fine, true enough. But the principles promoting the importance of the whole family reading Scripture and praying is found all over Scripture. I expected a much more robust chapter on family worship, especially with Block coming from such a large home and vibrant family life.
Chapters 7 and 8 gave some great quotes on the Scripture and prayer, but chapter 9 on music is really where all the fireworks happen. It is the best chapter in the book; it also contains the most groaners (see section about “love” below).
The positives are many. Block deftly places his finger on the dying pulse of so much “worship” in the contemporary church—an assembly infatuated with pop culture. He writes: “For the modern worship industry, which defines worship primarily in terms of praise music, the biblical picture of tabernacle worship is embarrassing” (loc. 4390). Or, “In contrast to the vacuous, repetitious, and mindless music of the world, truly worshipful music is filled with Scripture, the story of redemption, sound doctrine, and the glory of Christ.” Again:
Evangelical worship must be rescued from the tyranny of the industry and the idolatry of popular culture. Not only does the Psalter remind us that worship involves every human emotion, but also the silence of Scripture on music in the tabernacle worship and the worship of the early church remind us that music is only one (minor) element of worship. (loc. 4556)
The lights and fog machines of our modern churches entered Block’s cross hairs. “We may be oblivious to the reality that a packed house may be proof of disingenuous (calculated) worship rather than worship acceptable to God.”
The rest of the book saunters on with equal value, addressing topics such as giving, leadership and sacred space. If for nothing else, chapter twelve’s chapter on architecture was unique and I imagine most readers had never thought about the importance of the building’s role in bringing the worshiper awe and celebration.
One Key Departure
One area of chief concern was the author’s comments about expressions of love toward God. Block writes, “Verbal expressions of one’s own love for God have no biblical warrants. No one in the First Testament ever tells God, ‘I love you’…. No authors or characters have the audacity to claim that they measure up to the standard demanded by the word.” Then he says the picture in the New Testament is no different.
Block is misguided here for at least three reasons. First, there are a host of passages in Scripture where God is to be the object of the believer’s love. It is the very proof of conversion (1Jn. 5:2) and should be followed with love for one another (4:2). Second, while Block certainly believes Christians ought to love God, his assertion that believers should not be presumptuous in saying it does not follow. Just because one cannot love God as he fully should doesn’t mean that person should avoid the vocabulary all together. The phrase should only be avoided when the heart is full of hypocrisy. “If anyone says ‘I love God’ and hates his brother he is a liar” (1Jn. 4:20).
Finally, many evangelicals would disagree with him on this point. John Piper has written an article, “I Love Jesus Christ”, where he actually argues for the opposite. He says Christians do not use vocabulary like this enough. If we are to admire, enjoy, take joy in, approve of, and be thankful for Jesus Christ, how can we but express this in words of praise? We ought to sing and say things like: “I love you God! Though my offerings and words cannot reach the heights of your demands, I give what I can.” Without love for Christ, man is accursed (1Co. 16:22).
Block’ s work on worship is a gift to the church. Worship is internal and external, and he succeeds in proving this point. He directs the reader to the center and reminds him that the purpose of worship is “neither to create a certain mood nor to attract the unsaved to the service; it is to give voice to the praises and laments of God’s people.” I would happily recommend this book.