Every individual follower of Jesus Christ should be seeking to worship Him in a way that is Biblical. Each pastor should feel the weight of leading a congregation to worship the Lord in a God-honoring way. While the worship of God is the highest privilege it also carries with it the responsibility to do so in a way that the Lord has prescribed. In the book For the Glory of God, Daniel Block tackles the issue of the worship of God and offers many Biblical correctives. This much-needed work is published by Baker Academic and, as the subtitle makes clear, strives to aid in recovering a theology of worship that is Biblical.
Dr. Block is a skilled theologian and author who holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical (M.A.) and the University of Liverpool (D. Phil) and writes extensively on theological and Biblical matters. Among his numerous published works are commentaries on Obadiah, Ezekiel, Deuteronomy, Judges, and Ruth. For the Glory of God is a superb work that brings the reader face to face with the Bible’s teaching on worship.
Thirteen different aspects of worship are addressed, one per chapter. Within each chapter, Dr. Block follows a pattern of describing what the Old Testament says (or, as he calls it, the First Testament), then moves to instruction from the New Testament, and finally, concludes with thoughts for putting each theme into practice today. The benefits of this structure and format are two-fold. First, it makes the work easy to follow as it keeps each chapter very focused. Second, it forces the reader to engage with Scripture repeatedly. This reviewer feels the saturation of Scripture throughout the book is one of its greatest strengths. In addition to Block interacting with Scripture, he also dialogues with authors who have contributed on the subject including D.A. Carson, D. Martin Lloyd Jones, Bryan Chappell, John Frame and a host of other respected theologians.
Block asserts in the early pages of his book that he is driven by three foundational principles. His first conviction is, “all of Scripture should contribute to the recovery of a biblical theology of worship” (6). Also, he states that “the goal of authentic worship is the glory of God rather than the pleasure of human beings” (6) and finally that “knowledge of the nature and forms of worship that glorify God comes primarily from Scripture” (6). In the opinion of this reviewer, these pillars are critical, and they are correct. From the first pages of For the Glory of God, the author makes it clear that this work is not primarily about opinion, preference or pragmatics, but rather focuses on Scripture and God’s will concerning worship.
In a world where polytheism was common, the people of God in the Old Testament were told to worship no God besides YHWH. As he writes on page 30, “Thus YHWH’s command that Israel worship no other divinities—indeed, his very denial of their existence—was unprecedented.” The word from the Lord is clear: there is only one true God and worship will be on His terms. Therefore, for worship to be pleasing, it must be presented in a way that is prescribed by the Lord and is in step with His design for the believer’s life. However, Block rightly feels too many churches ignore the Old Testament when it comes to the Lord’s prescription for worship. He states that “Since the New Testament gives minimal attention to corporate worship, true Christian worship should be grounded on theological principles established in the First Testament. Unless the New Testament expressly declares those principles to be obsolete, we should assume continuity” (25). While not every reader will agree with that premise, it does demand a careful reading of Scripture and a thoughtful response. It seems that Block is correct in his view because the principles in the First Testament are a revelation of how God demands His people approach Him. Further, this reviewer has observed that many worshipers today are far too quick to dismiss the desires of God when it comes to worship and they do so at their own peril. The result of not knowing how the Lord desires His people to worship Him is a kind of “worship” that looks much more like the desires of the flesh than the self-revelation of God.
Among the 410 pages, there are several aspects this reviewer found particularly helpful. Chapter 3, “The Subject of Worship,” rightly states, “But God is not obligated to accept the worship of those whose hearts are hardened toward him and who live contrary to his will, even if the forms of their worship are correct” (62). This is an essential corrective for the church today, especially in America. Millions of people flock to houses of worship on a regular basis where songs are sung, “talks” are given, and forms of worship are practiced, but the activity alone does not equate to God’s approval. Worship must be in line with the teaching of Scripture, and this includes the heart and life of the worshiper. This chapter is among Block’s best.
While many people get frustrated and confused with the detailed prescriptions for worship in the Old Testament, Block gives a different way to view such regulations. “Indeed, the more detailed the regulations, the less was left to guesswork and hence the greater the grace” (67). To this end, he goes on to describe four pieces of evidence of a life that pleases God: clean hands, pure heart, uncompromised devotion to YHWH and fidelity to one’s word (68). For worship to be acceptable, there must be a blending of a heart that honors the Lord and a life that shows the transformation brought by His grace. In this, Block is exactly right. He writes that the Scriptures give a “biblical corrective to a common but unhealthy notion that God looks only at our hearts rather than at our external actions” (68). While some may trip over such an assertion, he goes on to carefully state that “Scriptures refuse to divorce persons from their actions or their hearts from their deeds…rather, actions that seek the honor of God and the well-being of others are proof of a transformed heart” (69).
Another significant contribution of this book comes from Chapter 9, “Music as Worship.” Dr. Block rightly says, “People are what they sing,” and he goes further with a rebuke of the modern church as he asserts, “although the songs we sing should bind us together, in our day music is destroying the church” (221). Music in the Old Testament was “designed to keep alive the memory of YHWH’s grace,” and because it focused on the character and goodness of God, it was “a new song, radically different from…the songs of other peoples” (227). He goes on to quote Andrew Hill who says that music may indeed be “both worship and an aid to worship” (Enter His Courts with Praise: Old Testament Worship for the New Testament Church), but Block argues that “the silence of Exodus and Leviticus renders untenable the contemporary common equation of praise music with worship” and adds that music is “neither indispensable for nor the primary element in biblical worship” (228). This stands as a powerful and helpful rebuke to the typical American practice in which so many select their church membership not on the teaching of the Word, but on the personal preference of the music.
Contained within these thirteen excellent chapters are issues in which there will be disagreement between the author and his reader. Among these are his views on the Sabbath from Chapter 11, which seem to ignore the New Testament’s reference to Sunday as the “Lord’s Day.” He says, “the New Testament never mandates the transformation of the seventh-day Sabbath into a first-day Lord’s day, let alone making it a day of assembly” (282). His chapter on “The Design and Theology of Sacred Space” will certainly be challenged by some as well. He believes that “sacred space should be as countercultural as believers personal lives” (326) and that “to display only an American flag borders on civil religion and is distracting and offensive especially to non-American visitors” (330). He asserts, “since a house of worship is not a concert hall, the best place for a choir or musical groups is on the balcony at the back” (330). While this reviewer understands the caution Block is giving, this seems to be an overstatement and unnecessarily restrictive. Additionally, his views on the ordinances will certainly be met with some resistance. Block gives a strong appeal to the importance of the Lord’s Supper but overstates the case as he writes, “The New Testament ideal of a weekly observance is the most honoring to the Lord” (166). While a New Testament church is free to participate in the Lord’s Table weekly, this prescription is not found in the New Testament. The emphasis in 1 Corinthians 11 is not on how often it should be observed, but on the motivation in doing so.
In conclusion, while it will prove beneficial for any follower of Christ to read this book, it will prove to be especially helpful (and challenging) for one who is called to lead people in the worship of God. This reviewer highly recommends this book and is one who has benefited greatly by the careful reading of it. Dr. Block has given a gift to the church as it offers a needed aid to the worship of the church, namely, a call to return to the Word of God.