In Engaging with God, David Peterson traces the theme of worship throughout the Scriptures. The author does an excellent job of bringing out the idea that worship in the Bible is a comprehensive term describing the Christian’s entire life. On page twenty, Peterson gives his own definition of worship as “an engagement with [God] on the terms He proposes and in the way He alone makes possible.”
One of the most significant benefits for me of studying the biblical history of worship is the focus on a more distinctly biblical vocabulary in the discussion of worship. For example, Peterson emphasizes that the biblical concept of worship is so much richer than the notion of “worth-ship.” While the concept of ascribing worth is important, and it is where our English word “worship” comes from, biblical worship is so much deeper – so much richer. The English word for worship, our modern worship practices, and even our common conception of what worship is, are all far too shallow. Worship defines the Christian’s life in every way. It is an attitude that pervades every corner and every moment of the life of a child of the King.
My biggest epiphany from reading this book was grasping the seriousness of approaching God in worship. The gravity with which we should consider coming to God in supplication, praise, and obedience is staggering to me. I think this hit me so hard because of my own background. I grew up in a church where the worship service was purposely casual. People approached God in a casual – almost flippant – manner. There was no discussion of the sovereignty, majesty, and transcendence of God. Jesus is almost our buddy.
Peterson emphasized the importance of knowing how God desires to be worshiped, and the need to understand this and approach Him in a manner of which He approves. On page seventeen, Peterson convicted me with this quote: “The fact that some worship in the Old Testament was regarded as unacceptable to God (e.g. Gn. 4:3-7; Ex. 32; Is. 1), is a reminder that what is impressive or seems appropriate to us may be offensive to him.”
If I could share the three most important concepts I think I learned from this book, I would first share what I just mentioned; that is, that to approach God in worship is a serious matter, and must be done with reverence, fear, and great anticipation. “Again and again, the Old Testament makes the point that the Holy One can be approached only in the way that he himself stipulates and makes possible” (pg. 35).
I would also share the idea that the worship service is primarily for the assembling together of God’s people. While Christ must always be central, and the gospel must clearly be the driving force of the service, the worship service on Sunday morning should not be primarily an evangelistic service. “Although the conversion of an unbeliever in the course of a church service is much to be desired, however, evangelism is not the primary purpose of the gathering, according to 1 Corinthians 14” (pg. 195).
The final thing I would share is the idea of the centrality of Christ in worship, and the all-pervasive nature of worship in one’s life. Worship is to define the life of God’s people, living out God’s word, through the sacrifice of God’s Son, and by the power of His Holy Spirit. “Christians… must come to grips with the New Testament perspective that acceptable worship is an engagement with God, through Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit – a Christ-centered, gospel-serving, life-orientation” (pg. 293).
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Engaging with God, and have learned much from Peterson’s study of the history and theology of worship. I would highly recommend this book to every believer, but especially those in church leadership. I look forward to keeping this book as a resource to, hopefully, share with others someday.