Sunday, February 12, 2012

Book Review: Engaging With God, by David Peterson, Ch 1

Out with the Old... in with the New?

Have you ever been sitting in a service when the pastor comes up to preach the sermon, and instructs the congregation to turn to some obscure passage in the Old Testament? You can just sense the entire audience groaning, as if to say, "How can this possibly apply to me?" Or maybe it's an extremely familiar passage, such as David and Goliath. As a student at Moody Bible Institute, I must have heard at least 100 sermons on David and Goliath over my five years of chapels! Unfortunately, when we think about the Old Testament, our mind automatically goes to a list of moral stories that we were told in Sunday School. "If you have the courage and faith of David, you can tackle any giants that hinder your life!" "Don't give in to peer pressure, but obey God, just like Noah did... if you don't, you just might get swallowed by a whale!" Sound familiar? The moment we take the Old Testament and trivialize it into a biblical version of Aesop's fables we completely miss the overarching themes that tie the entire Bible together, which reveal God and His ultimate purpose throughout all of history, and we undermine the importance of God's sovereign working in each of our lives. 

In this first chapter of Engaging with God, David Peterson defends a biblical theology of worship by examining the key themes that are established in the Old Testament, and continued through the New Testament: revelation, redemption, God's covenant with Israel, and the call for God's people to live as a distinct and separate nation (p.23). 

Worship and Revelation

We know that at the heart of every religion, man desires to know who God is, where He can be found, and how He can be approached. In the ancient world, this was no different, for these people identified specific places where they believed the gods lived, and erected shrines or temples in these places to serve as the "home" of that particular god. An example would be the Canaanites, who worshipped many gods, such as Baal,  El, and Anat, and believed that these gods dwelled on specific sacred mountaintops unreachable by man, that separated heaven and earth. 

This is the backdrop of the Old Testament, and helps us understand the cultural aspects that influenced the thinking of God's people throughout this period of time. Unlike the gods of the Canaanites, we see throughout the Old Testament that God directly revealed Himself to the Israelites in particular places and at specific times. God developed a relationship with the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, along with their descendants, promising to make them a great nation (Gen 12:1-3, 7; 13:14-17; 15:1-8, 12-16). This shows the importance of a relationship with the one true God that is only possible when He reveals Himself to mankind throughout history. Also, in contrast to other ancient religions, when God relates to mankind, He speaks directly to the patriarchs through covenant promises and demands, rather than simply using supernatural events or powerful displays through nature. God engages with His people directly, and has continual communication with them (e.g. Noah in Gen 6-9).

God's Covenant Promise

Whenever God revealed Himself to the patriarchs, they would build an altar at that spot to symbolize where God had manifested Himself to them (Gen 12:7-8; 13:14-18; 28:10-22). This showed how they received God's promises that the land of Canaan belonged to Him, and that He would one day give it over to them as He had promised. Also since the Israelites considered Heaven to be God's dwelling place, these holy places were merely symbols of God's presence, and in no way limited His power and dwelling among them (Gen 11:5; 18:21; 21:17; 22:11; 24:7; 28:12). The ultimate place of God's manifestation to the people of Israel occurred at Mount Sinai, after He had rescued them from their bondage in Egypt. By drawing His people to the mountain, God was drawing them to Himself, revealing to them that He was their rescuer and Lord (Ex 19:4; 3:1; 4:27; 18:5; 24:13). He then revealed to them the acceptable form of worship, and the way that a relationship could be formed with Him. We will find that this manifestation established the official start of a long standing relationship of God and His chosen people.

Worship and Redemption

The worship of God's people is separate from any other religion, in that His people offer the worship of a redeemed people, that in no way is a result of human action or determination, but is only possible by means of God's action toward His people. We can only approach God, because He has first approached us, and provided us a way of salvation. The book of Exodus clearly states how God approached Israel and redeemed His people so that they may worship Him, and bring Glory to His name. After being brought out of Egypt, and freed from slavery, Moses was led to the top of the mountaintop to meet God. Here, God told Moses what it meant to be God's chosen people:
Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel. (Ex 19:5-6, ESV)

God's Call for Holiness

 In other words, God was initiating a relationship with Israel here at Mt. Sinai, that was based on a life of service and worship to Him alone. He was drawing them into a special relationship with Him, but had some rules of conduct. On the mountaintop He gave Moses the ten commandments by which God's people were supposed to live (Ex 20:1-18), in order to be devoted to God alone, and to glorify Him for His redemptive work. We then see in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy a list of moral, social, and ritual laws describing what it meant to live a life devoted to serving the Lord. The Lord also gave Moses specific instructions on how to build the tabernacle, which housed the Ark of the Covenant, which was supposed to be a sign of God's presence continuing with His people (Nu. 10:33-36; 1 Sam 4:3-9). Later on this tabernacle was replaced by the Temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 8:10-11).

So apparently, the idea that acceptable worship is a life-long pursuit is not a new understanding found only in the New Testament!


The Old Testament is chock full of meaning and relevance to any generation, much less our current postmodern mindset. Regardless of what anyone claims to believe as their own morsel of truth, we all universally desire to  be loved, and to be accepted for who we are. We are all created for one specific purpose- to glorify God in everything that we do! We are hard-wired to worship! However, since we are also under the curse of sin and death, we are unable to worship anything other than ourselves. The only way that we know anything about God is what He has revealed to us about Himself. 

He took the initiative with the patriarchs of Israel, then to all the people of Israel through the exodus from slavery in Egypt, all culminating into the encounter at Mt. Sinai where God gives Moses the Ten Commandments. God used such symbols as the ark, the tabernacle, and the temple to represent God's presence among the people of Israel. Peterson says it best:
The sacrificial system was the means by which God made it possible for a sinful people to draw near to him, to receive his grace and blessing, without desecrating his holiness and so incurring his wrath against them.
This sacrificial system was then replaced by the ultimate sacrifice- Jesus Christ. It is only through Him that we are able to approach God and worship Him as we were originally created to do. So the next time you are reading the Old Testament, remember to read it in light of what Christ has revealed to us about the Father. We are all created to worship Him, and bring Him glory with our entire lives, not just on Sunday morning.

How about you? What has God been teaching you about worship? What passages does He speak to you through the Old Testament about who He truly is? Leave a comment... or three. til next time...

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Book Review: Engaging with God by David Peterson, Introduction

I have decided to use this blog as an opportunity to share my reflections on the topic of worship. I got the idea when I started reading Bob Kauflin's blog, "Worship Matters" this past week. He recommends this book as one of the best on the topic, and a must read for any person involved in leading worship. 

So this is how it's going to work. I'll read each chapter, and then post a review. Hopefully this will be an incentive to keep this going consistently! All right, here we go.

David Peterson introduces his book with a discussion of the recent inundation of worship materials flooding the market. He comments that this growing worship phenomenon is causing lots of contraversy and dividing the body of Christ, rather than uniting us toward the common focus of our faith- Jesus Christ.  Unfortunately, most of us do not even realize that our convictions on worship are based primarily upon preference and tradition, rather than on biblical theology. Many become defensive when faced with possible changes to our worship customs, for they do not see the need for any change. "But this is how we always done it!" Others are discontented with the "worship experience" at their church, and end up  church-hopping in an attempt to find that satisfying experience that fits their mold of what  ideal worship looks like. Unfortunately, we all have a tendency to ignore the biblical theology of worship in lieu of personal preference and taste.

So What is Worship?

Normally, when we hear "worship", we immediately think of a particular gathering, such as a church service, listening to a sermon, taking communion, etc. Now, no one would deny the importance of personal devotions, yet we constantly seek a particular experience or self-expression in our church services. We all have that "moment" when we felt like we truly worshiped. We then use this moment as the standard to weigh all other worship experiences. 

Is worship essentially an experience or feeling? Such subjectivity only causes division among the church, when believers begin rating the service on their individual standard of  the ideal experience. Peterson states,

Worship must involve certain identifieable attitudes, but something is seriously wrong when people equate spiritual self-gratification with worship!

In the Old Testament, we see that God actually regards some worship as unacceptable 
(Gen. 4:3-7; Ex. 32; Is. 1). We need to realize that some things that we might find impressive or particularly pleasing to God, may actually be offensive to Him.

In the New Testament, we see that appropriate worship is determined by our attitudes, as well as our activities (Rom. 12:1-2; 14:17-18; Heb. 12:28-29; 13:16).

Peterson shows that worship permeates all aspects of Scripture, and can be seen in every element of biblical theology, such as creation, sin, covenant, redemption, the people of God, and our future hope. Overall, worship is all about being in a right relationship with God, and glorifying Him holistically with our lives.

The disciples followed Jesus in His ministry, and developed a worshiping relationship with Him, observing His words and actions, including His death and resurrection, and then experienced the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at the day of Pentecost. They then took the message of the gospel to the World, and followed His example, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

The New Testament reveals to us that worship is actually a Holistic category that describes the believer's entire lifestyle. I like what P. W. Hoon has to say about N.T. worship,
Our traditional understanding of worship as restricted to the cultic gathering of the congregation at a designated time and place for rite and proclamation will no longer do. This is not what the New Testament means by worship.
Lastly, acceptable worship is only made possible by God Himself. Without the gift of Jesus Christ, the Lamb who was slain for us (Rev 5:11-13), we have no access to God the Father. Jesus is the fulfillment of God's ultimate plan of redemption for the world! 

In the days ahead we will be discussing the rest of this book, Chapter by Chapter. But today, I will leave you with David Peterson's Thesis Statement: 
The worship of the living and true God is essentially  an engagement with him on the terms that he proposes and in the way that he alone makes possible.