Thursday, June 29, 2006

Vaughan Roberts 'True Worship' (Authentic Lifestyle)

Having been asked a few weekends ago (on a church weekend away at which I was one of the musicians) what I thought of this book, I was ashamed not to be massively clear - having read it during the Summer of 2002 and forgotten much since then. So I read it again yesterday, and here's some of what I think...

This book contains much that is good, and serves as a great introduction to modern Evangelical (by which I probably mean Conservative Evangelical, which is what Evangelical should mean) thought in the areas of worship and the gathering. In this sense it is paradigmatic of much theology and practice one may observe around Britain and probably further abroad too: Evangelical. Not Liberal, not Charismatic, not Catholic... but then not Reformed either - just Evangelical.

The strengths of VR's book really are multitudinous: clarity, sensitivity, biblical focus, a teaching both of positives and negatives (things he agrees with and commends as well as those he disagrees with and warns against). All this is great. And VR makes many many vital points, so that this is almost certainly my first book to give to anyone who wants to think about worship.

Highlights include:
  • p. 124 (which bears marked resemblance to my post on the Lord's Supper here!)
  • The challenge to come as servant rather than consumer is well put & one I certainly need to keep being reminded of...
  • I love the Bassoon illustration (pp. 75-6). Having an older sister who used to learn the bassoon helps me visualise it: the piece she tried to play was called the Can-Can, and I swiftly nicknamed her rendition the Can't-Can't!
  • The distinction between covenant member and Christian (p. 11).
And there are loads of other great things...

But (and I feel a degree of humility in saying this) he just doesn't go far enough. He makes exactly the same mistake as David Peterson (and I'm feeling humble here too) in Engaging with God (review forthcoming) in negating the gathering as a meeting to worship. Does VR really think
(p. 34) that we only gather to worship in the same sense that we go to bed to breathe? Surely not! This is 'slightly feeble Evangelicalism' as opposed to 'full-blooded Reformed Theology' - and hence my disappointment with the book. Specifically:
  • VR is weak on the importance of the gathering, when we do really gather to worship - as the Lord's people (on the Lord's day) to embody the Lord's new creation, as Raised people (on Resurrection day) to embody Risen-ness. (Sabbatarianism is not vital to the argument here, though it does strengthen it; I'm not yet decided, but am increasingly sympathetic to it.) Given that we are to draw near, that we have come to the heavenly Jerusalem, and so on, clearly our corporate worship matters precisely because it is just that: corporate worship - with eachother, with angels and archangels, with the saints who have died in Christ...
  • VR is also weak on John 4:23-4 (chapter 1). He makes some good & valid points, but I'm not sure they come from Jn 4! Further, I am sure that there's loads more in this concept than he shows us.
  • It appears, in common with much Evangelicalism, to be so scared of Catholicism and Charismaticism that it runs a mile from anything sacramental or emotional - which is a massive loss.
  • Following that, p. 62 suggests that it is possible to have a church without the sacraments. This is madness! Obviously, any church that exists for too long without baptisms is clearly going to be asking itself some questions - so why would you want to plan one, or set one up! But leaving that aside: the Lord's Supper is commanded by Jesus for his people, and church discipline is exercised at that meal. So the church without the sacraments is either going to be involved in saving the lost & have to develop a baptism rite, or is going to submit to Jesus' command and take the Lord's supper, or is going to realise it may have to "expel the immoral brother" and so develop discipline, necessitating the Supper... Of course (this is very important) there can be regular gatherings of Christians without the sacraments, and my prayer triplet is one of them... But that's not church. Calvin defines church as a body in which the Word is rightly taught and the Sacraments rightly administered - and he came very close to adding church discipline rightly administered to that list (and it is opaque to me why he didn't - I don't understand his logic at that point). We must distinguish between church and a gathering of Christians.
In short, despite many strengths, this book embodies gentle (and eventually weak) Evangelicalism as opposed to firm (and thus strong) Reformed Theology. So I both love much of it, and at the same time regret its major weaknesses. The sooner all Evangelicals become Reformed the better (of course I know that many Evangelicals subscribe to many Reformed doctrines, but, as this book proves, there is still some way to go!). Reformed is the only logical place to be if you believe in the authority of God's Word!


Blogger Daniel Newman said...


"Amen, brother" to your point about actually gathering to worship on the Lord's Day gatherings! (I'm a closet worshipper at St. Ebbe's on a Sunday morning - I suspect there are many more!)

"Preach it, brother!" to your comment that "The sooner all Evangelicals become Reformed the better."

Regarding your point about churches without sacraments. I think I'm with you, but it might be argued (as I think someone has on our brother Liam's 'blog in a post on this book) that a church without sacraments, though disobedient, is still a church.

I'm not saying this myself, but some people might say that what happens in your prayer triplet is church - you have after all said how Calvin defines church not how the Bible defines church (i.e. what church actually is) although I freely admit that most of the time these do overlap.

I haven't thought too much about these things myself - perhaps as a learned Oak Hiller, you could comment further.

Yours in the Lord Jesus,


8:55 pm, July 04, 2006  

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