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Book Review: “Christ-Centered Worship”

July 13, 2016

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Christ-Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape Our Practice
Bryan Chapell
Baker, 2009; 320 pages




This book has had a profound impact on how I plan corporate worship. Its premise is simple: use the narrative of the gospel as a model for liturgy.

In the first half of the book, Chapell skillfully lays out a valuable historical perspective for his premise. He traces the liturgies of the major Christian traditions — Rome, Luther, Calvin, Westminster, and Renewal — and shows how their structure shares a common purpose: to present the gospel narrative (I speak here of structural intent, as Chapell does; this is not an affirmation of all these traditions as equally Scriptural). He leads the reader through broad categories of Adoration, Confession, Assurance of Grace, and Response. Following this historical overview, Chapell spends several chapters discussing the why of the gospel-shaped liturgy. This is the book’s strongest section— 60 or so pages to which I find myself returning often.

The second half of the book is a collection of recommended resources for different aspects of the liturgy. There were some helpful ideas here, but I found the scope so broad as to be unuseful. Indeed, it’s precisely this aspiration to broad usefulness that is this book’s one weakness. Chapell misses (or intentionally avoids?) a valuable opportunity to draw in a discussion of the Regulative Principle, which is a mainstay of the Presbyterian tradition. This omission is probably a casualty of the book’s attempt to cover too many theological models, from Presbyterian to Baptist to Emergent (!), while keeping to a marketable length.

Despite its minor overreach, Chapell’s book is immensely valuable. It’s one of the three books on corporate worship that have been most formative in my thinking, and I highly recommend it.

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