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Book Review: “Engaging with God”

July 24, 2016

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Engaging with God: a Biblical Theology of Worship
David Peterson
IVP Academic, 2002; 317 pages



There has been a flood of books on worship within the last decade, but Engaging with God is the volume these books most often reference, and with good reason: Peterson’s work cuts through the man-made ambiguity of modern-day “worship wars” with a biblical clarity that is unadorned and refreshing. It’s the closest thing to a “worship philosophy reference manual” sitting on my bookshelf.

At the outset of his book, Peterson sets forth his guiding thesis: “[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.” The remainder of the book is largely a systematic unfolding of this definition through a careful consideration of the biblical data. Peterson moves chronologically through the Scriptures, examining the nature of worship in each dispensation from Genesis to Revelation.

Peterson offers little practical application, which will be a challenge to the casual reader who merely wants tips and quick solutions to practical issues. This is not an easy read, and not written in a particularly winsome style. But the wide-ranging influence of Peterson’s book underscores its value: in corporate worship, as in all of life, theology matters. I’ve observed the shaping influence of sound biblical exegesis in worship philosophy, as several of our church band members recently read through this book together over the period of several months. It was fascinating to watch our thinking shift in several areas relating to worship, simply by reading explanations of Scripture passages without much commentary. After all, balanced and wise application comes not just from understanding what Scripture says, but what it repeatedly emphasizes.

When Peterson does offer his opinions, the results are mixed. For example, his careful exegesis gives way at one point to a seemingly arbitrary redefinition of New Testament prophecy. And some of his suggestions for corporate application seem detached from cultural context. But overall, Peterson has given the church a deep and profoundly helpful overview of worship that will endure for many years to come.

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