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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Theology in Worship: Defining Worship

There are many great definitions of worship out there. Likewise, there are many bad ones. Worship is something difficult to fully define or completely grasp. Yet it is central to not only our Christian character, but also our humanity. Knowing that I've set before myself a difficult task, here is what I have currently developed:

When developing a biblical theology of worship, some important questions must be considered. First and foremost, one must ask the question what is worship? In simple terms, worship is ascribing to God His worth. N.T. Wright says it this way: “…the word ‘worship’ means, literally, ‘worth-ship’: to accord worth, true value, to something, to recognize and respect it for the true worth it has.”[1] Worship is rooted in God’s glory and praise.

It is reasonable then to raise the question why do we worship? This answer must be understood in light of the previous query. As God’s true worth is made known, the rightful response is worship. Again, N.T. Wright asserts: “Put it this way: if your idea of God, if your idea of the salvation offered in Christ, is vague or remote, your idea of worship will be fuzzy and ill-formed. The closer you get to the truth, the clearer becomes the beauty, and the more you will find worship welling up within you.”[2] Similarly, David Peterson writes: “The worship of God’s people in the Bible is distinctive in that it is regularly presented as the worship offered by those who have been redeemed. Acceptable worship does not start with human intuition or inventiveness, but with the action of God.”[3] Peterson makes an essential observation that worship begins with Divine initiation. Otherwise stated, one knows God’s true worth because of God’s own self-revelation as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Worship results because God has shown His worth.

Therefore, if God has revealed His glory, then it is appropriate to ask how does one respond in worship? Robert Webber argues that worship remembers God through historical recitation and dramatic reenactment.[4] Likewise, worship anticipates God’s desired future through holy living.[5] Thus, worship reenacts, recites, and lives out the glory of God. In the Old Testament, worship was understood through covenant. Historically in the church, worship has been understood through the practice of Word and Table.

(To be continued next week in Theology in Worship: Worship and the Table. Further posts to follow - Worship and Covenant; Worship and the Word.)

[1] N.T. Wright, For All God’s Worth: True Worship and the Calling of the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997), 6.

[2] Ibid, 10.

[3] David Peterson, Engaging With God: A Biblical Theology of Worship (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 26.

[4] Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative (Grand Rapids, IL: Baker Books, 2008), 48.

[5] Ibid, 66.


  1. Hey Jonathan! First of all, where do you find the time to write these blogs?! Don't you have school work to do as well?? For crying out loud, you're making the rest of us look bad!!! ...j/k

    But seriously, you bring up some good points here. And you raise a good question: what is worship? As soon as you find out, let me know! If we were to consider Webber's definition of worship along with Wright's interpretation, perhaps worship could be defined as an obedient response to God's preemptive inestimable act of grace. I do think worship goes deeper than a mere acknowledgment of God's worth. Certainly God's worth factors in, but is worship a response to His worth or to His act of choosing me, in my unworthiness, to be His?

    I've also wondered if there is a difference between worshiping God and honoring God. Can God be honored by those who are not in right-standing with God? Apparently so, as we see in Philippians 2:9-11, when "at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." God is glorified here. And there is certainly a response. But what type of response? Willful obedience, or forced obeisance?

    ...has given me much to ponder. Thanks for the post! Take care, brother!

  2. Scott,

    Thanks for your thoughts, these too leave much to ponder!

    And to be completely honest, not all these posts come from anything original. This specific post was adapted from my first two pages for Andy's paper last semester! As will many of the follow-up posts to it!

    Hope you're doing well! Look forward to talking more online.