Review: Worshipping with Calvin, New from Evangelical Press.

In 2009 David Van Biema wrote an article for Time Magazine which included The New Calvinism as one of the “10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now”. In it, Van Biema, writes, “If you want to follow the development of conservative Christianity, track its musical hits”. If he only knew the power that statement would contain in a new age of Christian music. On the one hand we have the Christian Rap scene which includes fan favorites like Andy Mineo and Lecrae, and on the other hand we have music which elevates the experience more than the Christ we worship.

In Worshipping with Calvin, Terry Johnson lays out for the reader a historical view of the ministry and worship of Reformed Protestantism. In seeking to provide a good amount of contextual material, Johnson shows us some of the ideas which sparked the reformation. It is in these early chapters that the views of the Lord’s Supper come into play. Johnson compares the view of “the big three” denominations on the issue. He discusses the eucharist among the Romanists and the view Luther took on the subject.

He not only includes names like Bucer and Beza but we find Calvin commenting on the issue as well. Even where these men differ among themselves they are heartily agreed to the view that the Eucharist is, “a most unbearable blasphemy”. He makes good use of Calvin when he quotes from the Institutes. “The Lord has given us a Table at which to feast, not an altar upon to offer a victim; he has not consecrated priests to offer sacrifice, but ministers to distribute the sacred banquet.” Johnson follows up the quote with a synthesis of his own words. “The eucharist is a meal not a mass, a supper not a sacrifice, administered by a pastor, not a priest, on a table not an altar, and served to those who are seated (for a meal) not kneeling (in adoration). It is a gift received from God not a work offered to God”.

It is clearly set out from the beginning book that Reformed Protestantism has taken a stark stance over against the Roman Church. I’m all for these chapters and I heartily agree with the differences between the two views. Where Johnson lost me was when he related the story of modern worship services. While I don’t think Johnson goes this far, it seems as if he is saying that those who worship God with guitars and fancy lights are not really experiencing Christ but are really experiencing a sensory overload which can, at times, produce a sense of euphoria. While he doesn’t explicitly say that modern worship is sinful he does have to ask the question, “What are we missing?”

Johnson moves on from the contrasting of worship styles to a simple overview of how the Solas of the reformation impacted the worship found among Protestant Churches. He notes that the Continental Reformed Churches and the Protestant churches were in general agreement as to the type of worship which was to happen in their churches. They settled on what is called the regulative principle. The basic overview of the regulative principle is that we only worship according to what the Bible has prescribed to the church as a regular form or worship.

We move on from there into a section which shows us how Reformed Protestantism has distanced itself from the rest of the worshipping world. He shows the reader that a Protestant worship includes the singing of the Word, the preaching of the Word and a reading of the Word. He also notes those books on the back of the pews which are mostly for collecting dust over the week, a hymnal. While I see the importance in using the hymnal and singing the Psalms, I notice that, in an attempt not to sound heretical, culture no longer is moved towards Christ by the archaic language often found in the pages of those books. I personally love the beauty of the hymns and can see the benefit of them, but we no longer live in an age where a bare-walled church with a massive pipe organ and a robed choir does anything in the heart of the congregation.  Dare I say, Johnson makes the case for historical Protestantism in the same way John MacArthur has made the same case against anyone who thinks the Spirit still pours out gifts upon the people of God to this day.

This book is well written and contains a ton of historical latin references which are easily figured out from the context they are placed in. I appreciate the mention of the Common Book of Prayer and the lectio continua, but the new generations of Christians aren’t captivated in the same ways the old church was.  That’s not to say that the same God who worked back then is not the same God working today, I’m simply saying we must find new tactics to reach a new world of believers and non-believers alike. This book is an extremely helpful tool in understanding the various factors which the giants in the early church operated as far as worship and ministry are concerned. With that said, I also find in this book a cause for division among the Pentecostal tradition and the Reformed. Do we really need another issue to come and divide us when we are already so far apart?

Worshipping with Calvin: Recover the Historic Ministry and Worship of Reformed Protestantism
Terry Johnson/Evangelical Press, 2014
Review Copy Courtesy of Cross Focused Reviews
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