Book: In and for the World: Bringing the Contemporary into Christian Worship
Paul B. Brown. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992.176 pp., $12.00.
Confusion is a tendency of the contemporary church. Frequently we forget that as Christians we are to be in the world as representatives of Jesus Christ and not of it. Yet the common trend is for the church to become increasingly more secularized. Paul Brown, professor of liturgy and preaching at Memphis Theological Seminary, invites us to discover and return to our proper role. Therefore, this book is constructed upon the dual propositions that the church is called to live in the world, and that the language we employ in worship really matters.
If the church is meant to be the expression and reminder of Jesus Christ, then we cannot isolate ourselves from reality. Liturgically this requires us to be aware of the need and crises of our culture. Worship is not to become a safe haven in which to hide from daily pressures. Rather, it is the locus of life where God intersects and addresses our tragedies and triumphs. This public rather than private arena confronts us to name specifically in worship the events that occupy center stage in our culture.
That is to say, our liturgies will include references to AIDs, earthquakes and other natural disasters, muggings and robberies down the street, the consumptive habits of greed of the suburbs, and so on.
Logically this flows into the author's second premise: language matters. Our speech is more than a random collection of isolated letters. Words communicate power and inspire images and action. Liturgical language needs to be specific, for general terminology tends to protect and insulate us from life. Additionally it is crucial for our speech to reflect the contemporary idiom of our context without bowing to its authority. Which is to say, the church must always remain counter-cultural.
In the remainder of the book, Brown summons us to become more sensitive to gender, race, disability age, nationality and cultural inclusiveness. The final chapter includes a sampling of two-thirds world liturgical sources.
This well-written and highly readable work would find a welcome place among pastors, church musicians, and worship committees. It would also be appropriate for use as a seminary text in a worship course. One of its major strengths is the fifteen-page annotated section on worship resources that reflect the themes of this book.
However, I was disappointed that the author defines the contemporary context of the church in such narrow parameters. While he does justice to all the "politically correct" agendas of inclusiveness, he also betrays an exclusiveness in his overly simplistic and hasty rejection of praise and worship music, which he twice refers to as "Jesus jingles." Also supris-ingly, this book nowhere mentions or critiques the seeker service approach of reaching the contemporary culture.
A similar elitist tendency is evident in the rejection of single-author translations of Scripture. While not named, supposedly this would include The Good News Bible and Eugene Peterson's Vie Message, both of which were written to address the specific concerns that are at the heart of this book.
That aside, this is a stimulating and provocative book that deserves wide readership, reflection, and use.