Book: A Brief History of Christian Worship

James E White. Nashville: Abingdon, 1993.192 pp., $14.95.

James White, a Methodist scholar teaching liturgy at the University of Notre Dame, is a prolific writer. His Protestant Worship came out in 1989, and Introduction to Christian Worship in 1990. Readers of those two titles will recognize much that's familiar when perusing A Brief History. For example, the paradigm of analyzing Protestant churches in terms of Left-Wing, Central, and Right-Wing is adopted from Protestant Worship. Similarly, the outline of each chapter, including daily public prayer and Christian time, is patterned after the chapters in Introduction.

All of which is not to say-that A Brief History is merely rehash. The material has been organized anew, and the approach is now largely chronological, from New Testament worship to "Worship in Churches of the Future." For each era White divides the chapter into: The World of ... ; Becoming Christian; Living and Dying Christian (which includes Daily Public Prayer, Eucharist, Christian Time, and Pastoral Rites); and Living Together in Christian Community (which includes Leadership, Preaching, Music, arid Architecture).

Whites treatment of each topic is clear and fair. Unlike some historians of worship, he does not measure the worth of a liturgical tradition by its closeness or distance from "high liturgy." Rather, he treasures the richness and diversity of Christian worship, and presents various traditions with integrity and care. American worship traditions are covered as well asEuropean. Eastern Orthodox churches are touched on lightly but the rest of world Christianity is not included.

The brevity of any Brief Histoiy will always be both virtue and vice. White's work is a marvelous summary of a very long and complex story and a careful reading will supply any student with a coherent overview. At the same time, every subject and paragraph begs for greater detail and elaboration. The "For Further Reading" at the end of each chapter provides such detail.

How good is the book? Good enough that I am going to assign it to my students next time I teach my course on Christian Worship.

Harry Boonstra ( is former theological editor of RW and emeritus theological librarian of Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan.


Reformed Worship 34 © December 1994, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.