Book: Stones for Bread: A Critique of Contemporary Worship

Daniel A. Frankforter. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001. 195 pp. $19.95.

Daniel Frankforter is a professor of medieval history and an incredibly articulate critic of the prevalent worship practices in today’s church. As much as this new volume troubles me, I must say that it has been extremely valuable to me as a worship planner, leader, and educator.

More than just a title, Stones for Bread is the literary thread that conveys the author’s conviction that most current Christian worship practices suffer because we have hidden the bread (truth and real biblical sustenance) and offered God’s people stones instead (self-awareness and feel-good nothingness). The author is an absolute master of words, but his words are consistently words of liturgical despair.

The first thing that strikes the reader is the author’s discontent with the entire landscape of Christian worship at the dawn of the twenty-first century. If he has a glimmer of hope for a restoration of biblical worship, it is hidden under the shroud of well-crafted negativity. Even his exhortation for hope is dressed in clerical cynicism:

If a congregation’s worship seems listless and meaningless, the solution is not to bring on the clowns and magicians to make the corpse dance. It is not to raise a clamorous storm of intoxicating praise-noise to cover the death rattle. Hope lies in taking the third person of the Trinity seriously (p. 184).

Still, a careful reader can learn much from Stones for Bread. Frankforter includes a barrage of worthy cautions for church leaders. Of particular interest is the author’s concern that church leaders often seem most interested in only one kind of growth (numbers rather than depth of commitment to Christ and the fellowship of the saints). He also has a compelling way of encouraging the church to consider using the gift of silence, resisting the impulse to fill every second of our lives, even our corporate worship lives, with words or music.

Although the subtitle of his book is “A Critique of Contemporary Worship” (and certainly the author can find nothing to praise in the Praise & Worship tradition), a more fitting description would have been “A Critique of Thoughtless Worship.”

For example, the author explains that the term “praise chorus” is a mischaracterization of worship, for worshipers should not be led to believe that all prayer is a perpetual high. There are times when God remains hidden or when the appropriate response to the divine presence is the awe-filled silence of the humbled heart (p. 135).

I also couldn’t agree more with Frankforter’s challenge to pastors and worship leaders to avoid the lure of the worship service spotlight. About worship leadership, he writes:

The role of leaders is not to mediate with God for their people, but to help their people discover how to best offer their own prayers. This being the case, clergy and musicians must take care never to get in the way of the worship they lead by drawing too much attention to themselves. Whenever a congregation focuses on the performance of its leaders, it loses sight of God and regards worship as entertainment (p. 180).

As I read and re-read sections of Stones for Bread, I feel a deep sadness for a church (universal) that too often aims at and hits something far short of the full message of the cross. We have trivialized sin, and in so doing have sanitized and marginalized the significance Christ’s atoning death. We have too often pursued a message of do-it-yourself spirituality and me-first emotionalism. If you are looking for literally dozens of ways to understand and articulate the dangers of this “other” gospel, read this book.

I heartily recommend Stones for Bread to any mature pastor, worship planner, or leader who wants to take inventory of a church’s driving forces in the area of corporate worship. I pray that the author’s Olympic-sized negativity will not be contagious, but rather may act as a spiritual vaccine to fight off the diseases of apathy and unbelief.

Carl Stam (carlstam@aol.com) is the director of the Institute for Christian Worship at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the part-time minister of music at Louisville’s Clifton Baptist Church. Since 1995, he has distributed a weekly e-mail devotional on worship and prayer, Worship Quote of the Week (www.wqotw.org).