The Dialogue of Worship: Creating Space for Revelation and Response

    -- by Gary Furr and Milburn Price, Macon: Smyth & Helwys, 1998, 90 pages. 

This book, co-written by a pastor and minister of music, puts forth dialgoue and drama as participatory events which can shed light on what happens when we worship. First, they exegete Isaiah 6 as a dialogue between God’s revelation and our response, divided into four such pairs. Horizontally-directed communication among church members is another key form of “dialogue” (cf. Eph 5:19).

Second, they examine the metaphor of “worship as drama” as put forth by Kierkegaard. A good ”script” for a worship service, whether planned in minute detail or partially extemporized, should provide opportunities for people to hear God’s revelation and to respond, and should appropriately connect the parts of this dialogue. Therefore, the authors state that a major part of this book explores issues related to “script making,” or what happens when the Body comes together for commemoration and celebration.

A community is in dialogue with God throughout a worship service; with this in mind, the authors subdivide some possible elements of the “script” as follows: Hearing the Word of God can come through scripture, song, instrumental music, sermon, silence, symbolic actions, visual images and drama (dance was not specifically mentioned but can be implied). Responding to the Word of God can come through praise, confession of sin, thanksgiving, monetary offering, prayers of petition and intercession, symbolic actions, and making a fresh or deeper commitment of some sort. Note that all of these “Our Response” elements can potentially be done through song (or related to music in some way such as the “offertory hymn” or “communion song”). Considering the “God’s Revelation” elements, note that music can likewise be connected with many of them in certain worship traditions. For example, when a visitor from Australia visited my North American church which leans heavily towards “black gospel” style, she was astonished that some sort of music was going almost non-stop during the whole 2-hour service, including the sermon, Bible reading and benediction.

Besides being in dialogue with God, there is also a “dialogue within the community.” This is related to five core dimensions of ministry within the church body: proclamation (kerygma), teaching (didache), worship and prayer (leitourgia), community (koinonia), and service (diakonia). Chapter 2 explains the ways in which these areas are “enacted” in a worship service, including under-the-surface beliefs being communicated of which we may be unaware but which may be cause for concern. The authors raise a number of issues that worship leaders (including pastors) would do well to consider.

Chapter 3 focuses on ways in which music can contribute dimensions of revelation and response to a worship service, even suggesting specific songs (in various styles) for different areas. Chapter 4 defines four types of existing worship structure and examines various pros and cons of each one. The authors then propose a “dialogic model” which combines the most desirable characteristics of the preceding types. This chapter is short but crucial for worship leaders and pastors to think through.

Chapter 5 describes possibilities of worship in various settings including small groups, retreats, weddings, and funerals, with notes on the value of ritual and personal worship times. “Worship is a conversation that is relevant to and connects with all dimensions of life.”

The authors come from a Baptist background; a strong point of the book is that it deals with primary themes of church life and mentions practices of multiple worship styles, so that worship leaders who “find resonance with the dialogical model advocated in these pages may use their own creativity to design ways to implement it within their own traditions.” If you accept that Isaiah 6 – the basis for the dialogical model – has something to teach us about biblical worship, you will find this book useful whether your background is liturgical, charismatic, independent, mainline, or anything else.

Though dealing with issues of great importance, the book is not difficult to follow. I recommend it to all who are planning and leading public worship services, and to those in training to fill those roles.

    --reviewed by Paul Neeley

Published in Vol.1, No.2 of

Published by
Artists in Christian Testimony