A Primer on Worship and Reformation

Book Details

Discerning Reader Editorial Review

Reviewed 12/16/2008 by Mark Tubbs.

Recommended. A brief monograph on scriptural worship that belies its size and lives up to its title.

Never have I spent so much time reading and re-reading such a short book. If that sounds suspiciously Churchillian, it’s because I always approach Douglas Wilson with excitement and trepidation – even facing only 68 pages from him, the length of A Primer on Worship and Reformation. The man is far smarter than I am. As for me, I merely appreciate his intelligence, but some have crossed the line from intimidation into covetousness. This quality has probably given rise to much of the controversy surrounding him. 

As much as it may pain Wilson’s detractors, there exists a much bigger controversy than Wilson’s Federal Vision theology, and it exists in the arena of modern worship. The dearth of scriptural worship in the North American evangelical church is the target at which Wilson aims the withering fire of wit and wisdom in this little monograph. This book is indeed a primer, in both name and function. As such, it does not seek to elaborate greatly on terms such as “High Church Puritan” and “Covenant Renewal Worship,” but both these terms require definition for a readership that may or may not be familiar with Wilson himself, let alone his particular brand of theology.

“High Church Puritan thinking,” Wilson says, “begins with the authority of the Word of God… he does not behave like a schismatic, separatist, independent, or individualist. He has a high view of the covenant, and of our corporate identity with one another. Because he is a Puritan, he intends to be a theological cavalier, and he fights for the integrity of obedience. He does not do this as some gloomy caricature, sitting in the back pews, lamenting the regrettable apostasies up front.” In other words, this creature has a high regard for the glory of God, the honor of God’s Name in the gathered assembly, and pursues all these ends with a festive demeanor. Long live the High Church Puritan, say I.

The concept of “Covenant Renewal Worship,” which is more fully worked out in Wilson’s book Reformed is Not Enough, denotes a rejection of individualism and preference in worship, returning instead to an approach to worship that understands personal faithfulness in light of corporate faithfulness. Because we are one in Christ, we gather together to receive the spiritual riches of worshiping together. Call it mystical if you must, but the idea of entering heaven in our worship is hardly unique to Wilson. This is the primary theological underpinning of the very worship reformation that took place in the church Wilson pastors in Moscow, Idaho. Again, because this book is a primer, and this review should reflect the book, these concepts cannot be teased out ad infinitum in this small space, so you are encouraged to read Wilson’s other work to gain a fuller picture. Besides Reformed is Not Enough, Jeffery Meyers’ The Lord’s Service: The Grace of Covenant Renewal Worship and Peter Leithart’s From Silence to Song: the Davidic Liturgical Revolution are other worthy contributions along the same lines.

Once these foundational terms are understood, Wilson’s take on everything from sub-Christian merchandise and media (appearing under the umbrella of ‘schlock’) to the use of the sacraments, the psalms, and the Sabbath fall neatly into place. That’s not to say I’m personally on the same page theologically or methodologically with everything Wilson lays out in this book, but I’m doubtlessly far closer to him than I am to the great majority of mega-churches and mega-churchers who imagine that the pop concert married with the motivational seminar is the pinnacle of corporate worship. Douglas Wilson and I beg to differ.