Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 04/27/2010 by Mark Tubbs.
Recommended. Should be read before, or at least alongside, any modern handbook on Christian worship.
Completing this book is a double triumph for this reviewer: not only have I actually finished a Peter Leithart book and am personally satisfied with my grasp of its material, but I have discovered in From Silence to Song: the Davidic Liturgical Revolution a book on worship that explores its topic in redemptive-historical terms. C.S. Lewis might have said that this book avoids the chronological snobbery of many modern handbooks on worship. It should be read alongside any and all modern books on worship, in my humble opinion.
The evangelical "worship revolution" of the 1980s and 1990s saw much use of the Old Testament tabernacle in both worship songs and books about worship. But even at that time there was something missing. While these songs and authors were somewhat successful in getting at the possibilities of how tabernacle worship might inform New Covenant worship, they seemed to fall short of addressing the theological foundations of why the tabernacle not just could, but should inform Christian worship.
Without coming across as legalistic or overly enamored with Hebrew worship forms, Leithart sets forth a brief but weighty apologetic for the necessity of a deep Christian understanding of the Mosaic and Davidic tabernacles – emphasis on the latter. The tabernacle is not only terribly prominent in the Old Testament, but "foreshadowed the joyful heavenly assembly to which we ascend to worship, which is in turn is a foretaste of the assembly at the end of all things." In other words, the tabernacle figures heavily into the New Testament's theology of worship, even though we no longer worship in tabernacles or temples. We are tabernacles and temples.
The first chapter, which begins with an evocative narration of the ark procession of 2 Samuel 6 and 1 Chronicles 15, is provocatively titled "The Problem with Davidic Worship." If you are like me, your immediate question might be, "There’s a problem with Davidic Worship?" The problem is multi-faceted, as Leithart implies in this chapter. To begin with, Yahweh's institution of the Mosaic tabernacle included very little music, occurring at the start and end of the day, and only in conjunction with a certain type of burnt offering. Davidic worship can also pose a problem for those who hold to the regulative principle, but relegate their understanding to the New Testament, becoming effectively Marcionite. Most significantly, Davidic worship is a "problem" because we so easily ignore its ramifications for understanding redemptive history. We conveniently dismiss the Davidic worship innovations because the time and culture of ancient Israel are so far removed from the advanced, sophisticated 21st century. We do this at our peril: "the enthronement of Yahweh in Jerusalem was an event of 'global, even cosmic significance'", says Leithart, quoting scholar Tamara Eskenazi.
Leithart has a definite gift at re-presenting the texts in such a way that they become fresh and striking. Exegetically, typologically, and linguistically, we discover just how innovative David’s addition of music was. We grasp how carefully the writer(s) of 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles composed their works to emphasize the continuity of the ark's transport from the Pentateuch to the later two books. We are used to David as warrior king and psalmist, and are re-introduced to him as liturgist and prophet. We celebrate the grace of God as He deigns to include non-Israelite, adopted Levites into tabernacle worship. We make the connections between the Levitical sharat (service) of carrying the ark and tabernacle accoutrements and the New Covenant service of ascribing sung and spoken praise to the Lord.
Chapter 5, an analysis of "The Booth of David" in the historical books and in Amos 9, is by far the most scholastically demanding of the whole book. The average reader need not heavily invest in this chapter, but the first and final paragraphs should not be overlooked.
In his final chapter, Leithart friskily puts some topspin on the regulative principle, agreeing wholeheartedly that we ought to worship as Scripture prescribes, at the same time arguing that Scripture prescribes a vision for worship that overawes Evangelicalism's current worship modus operandi.
Elsewhere Leithart has been praised for writing scholarly books for the layperson. From Silence to Song is exactly that: an accessible but sometimes mind-bending exegetical exploration of the text. I am a case in point: I cannot yet speak to Leithart's use of Hebrew, for I haven't taken a single Hebrew course in seminary yet, but I still benefitted from his obviously painstaking linguistic work.
Unlike every other book on worship I've read thus far, and I've read a few, From Silence to Song presents a study of biblical worship viewed from the meta-perspective of the redemptive-historical viewpoint. Rather than the "timeless texts" or the "life lessons" approaches of so many books, Leithart's approach actually advances the conversation about what biblical worship ought to look like in the Christian Church.
Editor's note: for a limited time, CBD is offering this book for a mere $5.49.