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Worship Seeking Understanding

Windows into Christian Practice

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"One can only be in awe of the vast range of conversation partners that Witvliet has engaged as he has developed these essays. He has chosen many of today's outstanding worship historians, theologians, and leaders with whom to discuss his ideas. . . . Scholars, pastors, students, and laypeople will all benefit from this excellent collection of essays."--Mark A. Torgerson, Calvin Theological Journal

Worship Seeking Understanding mines the riches of biblical studies, theology, history, music, and pastoral research to provide windows into Christian worship practices. Motivated by Anselm, John Witvliet's "goal is not to explain away the experience of worship or kill and dissect it by esoteric scholarly analysis, but rather to honor and cherish it by asking the questions worship itself prompts."

With this volume, Witvliet attempts to build bridges in three directions at the same time: between theory and practice, among various worship-related disciplines, and across denominational lines. Its broad scope and insightful advice will be welcomed by seminary students, pastors, and church leaders.


"When it comes to music in worship, it is rare to find a person who can cross the really tough boundaries--between theory and practice and between different worship-related disciplines and entrenched church traditions. John Witvliet is such a person. These essays, drawing on many years of experience, will do much to expand our vision, not only of worship but also of the God who inspires it."-Jeremy Begbie, University of St. Andrews

"Written with pastoral sensitivity and scholarly precision, this book is a most insightful description of the current situation in worship and church music. It is a generous down payment on the future work of a new generation of scholars concerned about contemporary Christian worship."-James F. White, visiting professor of liturgical studies, Yale University

"If you are looking for a book that spans the academic horizon of worship, look no more. John Witvliet explores the relationship between the theoretical and practical in the biblical, historical, theological, musical, and cultural disciplines. Worship Seeking Understanding leads us into a worship that is grounded in the great tradition yet accessible to the person in the pew."-Robert Webber, Myers Professor of Ministry, Northern Baptist Seminary

"This is a book written by a worship enthusiast! It is permeated by a commitment to authentic, honest, and worthy Christian worship. Witvliet ranges widely over issues of sacraments, lament, liturgy, pastoral ministry, biblical foundations, and contemporary worship concerns. He does so with a breadth of knowledge, a vision for authentic worship, and a love for the church, making this book a necessity for all seminary students and pastors."-Leanne Van Dyk, associate professor of Reformed theology, Western Seminary

"Worship as a serious theological and pastoral discipline is broad in its historical and denominational contexts, and its contemporary issues and dimensions are myriad. Among the younger generation of scholars in this field, John Witvliet has one of the sharpest minds and the proven ability to tackle worship studies in all these areas. The essays in this collection bring together a serious historical interest, a perceptive theological critique, and the skill of a practitioner writing for other practitioners. Scholars, pastors, and students will be stimulated by this excellent book."-Bryan D. Spinks, professor of liturgical studies, Yale University Divinity School and Institute of Sacred Music

"John Witvliet is a theological engineer. In this important work, he is building bridges: between liturgical theology and the practice of Christian worship; between theological disciplines; and between Christian traditions. As today's church seeks to understand the confounding issue of corporate worship, we would do well to consider Witvliet's wise counsel as a theologian, musician, and practitioner. Witvliet knows the range of liturgical, ecumenical, and practical territory that needs linkage. He invites the reader to cross the divides and to discover that worship renewal can result when the conversation is lively and widely informed."-Clayton J. Schmit, academic program director, Brehm Center for Worship, Theology, and the Arts, Fuller Theological Seminary

"Here are fifteen insightful essays on Christian worship that build strong bridges between theory and practice. Writing from a distinctive Reformed standpoint, John Witvliet provides fresh and challenging ways to rethink biblical, historical, musical, and pastoral dimensions of worship that are both theologically informed and relevant to contemporary church practice. All who are concerned to renew and deepen public worship and the faith life of congregations should read these pages."-Don E. Saliers, Wm. R. Cannon Distinguished Professor of Theology and Worship, Candler School of Theology, Emory University

The Author

  1. John D. Witvliet

    John D. Witvliet

    John D. Witvliet (PhD, University of Notre Dame) is director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and professor of congregational studies, music, and worship at Calvin University and Calvin Theological Seminary.

    Continue reading about John D. Witvliet


"The breadth of disciplines covered is a testimony to Witvliet's own interdisciplinary scholarship and commitment to worship discussions that bring the historian, theologian, and practitioner to the same table. As a result, these essays are grounded in careful scholarship. They are insightful, pastoral, and accessible to a wide audience."--Joyce Borger, Reformed Worship

"One can only be in awe of the vast range of conversation partners that Witvliet has engaged as he has developed these essays. He has chosen many of today's outstanding worship historians, theologians, and leaders with whom to discuss his ideas. . . . Witvliet is able to synthesize vast amounts of information and discern relevant insights in his writings for those serving in ministry. . . . Witvliet's approach is balanced, recognizing the complexity involved in historical and theological discussions of worship. . . . Significant footnotes, a useful index, and a bibliography of additional writings of Witvliet, both scholarly and pastoral, are welcome additions to this book. . . . Scholars, pastors, students, and laypeople will all benefit from this excellent collection of essays."--Mark A. Torgerson, Calvin Theological Journal

"Here is a volume that begins to address seriously the pastoral questions that so often accompany the practice of worship. . . . Witvliet addresses all of these questions in a clear and uncluttered manner. . . . His approach is firmly ecumenical and inclusive. . . . Witvliet's writing is readily accessible to readers with a variety of levels of purpose. The interested student will find something of meaning just as easily as the serious scholar will find themselves inspired and challenged by Witvliet's thoughts. It is a book which should be studied by men and women who lead worship and by those who participate in it. It would serve well as the basis of study for a group considering the liturgical nature of the church both at the local and wider levels."--Rev. Dr. Adrian Burdon, Reviews in Religion and Theology

"Well organized, informative, with numerous pastoral-theological insights. . . . Reformed/Presbyterian and other Protestant pastoral ministers, seminary students, and liturgically active members should find their knowledge of the theological scope of Christian liturgy and their appreciation of the pastoral richness in the details of its ritual practices greatly expanded. . . . By bringing together such a wide range of topical essays, more than half of which first appeared in Reformed or Calvin studies publications, the book should prove a good resource for descriptions and analyses of the history, theology, and current practice of worship in that branch of Christianity to liturgical theologians in other ecclesial communions. A thorough index of names and topics further enhances that possibility."--Bruce T. Morrill S.J., Worship

"Witvliet is well abreast of ecumenical thinking on the subject of worship, and he has such a refreshing concern to address big theological issues (sadly not always obvious in liturgical discussion today) that people of any mainline tradition would derive profit from what he has to say. . . . This book is interesting and stimulating and will prove valuable for all who teach about worship and arrange services."--John Cockerton, Anvil

"Topics range from the Psalter to Geneva during the time of Calvin to culture and liturgy to the sacraments to the North American evangelical megachurch, all capably handled by this emerging Reformed scholar. . . . A careful reading of [this book] would be helpful for all who practice the liturgy on Sunday mornings and seek to live it out in their lives, as well as for pastors and academics seeking to provide leadership to the church."--Laurence C. Sibley, Jr., Westminster Theological Journal