Michael Horton. A Better Way: Rediscovering the Drama of God-Centered Worship. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002. 256 pp. Paper. ISBN: 0-8010-1234-1. $19.99.
Michael Horton, associate professor at Westminster West and editor of Modern Reformation, has composed this BT driven work on worship. It is about 30% longer than the former book consisting of twelve chapters with endnotes.
For the BT pastor, Horton's work is an excellent follow-up to Hart and Muether, filling in much of what is missing in their efforts. But this is what makes them so wonderfully complementary. The first persuades of "Reformed" worship in the plainest of terms. The second reinforces it but with a refreshing BT advancement. Now, to consider Horton's contribution.
First of all, I found the title to be mainly window dressing to provoke interest in the contents. The clumsy "third way" avenue detracts from the real contribution of the book as stated in the subtitle. Horton wants to lead us to "The Better Way" out of the traditional vs. contemporary impasse. At the end of the day he really doesn't succeed in getting beyond an old school paradigm. I am grateful.
Unlike the former's analytic approach, Horton gives a context, shape and fullness to worship by construing it as a major component in the larger drama of redemptive history. This means that preaching and worship are not mere doctrinal topics but components of a larger drama orchestrated by God. We find our significance in life as characters in the narrative of God's redemptive drama. Hart said, "the best worship is that which conforms to the Bible." If Vos is right that "the Bible is not a dogmatic handbook but a historical book full of dramatic interest" then Horton's project is indeed heading in the direction of "the best." As he says, "I have gone with the model of drama . . . because this appears to be one of the richest ways of reading the Bible" (p. 13). Chapter one "Setting the Stage" sees worship as covenant renewal between God and his people. The interplay between the covenant of works (Adam) and the covenant of grace (Adam saved and Abraham) structures the redemptive drama as it moves toward the eternal Sabbath and the New Covenant in Jesus Christ. The church as wilderness community is sustained on the means of grace as the covenant is renewed each Sunday.
Chapters 2-5 are all about preaching. There is much to be commended here. The preached Word "re-scripts our lives" by incorporating them into the new narrative in Christ. "This narrative is not there to give us some additional help in constructing our own life movie but to judge it and us with it, so we can finally give up on it and become a character in the drama of redemption . . . Jesus Christ and the drama of redemption that begins, climaxes, and is consummated in him is the real world, the real setting of our life's play . . . we are transformed through perpetual immersion in Scripture as the story of our life . . . Doctrine and practical instruction will be driven home in our hearts as they are embedded in the dramatic telling and retelling of every biblical story in the light of its overarching story centering in Jesus Christ" (pp. 57, 59). Space prohibits further elaboration. But this is good stuff. In chapter 5, Horton begins with: "This chapter attempts to provide a biblical case for reading Scripture in terms of God's unfolding mystery of redemption, not as a collection of superior moral insights, empowering thoughts for each day, and end-times handbook, or a blueprint for a new social orderindeed, not even chiefly as a repository of doctrine . . . I want to take a look at . . . the redemptive historical model" (p. 81). This is in opposition to liberals and conservatives alike who prefer "moralistic preaching" (p. 87). The chapter ends with "Suggestions for Christ-Centered Reading & Preaching" (pp. 89-90). His suggestions are fine, in and of themselves. But there is no vertical vector of present eschatological union with Christ as part of this summation. The overlap of the ages through the cross and resurrection wherein we enjoy union with Christ, wherein we worship, wherein we "find our new identity," wherein we fit into the new narrative is absent. I think this is an oversight. However this was the place in the book to drive it home. Unfortunately his moment for dramatic flair fell flat. Thankfully, later on, there is some recovery in Chapter 8, "Tasting the Powers of the Age to Come."
Beginning with a brief exposé on the overlap of the two ages creating the "already-not yet" dynamic, he moves into the implications for the Christian life and worship. "With its already-not yet eschatology, Scripture points us to God with us, descending to us and seating us with Christ in heavenly places. It directs us to the in breaking of the age to come through the preaching that makes a new creation, just as that Word gave birth to the first creation . . . he is present because of his promise, not because of the skill of ministers or musicians" (p. 135); "wherever the gospel is faithfully preached . . . we taste of the powers of the age to come . . . through these divinely appointed means, the Spirit breaks into our drab, one-dimensional, fearful, plotless world and sweeps us into his kingdom that is even now coming down out of heaven . . . Heaven will be the real thing that our worship servicesat their bestcan only help us receive as a foretaste" (p. 139).
There is much more here to stimulate and inform the mind of the BT pastor and parishioner. Horton has picked up the redemptive historical ball and seeks to show how the game is played on the field of worship. This is an encouraging work.
In passing, I was disappointed that there was no index to the book. But the endnotes do point us to Vos, Kline, Gaffin, Ridderbos and Clowney. This serves to demonstrate that Horton's offering is made as he stands on the shoulders of his Reformed BT fathers. This is an excellent contribution from a man who has reflected on the formative role BT should have on our worship. Combined with the former volume the two complement each other nicely as they repair and repave the road that ascends to Mt. Zion.