J. I. Packer, in the introduction to David Wells’ book God the Evangelist, declared that believers “need to discover all over again that worship is natural to the Christian.” Now, the word worship is certainly a deep and multi-faceted idea that stretches far beyond the music played at a church service. But it is exactly this, the music one hears and participates in on Sunday, which is most often meant by those using the word. And though I’d like to think that I am a worshipper, I must admit that the singing and music that occurs when we gather as Christians is not something that comes natural to me.
That is why a book like Rhythms of Grace by Mike Cosper is so valuable to me. It takes me into a realm that I am a little uneasy in, and makes me feel comfortable and even conversant in its concepts. I found Cosper’s book to be both poetical and practical. At one moment the pages would flow in a symphony of words conveying the wonder of worship. The next page would discuss helpful applications in a straightforward and simple manner. For someone like me, this presented worship in a way that was accessible and inspirational.
In my reading and analyzing of the book, I noticed three distinct sections: chapters 1-4 presents worship in a Biblical-historical framework; chapter 5 dealt with Cosper’s perspective on corporate worship; and chapters 6-10 focus on matters of application.
The first two sentences of chapter one delineates the approach the author will take in the first four chapters as he firmly anchors worship in history: “The gospel is a story about worship. It begins with promise and serenity, spins wildly and terribly off course, and is rescued in the most unexpected and surprising way possible” (25). With this course directing start, Cosper tells the story of worship in the Biblical narrative.
In chapter one Cosper presents the intra-Trinitarian worship of the Godhead as they ascribe worth to each other. He introduces us to humans in Eden who experience harmonious and blissful worship in the Garden before the Fall where sin makes worship a newly unnatural activity. Chapter two looks at worship in a context where separation from God has taken place and demonstrates that we humans are worshippers and our worship can mistakenly be directed towards idols or properly directed to God. Chapter three paints a picture of worship in Israel through the time of the patriarchs, the Exodus, and the development of the cultic rituals of the Jews. Cosper looks at how we relate to God in a fallen world. Chapter four proclaims the reordering of worship in the redemption wrought by Christ. He becomes our worship leader and priest and reconciles us to God.
This section of the book was very enjoyable to read as worship was eloquently weaved through the ages of redemptive history. These chapters were some of the most poetical, and I found them informative and inspiring.
In chapter 5, a very helpful chapter for me, the author presents his perspective on worship in the here and now. He introduces a memorable construct he employs for understanding worship and church life. This framework can “answer a lot of the questions, confusion, and challenges” (75) that are part of church worship. For Cosper, Worship One, Two, Three is a paradigm that teaches the following: worship has one object and author, two contexts, and three audiences. The author and object of worship is God. The contexts are Worship Scattered (for the believer everything is worship) and Worship Gathered (worship occurs when the Church gathers). The three audiences are God, the Church, and the World. I found this chapter profoundly profitable. I will return to some of these ideas regularly.
Chapters six through ten delve into practical applications of the material the author has presented thus far. Chapter six looks at how worship is spiritual formation and how we work in and at worship. Worship is also war towards the world and the lies that we face every day. Chapter seven explains in practical terms how we arrived at our current state of worship in North American Christianity. Chapter eight entails insight into parts of the worship service and how they come together. The ninth chapter considers singing and music whereas chapter ten presents the pastoral aspects of leading worship. These chapters were very informative and interesting. They would be of particular importance to those directly involved in worship ministries.
The practicality of this book is enhanced by several appendices which include information on service orders, worship resources, and technical aspects.
I found this to be a book that was informative and inspiring, poetical and practical. I plan on lending it to friends who serve in worship ministries and recommend it to anyone who aspires to understand and appreciate worship in the church and in our lives.