Book Review: Liturgical Theology (1/8)

I’m a slow reader, but this book I devoured unusually quickly.  It’s calledLiturgical Theology – the church as worshiping community, and written by Simon Chan in 2006.  It’s an excellent read, giving the reader a lot to think about, such that I typically had to wait a couple days in between reading each chapter.  It wasn’t very long either, only 166 pages.  It’s written by an academic, but it isn’t very heavy reading.  Not a light read, but still accessible.  Hmm, my wife tells me I beat around the bush too often with introducing things, so I might as well start a new paragraph to say what the book’s actually about!

Basically, Simon Chan starts off with the critique that Evangelical worship has been going through something of a crisis, and it is in need of meaningful reform.  Not terribly controversial there, but the solution he proposes is probably pretty startling for the average Evangelical Protestant: recapture liturgical worship.  In particular, he cites many Early Church Fathers and gives numerous examples from Anglican and Roman Catholic liturgies.  Not a lot of input from the East, what can ya say, Chan’s a Western Christian too.  (He’s Asian, but his Christianity is Western.  Funny how East-West connotations vary so much by context!)

But he doesn’t just jump into liturgical stuff right off the bat, like many Anglicans and Romans would in conversation.  Instead he starts at the beginning and works his way there.  In chapter 1 he sets out to define the Church, in chapter 2 he explores its worship, in chapter 3 he starts working out the shape of the liturgy that the worship entails, and in chapter 4 he argues for the liturgy as “ecclesial practice” – that is, the center of what the Church does.  With those foundations in place, he then has three chapters to work out some key practices of that liturgy: the Catechumenate, the Sunday liturgy itself, and the concept of Active Participation.

The book is well-written; it flows nicely from topic to topic, building up with each chapter, to make a pretty clear case for liturgical worship.  He doesn’t get bogged down in rhetoric, or hung up on minute points.  Cos in the end, he’s not out to convert people to Roman Catholicism or Anglicanism, but to help Evangelicals to redefine their church & worship paradigms to jive with the historic Church.

Best of all, Simon Chan himself is not part of a liturgical denomination.  He’s a member of the Assemblies of God, one of the classic charismatic denominations of Protestantism, which is not remotely known for its liturgical ways.  So this book is not a high and mighty Anglican trying to help Protestants “see the light” as it were, but an Evangelical among Evangelicals sharing what riches he has re-discovered.

As such, his precise theology of the Church does not quite put all the pieces together – the theology of ordination is completely omitted.  That’s probably for the best in terms of getting his point across about liturgical worship to various Protestant denominations.  But it does mean that the individual reader will have to figure out how (or if) the ordained ministry plays a role in this scheme.  As an Anglican pastor on the lookout for good books to recommend to his congregation, that’s a slight downside for this book.  But its treatment of the liturgy and theology behind it is almost always spot on with Anglican theology and practice.

I will post a summary review of each chapter every Tuesday and Thursday for the next few weeks, and add a link to it in my Series page.

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About Fr. Brench

I'm a Priest in the Anglican Diocese in New England interested in spiritual formation, theology, and the growth of God's Kingdom.
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