LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Students — 1,500 of them — filed into the chapel service at the small Christian liberal arts college. Some came to listen. Others brought newspapers.
Chapel was required, and it showed.
The visiting speaker was Daniel I. Block, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s John R. Sampey professor of Old Testament interpretation. As he began, the front section listened intently. Back row cynics exuded apathy.
However, halfway into Block’s sermon on scriptural worship, eyes began to appear over the editorials. Starved ears attended.
This kind of reaction is nothing new for Block, who has lately presented his perspectives on how to recapture a biblical theology of worship in a number of venues, and now teaches a course at the Louisville, Ky., seminary titled, “Biblical Theology of Worship.”
In fact, each seminary class, sermon and seminar has produced a similar response for students — “Christians serious about worship should hear this message.”
“Part of the issue is that the perspective we are bringing has been muted for so long,” Block said. “It sounds so novel. But it isn’t. It’s old.”
Indeed, it’s as old as the Scriptures. And in his lectures, Block points listeners back to what the Scriptures say about worship.
What do they report?
Block, who also serves as associate dean of the Scripture and interpretation division of Southern’s school of theology, has summarized the Scriptures’ teaching in one definition — an ideal that should be every Christian’s aim.
“True worship involves reverential human acts of submission and homage before the divine Sovereign in response to the gracious revelation of Himself and in accordance with His will,” Block writes in his class notebook.
Yet, Block believes many evangelicals have sadly traded this biblically informed God-centeredness for pragmatism and a performance orientation.
“The most pressing problem is pragmatism and the drive for obvious success — the assumption that a successful church is a big church, a full building,” Block said. “And so the genre of the worship experience is governed more by what people enjoy than by what the Scriptures teach.”
Today’s worship involves more ostentation than awe and more egocentrism than reverence before God, he explained. This entertainment focus often transcends biblical teaching and creates a form of self-idolatry — far from the “worship in spirit and truth” commanded by Jesus. People need to hear God and worship Christ, not see a show, Block said.
If the evangelical world feels this frustration, Block feels it more — hence his desire to teach what the Bible says about worshiping God in Christ.
“[The class] grew out of increasing frustration with my own experience, especially since 1980,” Block said. “When our children started to be frustrated with what’s happening in the contemporary worship scene … then I knew this is not just a generational thing — the shallowness and the emptiness.”
He believes the Bible holds the answer for this vacuity. Christians must return to a biblical notion of the God they worship and of their own position as worshipers.
“What we deserve is his hounds of wrath and judgment, but instead he sends after us his hounds of love and grace,” Block said. “If it weren’t for that [love and grace] as demonstrated most obviously and fully in Christ, no one could worship.”
Block hopes both preachers and music ministers rethink their duties in his class in terms of this biblical notion.
For the preachers, Block wants them to realize that if they are the senior pastor, worship is their business.
“Worship is about God speaking to us — far more important than us speaking to God,” Block said. “And it is primarily through the proclaimed word that God speaks to us. … We are not there to show off our talents — whether oratory or exegesis. This is why I say the bigger the pulpit the better, because the more of me it hides the better.”
For the musicians, Block hopes they examine their efforts with scriptural scrutiny.
“I want them to realize that everything they do must be driven by theology as well,” Block said. “God must speak. When speech has happened, people should say something about God and not something about the artist.”
For every worshiper, Block also has an admonition.
“If true worship is the response of homage and submission to the divine Sovereign, that starts with life,” Block said. “Worship is a seven-day-a-week activity. One cannot compartmentalize life.”
Too many Christians attend Sunday “worship” after six days of self-centeredness, Block explained.
“That kind of worship is never acceptable,” he said. “It must arise out of a heart that is fundamentally fearing God and loving him and expressing that fear and love in a life of grace and compassion and devotion to God and to others. Without that, what happens on Sunday morning is entirely beside the point.”
Block believes his class is necessary because all worshipers, whether they know it or not, have a theology of worship.
“Nothing is neutral,” Block said. “We’ve got to come to the place where we say that everything that we do in church … must be driven by a theological agenda.”
What is that agenda? Primarily to glorify God. Secondarily to build up and transform the body of believers.
“Worship is about that, isn’t it?” Block said. “Worship is not about satisfying the worshiper. Worship is the response to God who satisfies us.”
Block plans to continue teaching on the subject, and he also has a contract with Baker Books to write a biblical theology of worship.
“Worship needs to be a rehearsal for glory,” Block said. “I think we need to catch a glimpse of that. If one lives with the anticipation of the imminent return of Christ, we will be even more eager to worship in spirit and in truth. For this reason, true worship will focus on Christ, the Lamb of God slain for the redemption of sinners.”