Depth and Mystery

Any lasting cease-fire in these worship wars is not likely to emerge from a resolution of the so-called culture wars which feed them, or from large-scale conversions of taste, or from carefully buttressed historical arguments about ancient liturgical precedents. Finally, such a cease-fire can only issue from the depth and mystery of the gospel which Christians proclaim. Christian worship is strongest when it is integrally and self-consciously related to the person and work of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. The study of Christian worship is most helpful to Christian communities when it demonstrated how this has happened in the past and how it might happen in the future in more profound ways.

—John Witvliet, The Doctrine of the Trinity and the Theology and Practice of Christian Worship in the Reformed Tradition (dissertation), Page 304-305

God Alone

In the restoration of communion between God and sinning humanity, the initiative lies with God’s forgiveness: Jesus ‘blasphemously’ pronounced the divine forgiveness, and the scribes’ question ‘Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ is a piece of ironic Christology (Mark 2:1-12).

—Geoffrey Wainwright, Doxology: The Praise of God in Worship, Doctrine, and Life: A Systematic Theology, 75

***Geoffrey Wainwright in memoriam (died March 17, 2020)***


Christian worship is not awe in the face of an irresistible and unresponsive Power, nor is it the attempt to manipulate by magic or placate by offerings remote deities or the forces of nature. Christian worship is an ‘I-Thou’, not an ‘I-It’ relationship. 

—John D. Witvliet, The Doctrine of the Trinity and the Theology and Practice of Christian Worship in the Reformed Tradition (dissertation), 161 

Wise Words


Romans 8 — “the great eight” — is a text I think everybody in this isolation period should be memorizing. I’m making that as a suggestion: it’s the best thing you could do with your time. Romans 8 gives greater foundations for this fearlessness than anything in the world — than anything the world has to offer. I’ll mention four:

1. For the called who love God in Jesus Christ, all of God’s righteous condemnation toward you was put on Jesus, and there is now no condemnation — no punishment — for those who are in Christ: “By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3). Condemnation for those who are in Christ is over. It happened at Calvary. That is wonderful.

2. God’s willingness to sacrifice his only Son for the called ones who love him means he not only died in their place, but will not withhold anything from them for their eternal good: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). So, everything we need to glorify God and to have everlasting joy, he guarantees in the cross for us during coronavirus time.

3. Nobody who is called by God will fail to attain eternal glory. There is a golden, unbreakable chain of covenant commitment that God will keep his called ones forever: “Those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:30). None of the called is lost — ever.

4. Finally, here is what all of this means: neither tribulation, nor distress, nor persecution, nor famine, nor nakedness, nor danger, nor sword, nor coronavirus, nor economic collapse, nor total anarchy, nor the end of the world can separate us from the love of Christ. And that includes death — especially death — because Romans 8:36 says, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long.”

It doesn’t matter whether we’re being killed by coronavirus or anti-Christian mobs. Nothing can “separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:39). “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). Therefore, Christian — therefore, Christian — lover of God, called out of darkness into his marvelous light, lift up your head, put a song in your mouth, love your neighbor, and do not be afraid.

—John Piper,


What is exemplary about divine life is not three-in-oneness in the mathematical sense, not some abstract notion of a pristine community, but personal relationships that are marked by transparency, common purpose, and mutuality.  In the economy of the kingdom of God, these virtues replace both alienation and domination as the customary marks of personal relationships.

—John Witvliet, The Doctrine of the Trinity and the Theology and Practice of Christian Worship in the Reformed Tradition (dissertation), 258-59

Different Roads

We have lived for too long in the world, and tragically even in a church . . . where the wills and affections of human beings are regarded as sacrosanct as they stand, where God is required to command what we already love and to promise what we already desire. The implicit religion of many people today is simply to discover who they really are and then try to live it out – which is, as many have discovered, a recipe for chaotic, disjointed, and dysfunctional humanness. The logic of cross and resurrection, of the new creation which gives shape to all truly Christian living, points in a different direction. And one of the central names for that direction is joy: the joy of relationships healed as well as enhanced, the joy of belonging to the new creation, of finding not what we already had but what God was longing to give us. At the heart of the Christian ethic is humility; at the heart of its parodies, pride. Different roads with different destinations, and the destinations color the character of those who travel by them.

—N. T. Wright, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense, 233-34

Through the Spirit

The question may well be asked how it can be that the Word of God made flesh in Jesus Christ can possibly come to us as Word of God through the instrumentality of some minister in the pulpit…this is precisely the same question as to how the Word of God made flesh can come to us in water, bread, and wine through the instrumentality of some minister at font or table.  The two problems are no different, and for both Scripture has an identical answer: whether Christ comes to us from pulpit, font, or table, he does so through the operation of the Holy Spirit.

—John Witvliet, The Doctrine of the Trinity and the Theology and Practice of Christian Worship in the Reformed Tradition (dissertation), 203

Worship in the Spirit

Christian worship is inspired by the Spirit, empowered by the Spirit, directed by the Spirit, purified by the Spirit and bears the fruit of the Spirit. Christian worship is Spirit-filled. . . . It is the Holy Spirit who purifies our worship by his continual work of sanctification. By purifying the worshipers the worship is made pure. When we worship, having our minds enlightened by the Spirit, our lives changed by the Spirit, our wills moved by the Spirit, and our hearts warmed by the Spirit, then our worship is transformed from being a mere human work into being a divine work.

—John Witvliet, The Doctrine of the Trinity and the Theology and Practice of Christian Worship in the Reformed Tradition (dissertation), 219-220

Agents, Heralds and Stewards

Made for spirituality, we wallow in introspection. Made for joy, we settle for pleasure. Made for justice, we clamor for vengeance. Made for relationship, we insist on our own way. Made for beauty, we are satisfied with sentiment. But new creation has already begun. The sun has begun to rise. Christians are called to leave behind, in the tomb of Jesus Christ, all that belongs to the brokenness and incompleteness of the present world. It is time, in the power of the Spirit, to take up our proper role, our fully human role, as agents, heralds, and stewards of the new day that is dawning.

N. T. Wright, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense, 237

An Anchor in the Storm

Almighty God, who alone can bring order to the unruly wills and passions of sinful humanity: Give your people grace so to love what You command and to desire what You promise, that, among the many changes of this world, our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

—Book of Common Prayer

Objective and Subjective

For the true hearing of the Word of God, two things are necessary: the inward working and the outward facts.  Apart from the outward facts there is no Word of God.  The Holy Spirit will not speak unless He bears testimony to Jesus Christ.  But apart from the inward working there is no understanding of the facts.  It is the Holy Spirit who must bear testimony to Jesus Christ.

—G. W. Bromiley, “The Spirit of Christ” in Essays in Christology for Karl Barth, ed. T.H.L. Parker, 142

In My Place

The Biblical doctrine is not so much that I escape “scot free” as that I as a sinner have been judged in the Person of Christ my High Priest.  Forgiveness means that all my past sins have been truly dealt with, and only that fact brings peace and assurance.  Our relation to Christ as Substitute must be understood at once in terms of God’s free act of grace, and in terms of our God-given solidarity with Jesus.

—James B. Torrance, “The Priesthood of Jesus: A Study in the Doctrine of the Atonement” in Essays in Christology for Karl Barth, ed. T.H.L. Parker, 171

Objective and Subjective

The subjective operation of the Holy Spirit is complemented always by the objective facts of the Gospel. The subjective operation is necessary. Without it the Gospel is to us mere history.  Jesus is, shall we say, a great religious teacher. The death and reported resurrection are incidents which call for discussion and explanation as best we can.  But the objective facts are also necessary.  Without them faith is subject always to the arbitrary pressure of individual preference and speculation.  Apart from the subjective work, we cannot say that Jesus is the Lord, or His death a death for sin, or His resurrection the first-fruits of the new creation of God.  But if the subjective work is really of the Holy Spirit, it will always be Jesus of Nazareth who is the Lord, and the divine forgiveness and re-creation will be inseparably connected with the historical life and death and resurrection of that man Jesus.

—G. W. Bromiley, “The Spirit of Christ” in Essays in Christology for Karl Barth, ed. T.H.L. Parker, 141


Awe . . . serves as the gateway religious affection. All of the other religious affections flow out of our first response to God as the one before we stand in awe. Unless the other affections are rooted in a sense of the majesty of God, unless they emerge from a sense of the profound otherness of God, they will not ultimately be religious affections. Awe is that affection that radically relativizes us. The experience of awe is disorienting, and this disorientation prompts us to acknowledge that we are not gods.

—Kendra G. Hotz and Matthew T. Mathews, Shaping the Christian Life: Worship and the Religious Affections, 53

Worship as a Window

Think of worship as a window. . . . The temptation we face as worship leaders is that we will spend so much energy dressing this window, repairing this window, or cleaning this window that we have no time to look through it.

Bread, wine, water, music are not just to look at, but to look through.

—John Witvliet, “On Divine Glory: An Expanded Conversation on the Conference Theme,” (Calvin Symposium on Worship Jan. 2007), 2

Call for Papers

Call for Papers: ETS Biblical Worship Section

The steering committee for the Biblical Worship Section of the Evangelical Theological Society announces a call for papers for the 2020 Annual Meeting in November.

The paper proposal period is now open on the ETS website through March 31. Please choose “Click here to submit a proposal for an open section session or discipline specific session” when submitting your proposal and then “Biblical Worship (Open Session)” under “Paper Category.”

The Biblical Worship Section welcomes paper submissions from full members and PhD student members that focus especially (although not exclusively) on corporate worship and the biblical-theological foundations for the theology and practice of worship.

For more information about the Biblical Worship Section and to read papers from past annual meetings, visit our website:

Leaving Worship

It is so easy to walk out of church (or a worship conference) thinking about mostly how interesting the sermon was, how engaging the music and art were, how good or not-so-good the hospitality and fellowship might have been. How many of us leave worship genuinely pondering the sheer beauty and glory of God?

—John Witvliet, “On Divine Glory: An Expanded Conversation on the Conference Theme” (Calvin Symposium on Worship Jan. 2007), 2

Only More So

There is always the suspicion that creeps into discussions of this kind, a niggling worry that the call to worship God is rather like the order that goes out from the dictator whose subjects may not like him but have learned to fear him. You want hundred thousand people to line the route for his birthday parade? Very well, he shall have them, and they will all be cheering and waving as if their lives depended on it–because, in fact, they do. Turn away in boredom, or don’t turn up at all, and it will be the worse for you.

If it has crossed your mind that worshipping the true God is like that, let me offer you a very different model. . . . I am been in the audience for some great performances that moved me and fed me and satisfied me richly. But only two or three times in my life have I been in an audience which, the moment the conductor’s baton came down the last time, leaped to its feet in electrified excitement, unable to contain its enthusiastic delight and wonder at what it has just experienced. That sort of response is pretty close to genuine worship. Something like that, but more so, is the mood of Revelation 4 and 5. That is what, when we come to worship the living God, we are being invited to join in.

—N.T. Wright, Simply Christian, 147