Theological Worship Planning

In a time of remarkable liturgical change, it is tempting to focus many of our discussions about worship on styles of preaching, music, or art. The challenge for leaders is to address deeper issues, to ground our worship in a biblical vision of God. The way to do this is to make irreducibly theological conversation an active part of our planning and evaluating worship.

—John D. Witvliet, “The Opening of Worship: Trinity,” A More Profound Alleluia: Theology and Worship in Harmony, 25

The Neglected Trinity (17)

By rehearsing God’s actions in history, the church ensures that its worship is not directed to a hazy or vaguely defined god derived from philosophical or cultural ideals, but to the God who is active in specific ways in history, especially in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth and the creating and sustaining work of the Holy Spirit.

——John D. Witvliet, The Doctrine of the Trinity and the Theology and Practice of Christian Worship in the Reformed Tradition (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Notre Dame, 1997), 296

The Neglected Trinity (16)

Through the liturgy of the church, God comes to, speaks to, and joins with the worshiping community in Jesus Christ through the power the Spirit, and worshipers offer a response which is inspired by the Spirit and is united to the prayers and worship of Jesus Christ. In this way, a trinitarian theology of worship calls worshipers not to generate their own proclamation about God nor to muster up their own acclamation to God, but rather to receive the gift of the Word of God and to participate in the worship offered by Jesus Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit. This understanding of liturgy commends liturgical actions which acknowledge the mediation of Christ and the Holy Spirit, and reflect the joy, confidence, and gratitude that is a fitting response to gifts of divine grace.

—John D. Witvliet, The Doctrine of the Trinity and the Theology and Practice of Christian Worship in the Reformed Tradition (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Notre Dame, 1997), 297

The Neglected Trinity (11)

Communities and individual worshipers who participate in fully trinitarian worship are formed over time to set aside any vague, hazy, quasi-deist, subtrinitarian way of construing God and to embrace a much more vibrant, grace-filled, life-giving trinitarian way. . . . The doctrine of the Trinity is not merely a set of abstract ideas. Rather, it is a description of the reality in which we live, move and have our being. As such, it shapes— indeed, it unsettles and transforms—how we approach basic practices of prayer, Bible reading, evangelism and community life.

—John D. Witvliet, “What to Do with Our Renewed Trinitarian Enthusiasm: Forming Trinitarian Piety and Imagination through Worship and Catechesis,” in Trinitarian Theology for the Church: Scripture, Community, Worship, 245-6

The Neglected Trinity (10)

Trinitarian worship is worship that fits with a God whose own being is faithfully and aptly described in trinitarian terms. Worshiping this kind of God should not be done with just any readily available worship technique. It should rather look for approaches that are fitting to address this kind of God, including (a) celebrating and resting in the mediation offered by Jesus and the Holy Spirit, (b) savoring the kind of intimate and healthy relationality in divine life that is depicted in the Scriptures and offered to humanity through Jesus, (c) rehearsing the astonishing litany of divine actions in history, and (d) perceiving the unity of purpose of divine actions attributed to each divine person. Each of these is a part of a distinctly Christian approach to worship.

—John D. Witvliet, “What to Do with Our Renewed Trinitarian Enthusiasm: Forming Trinitarian Piety and Imagination through Worship and Catechesis,” in Trinitarian Theology for the Church: Scripture, Community, Worship, 244-5

The Neglected Trinity (9)

Any Unitarian or deistic worshiper can praise God by using timeless divine attributes, speaking of God as beautiful, just or holy. But it takes a trinitarian Christian to praise God not only with attributes, but also in reference to the way those attributes are on full display in the actions of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit in history. . . . In worship, trinitarian Christians constantly return to the record of God’s actions in history as the basis for praise, thanksgiving, lament and intercession.

—John D. Witvliet, “What to Do with Our Renewed Trinitarian Enthusiasm: Forming Trinitarian Piety and Imagination through Worship and Catechesis,” in Trinitarian Theology for the Church: Scripture, Community, Worship, 243

The Neglected Trinity (8)

Trinitarian worship enacts, reflects and savors the relationality or communion that comprises both divine life and the Christian life. The doctrine of the Trinity offers a vision of each that is fundamentally relational and interpersonal. . . . Christian worship is not obeisance by which we appease a divine tyrant. We do not sing loud or pray hard in order to generate divine favor—the perfect theology of worship if we wanted to worship Baal. Worship, rather, is the joyful and solemn exchange of gifts.

—John D. Witvliet, “What to Do with Our Renewed Trinitarian Enthusiasm: Forming Trinitarian Piety and Imagination through Worship and Catechesis,” in Trinitarian Theology for the Church: Scripture, Community, Worship, 241-2