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The Dangerous Act of Worship – living God's call to justice – Mark Labberton

This book opens with the following explanation,

Worship names what matters most: the way human beings are created to reflect God’s glory by embodying God’s character in lives that seek righteousness and do justice. Such comprehensive worship redefines all we call ordinary. Worship turns out to be the dangerous act of waking up to God and to the purposes of God in the world, and then living lives that actually show it. (pg. 13)

Throughout Labberton sustains this high view of worship, distinguishing it effectively from the ‘worship service’, and he asks the question,

So what’s the problem? The church is asleep. Not dead. Not necessarily having trouble breathing. But asleep…it seems that many of us are asleep to God’s heart for a world filled with injustice. It’s no surprise that we also seem to be asleep to God’s desire that out of worship should come a church that seeks and embodies the justice that’s needed in the world. We are asleep to God’s heart for the poor and oppressed, absorbed with our own inner life, wrestling with our own dreams and traumas that, for all their vividness, are unknown, unseen and largely unreal to the world around us. (pg. 14,15)

The book connects the worship of the church to the doing of justice which is a different slant from most books on worship emanating from the evangelical stable. Labberton ably identifies the problem and offers remedy in the liturgy of the church, and he does so without being strident or polemical, which again, is a breath of fresh air. Indeed he comes across as an irenic character who is deeply passionate about his ministry and the presbyterian church he serves in Berkley, California. And the book reflects this passion and the scale of the task in the number of ‘re-‘ words scattered liberally through the text- reconfiguring, restoring, retooling, reimagining, reordering, redistributing, redefining, reframing, realigning, reconstructing, recalibrating, remembering, reminding.

I enjoyed the comprehensive vision of worship being presented here,

the work of spiritual transformation, by which we come to live in God in the midst of our neighbourhood, is the most difficult process in the universe. This is not an overstatement. after all, it required the death of the Son of God to accomplish it. To live in the reordered reality of life in God is to have an entirely different perspective about everything. Life is turned right side up, even though it will often feel like the opposite. (pg. 90-91)

The idea of spiritual transformation as a process that is worked out in the neighbourhood is brilliant. Simple but brilliant, and so at odds with how we often think of it – as some esoteric thing done for or to us in church. And it happens frequently in the book that Labberton hits on a phrase or an idea that just captures something profound.

Around that though there is a lot of padding. I get the idea that this was a sermon series, later expanded into a book. The illustrations are sermonic and often don’t serve the text very well. There are far too many exclamation marks! which are folksy and sometimes detract from the idea. And in some places the organising principles are just not clear or helpful, such as in the two chapters on true and false dangers in worship.

Nevertheless this is a good book on a neglected area. Whilst it loses a little focus in the middle, the opening two chapters and chapter 7-9 are excellent, particularly chapter 7 which covers the importance of a meaningful pattern of liturgy and chapter 8 on exodus and exile.

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