My First Serious Book Review

Dear friends and relations…

Well, it looks like we’re going to have to be a bit flexible with that schedule I devised last week. I had an emergency at Chili’s to take care of Friday, and long-lost friends from Lipscomb spent the weekend with us, so things got a little hectic and I had to push things forward a bit. Have no fear, though, you’ll get my sports rant later on. First, though… {drum roll please!} my first book review since I did a book report on The Scarlet Letter in high school. WHEE! Here goes… any pointers, suggestions, opinions, and commentary would be greatly enjoyed!

Living God’s Vision – Essential or Too Dangerous?

“He has told you, O man, what is good;

And what does the LORD require of you

But to do justice, and to love mercy,

And to walk humbly with your God?” – Micah 6.6

Mark Labberton has made an important contribution to the conversation on worship with his monograph, The Dangerous Act of Worship, subtitled Living God’s Call to Justice. Labberton is the pastor / preaching minister at First Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in Berkeley, California. He received his B.A. from Whitman College, his M.Div. from Fuller Theological Seminary, his Ph.D. from Cambridge, and he ministers where angels fear to tread, among the amazingly diverse culture of San Francisco and the college atmosphere of Berkeley, where the average GPA of the entering freshman class is above 4.0. He roots his work deeply in a biblical worldview and writes with passion and excellence without succumbing to either intellectualism or worldly philosophy.

His thesis: Worship is the crux, the cornerstone of Christian living. Worship that does not manifest itself in acts of restorative justice and mercy is not worthy of the One True God. The “worship wars” of the last few decades, “tradition” vs. “relevant”, have lulled the church into a restless slumber. While we twist and turn in dark and violent dreams, the broken world languishes and cries for mercy and restoration. Labberton’s call, like Paul’s, is “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” Eph 5.14 ESV

He develops his thesis with the following chapter and paragraph headings:

I. What’s at Stake in Worship? – “Everything. That’s what’s at stake in worship. The urgent, indeed troubling message of Scripture is that everything that matters is at stake in worship.” P.13, 88

II. The Real Battle Over Worship

a. Macro to Micro

b. First and Second Things

c. The Story of Inseparable Loves – “Love for God and Love for Neighbor come together in shalom.” – Ex 23.1-9; Isa 1.12-17; Lk 4.16-22

d. The Broad Crisis

e. Worship as Though the World Depends On It – “We are desperate for true worship that reclarifies the purposes of God and our part in them.” P.35

f. Worship that Reorders

III. False Dangers

a. When Safety Rules – “…in the midst of appropriate safety [ God-given spiritual, architectural, liturgical, sacramental, and communal shape to public worship] lies the possibility and the common practice of domesticating God.” P.41

b. The Fear of the Lord – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego

c. False Danger #1 – Worship That’s Not Under Control

d. False Danger #2 – Worship That Doesn’t Seem Relevant

e. False Danger #3 – Worship That Doesn’t Meet Expectations

f. False Danger #4 – Worship That Isn’t Popular

g. False Danger #5 – Worship That Isn’t Comfortable

h. False Danger #6 – Worship That’s Unfamiliar

IV. Real Dangers – “Why do Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego choose fire over idolatry? They know where the real danger lies. They understand that God brooks no rivals. It is better to die than to bow down before anyone or anything but Yahweh.” P.61

a. Real Danger #1 – Encountering God – “Nothing is as dangerous as encountering the true and living God.” P.63

b. Real Danger #2 – Worship That Lies To God – Amos 2.6-8

c. Real Danger #3 – Worship That Lies About God – “God knows when we are lying to him. But when we lie about him, our neighbor assumes we are telling the truth and determines that God isn’t worthy of worship.” Pp.72-73

d. Real Danger #4 – Worship That Doesn’t Change Us – James 1.22-25 – “…if human spiritual transformation were easy, it would not have required the cross, the resurrection, or the gift of the Spirit.” P.74

e. Real Danger #5 – Worship That Doesn’t Change the World – Micah 6.8

V. Waking Up To Where We Live – “As worship wakes us up, we are in for a surprise: though we live in the same dwelling, God changes our address. By God’s grace, the reference points that position our lives in relation to others are altered. The neighborhood may seem the same, but in time we will discover it is both different and larger than we had imagined.” P.78

a. Location, Location, Location

b. The Personal Love of God – “The personal love of God is like an equation that works better one way than the other: God loves the whole world, and that encompasses loving us individually. He doesn’t love us individually until he ends up loving everyone.” P.80

c. Sleeping In At Our New Address – The Emperor’s New Clothes

d. The Context of All Contexts – IN CHRIST! Eph 3:14-19; Col 1.13-20 “God is engaged in nothing less than the re-creation of all things in the image of Jesus Christ.”

e. Living in Our Spiritual Habitat

f. The Big Move – Gen 2; Eph 2.12; Jn 17.15,18

g. The Reordering of Reality

h. The Problems of Moving – “Reality punctures the universe and everything changes.” P. 91

i. The Strange New World

VI. Doing Justice Starts with Rest

a. Rest

b. The Gift of Release

c. The Renewing Water of Worship

d. Sabbath Practices – Saying NO and Saying YES

VII. When Worship Talks to Power – Here Labberton strives to reorient each facet of public worship in relation to the real dangers above

a. A Power Problem

b. The Power of Liturgy

c. Call To Worship

d. Prayer of Adoration

e. Prayer of Confession

f. Declaration of Forgiveness and Assurance of Pardon

g. Baptism

h. Lord’s Supper

i. Singing and Music

j. God’s Word Read Aloud

k. God’s Word Preached

l. Intercessory Prayer

m. Offering

n. Commissioning and Benediction

VIII. Dwelling in Exodus or in Exile

a. Life in Egypt – The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant – ESCAPISM

b. Life in Babylon – Jer 29.7; 1 Pet 2.11-17 – ENGAGEMENT

c. Dual Dimensions – Home in God & Home in Exile

IX. An Imagination for Justice

a. A New Environment

i. Breathing the Air

ii. Rooted and Grounded in Love

b. An Unexpected Family

c. Living-Growing Conformity – Rom 12.1-2

d. Liberating Variation

e. A Deeper Love

f. Giving Love Away

g. A Wider Communion – Seeing and Loving Who God Sees and Loves (World Vision; International Justice Mission)

h. A Wiser Humility

i. But It Will STINK! – “To live lives of faithful worship, to cultivate God’s imagination for justice, to trust Jesus Christ to do a work of liberation and transformation means there will be times when our noses will be filled with the stench of human need and evil.” – p. 167; Jn 11.39-40

X. Living Awake

a. Choosing to Live Our Worship

b. Choosing to See

c. Choosing to Engage

d. Choosing to Love

e. Where are We?

i. “The kingdom of God is not a utopian vision, a dream with no hope of reality, but the assured and coming reign of Christ that will establish a new heaven and new earth.

ii. “God is the one who ushers in the kingdom of righteousness and justice through Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit

iii. “The church is God’s primary witness to this coming kingdom but is not responsible for accomplishing it.

iv. “The church’s worship of God should show up in love and for for the sake of the poor, the needy, the oppressed, and the forgotten.” P. 183

“Are we ready to live life in God in our town, or
do we still insist on living in our town and try to fit God in?

“Are we going to let our class, race, job, or money set the terms and priorities of our life, or do we want to be seriously kingdom-minded and kingdom-hearted?

“Are we ready to seek God in our personal and corporate worship so we live to God’s great honor?” – P. 184

Mark Labberton’s theology rings with the truth of the story of God. It commands engagement with the world without resorting to the hopeless Deistic tendencies of the Social Gospel. His thoughts resonate well with NT Wright’s inaugurated eschatology, even more so with Wright’s more recent political ecclesiology, where it is the role of the authorities to rule in accordance with God’s will (Rom 13, 1 Pet 2), and part of the mission of the church to call the powers back into obedience. Labberton also made me think of the socio-rhetorical interpretations of Ben Witherington III, and especially Crossan’s recent writing on the conflict between Christ, Paul, and Empire.

For me, the most influential themes from Dangerous Act were the calling to live as exiles (not escapists) and the reminder that when God became human, he set forth a pattern of deep engagement with the great need and suffering of this broken Creation. This engagement, though determined and steadfast, is not manifested by gritted teeth and squinted eyes, driving ourselves to succeed. Rather, it is a hope-filled and recollected engagement, precisely because it begins with the dangerous act of worship of the One True God.

I believe our brotherhood suffers because we labor in fear of many of Labberton’s false dangers (many congregations tremble at 3, 5, and 6 while others are terrified of 2 and 4 – I submit that every congregation I’ve ever attended was horrified at the very concept of #1), while operating with either total naivete or arrogant self-assurance with reference to each and every one of his real dangers (Thanks, Tim, for helping me clarify this). For example, it is only when we are willing to let go the choke-hold of predictability over the activities of our public worship that we will invite true encounter with God. I do not mean that we work to foster chaos; a thousand times no! Rather, we let go of the script. We open the mike to the hurting and needy and Godly people among us. Who knows what they might say? Who knows what God might say to us through them?

Everything that matters IS at stake in worship. Will we continue to worship according to our own fears and standards, or will we learn to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God? Will we learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice? The time is short, and nothing is more essential than for the church of God to awaken to its calling to reflect the glory of the untameable God into a world starving for light and love!

In HIS love,



About Nick Gill

orphan-poet-adoptee-soldier-prodigal-servant-husband- counselor-desperate seeker after my Father's face "I feel my body weakened by the years as people turn to gods of cruel design. Is it that they fear the pain of death, or is it that they fear the joy of life?" - Toad the Wet Sprocket

Posted on 4 December, 2007, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Nick,I appreciate the thorough review. The summary of the book helps me understand a lot. Were I to offer a suggestion, I would encourage you to pick out points of agreement and points of disagreement with the author.And I think that our brotherhood also has the “progressives” that fear false dangers 2 and 4 more than they fear the others. [I tend to be a “progressive,” I guess, so I can point fingers at myself and those like me]Thanks for sharing this.Grace and peace,TimP.S.–Boo hiss on Google for not letting me use a non-Google identity anymore on their blogs. Those of us into self-promotion like having links to our blogs along with our comments. I just noticed this switch yesterday.

  2. I know, I know… I need to switch to WordPress.Amen to False Dangers 2 & 4. I need to fix a couple boo-boos in formatting and typing, so I will adjust that to fit. Thanks!Nick

  3. Nick,Thanks for the book review.I will have to get a copy.

  4. Nick,That’s a good review. However, I wonder about the author’s dismissing the “dangers” in worship. Seems like most of them could be legitimate dangers when taken to extremes. I think of texts like 1 Corinthians 14, Isaiah 1, etc.Do we just worship any way we want to as long as we like it, or does God give us some guidelines that might involve a bit of predicatability? (I would imagine that synagogue worship, on which first century Christians evidently modeled their gatherings, would have had some patterns that might be described by some today as predictable.)Thanks for thought provoking material! God bless!

  5. Stoned-Campbell Disciple

    I have read Labberton’s book and it is very well done.Shalom,Bobby Valentine

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