For many of us knowledge of our Christian heritage goes back no further than the beginning of our own local church or particular denomination. This is a sad state of affair because it leaves people unappreciative of, even feels disconnected from, their own rich history and heritage. In this book, Professor James F. White does a very fine job of providing his readers with a comprehensive view of how and why Christians worship God throughout Church history. Aside from the fact that the book is teeming with reliable materials on the history and development of Christian worship, White also has some good insights about Christian worship in every chapter. His survey on the definitions of Christian worship by famous theologians from the main branches of Christianity is truly helpful for someone who tries to work on a definitive explanation of Christian worship. Those definitions are good places to start with in understanding the concept at hand. The author's discussion on the various Biblical and non-Biblical words that relate to and express worship is also enriching. Every word opens up an aspect of worship that deepens one's knowledge and understanding what it means to worship God in Christ. One can find also some real gems in this book in terms of quotes and concepts that describe and explain the nature and purpose of Christian worship from the works of the Church Fathers, some Medieval scholars, Reformers and Post-Reformation writers. Likewise, the author is quite keen in pointing out the historical turning points and existing variations of these particular acts of worship among Christians in a pastoral and sensitive way.
I think, this book's major feature, which is the presentation of many facts and ideas, is its one unavoidable weakness. Any author who decides to survey such a large amount of material must necessarily limit his discussion of each topic. While the book offers excellent introductory surveys of the history and development of Christian worship within the main branches of Christianity, it cannot go into great detail to include all the varieties of practices of almost all groups, especially within the Protestant tradition where thousands of denominations exist. For example, a Southern Baptist minister or an Evangelical Free layman may not be able to appreciate thoroughly the author's discussion for the fact that his denomination is not well represented throughout the book.
Another feature of the book that may also become its liability is the author's view of and tendency toward ecumenism. There are instances that leave the impression that the ultimate norm which Professor White follows in the practice of Christian worship is not the Holy Scripture but the consensus of the community of believers in a given denomination or tradition. Rather than passionately calling his readers to seek to reform their services to continually conform them to the rule of Scripture, for several occasions in his pastoral challenges he summons his readers to make decisions according to what is acceptable in their traditions. I understand that sensitivity in issuing challenges in the area of liturgy to people with diverse traditions is a virtue, yet I feel that he should have issued an equally strong challenge to his readers to evaluate and restructure their worship practices not only according to the cultural and denominational approval but more so in a Biblical manner.
For the most part, I like the way Professor White has written this book. I admire his desire to provoke some sense of pride and appreciation among Christians of different backgrounds through his comprehensive introduction of the history and development of Christian worship. I would suggest though that readers should examine his books with critical mind because of his bent toward ecumenism. Ecumenism has a place among Christians but it should be one that seeks to promote the truth of the Scripture and upholds its authority in matters of doctrine and practice. Christians, especially ministers, who read carefully this book must be enlightened of the richness of the history of Christian worship. Since this book opens up streams of information, I would not be surprised if they would start to reflect and evaluate their own worship practices. Hopefully, they would learn to appreciate and understand the liturgy of Christians outside their tradition. Best of all, through this process they would be able to synthesize the historical and conceptual data presented, come up with brilliant conclusions that are Biblically informed in order to make one's acts of worship more meaningful to the congregation and glorifying to God.