Postmodernism affects everything it touches, often in ways of which we are not aware. Its effects on the writing of history are to make history inaccessible to all but a few academic elites, or to reinterpret history in the image of the historian, with little regard for documentary evidence. Richard Evans explains this phenomenon in his book, In Defense of History (W.W. Norton, 1999). My own experience in a very postmodernized philosophy program at a Philadelphia area University bears out this observation.
Many aspects of postmodernism can be understood, sociologically, as a way of compensating for this loss of power within the world at large and within the university as an institution. For it places enormous, indeed total intellectual power in the hands of the academic interpreter, the critic, and the historian. If the intentions of the author of a text are irrelevant to a text’s meaning—if meaning is placed in the text by the reader, the interpreter—and if the past is a text like any other, then the historian is effectively reinventing the past every time he or she reads or writes about it. The past no longer has the power to confine the researcher within the bounds of facts. Historians and critics are now omnipotent.
To underline this, the postmodernists have developed a new level of specialized language and jargon, borrowed largely from literary theory, which has rendered their work opaque to anyone except other postmodernists. The enterprise thus seems not only self-regarding but, ironically in view of its criticism of hierarchy and prioritization, elitist as well. Its narcissism and elitism both can be seen as compensatory mechanisms for the loss of real power, income, and status suffered by its academic practitioners over the past ten to fifteen years. It all reminds one of Oscar Wilde’s saying that any fool can make history; it takes a genius to write it (p. 172-3).
Twenty years ago Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary church historian David Wells wrote,
The fundamental problem in the evangelical world today is that God rests too inconsequentially upon the church. His truth is too distant, his grace is too ordinary, his judgment is too benign, his gospel is too easy, and his Christ is too common.
David F. Wells, God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 28.
In the last few years, books on worship seem to be either so practical as to be thin on their biblical and theological development, or conversely so abstract and philosophical that they are of little value to the church. Daniel Block’s newest book, For the Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2014) splits the difference between these extremes. Rather than being arranged chronologically, the chapters are arranged topically in a most helpful way. Block’s approach is thoroughly biblical, plumbing the depths of worship throughout Scripture, yet it is very accessible. There is a heavy emphasis on principles derived from the Old Testament (which he argues should be called the “First” Testament), since, as he argues, the majority of instruction concerning worship comes from that part of Scripture. He does not shy away from the New Testament, however, and spends a fair amount of time in the Gospels, which are often under-represented in books on worship.
Because we often use the term “worship” to refer to congregational singing in a corporate church service, some may be mistaken about the contents of the book. Although Block does apply his biblical theology to congregational singing, the focus is much broader. His early chapter topics include: the object and subjects of worship, daily life as worship, and family life and work as worship. The content of these chapters is simply outstanding. My copy of the book is so thoroughly marked and highlighted that there is hardly a page on which I did not find an insightful gem worth noting. The later chapter topics still follow the format of biblical theology (moving through Genesis to Revelation while noting the progression of revelation), but they have more application to corporate gatherings of the church.
Block helpfully sums up his 400 page study with a one sentence definition of worship: “True worship involves reverential human acts of submission and homage before the divine Sovereign in response to his gracious revelation of himself and in accord to his will.” This careful thesis is eloquently developed throughout the volume, and I highly recommend it for anyone wanting both an academic and personally edifying guide to biblical worship.