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Worship is a Verb, by Robert E. Webber. Waco: Word Books, 1985. 223 pages.

Review by Joe
Robert E. Webber was Professor of Theology at Wheaton College from 1968 to 2000. He
was named Professor Emeritus upon his retirement in 2000, and was appointed Director of the
M.A. in Worship and Spirituality at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also served as
rector of St. Davids Parrish Church in Glasgow from 1961to 1971, in addition to founding the
Institute for Worship Studies in Orange Park, Florida. His numerous works include AncientFuture Faith: Rethinking Evangelicalism for a Postmodern World (Baker, 1999) and The
Younger Evangelicals: Facing the Challenges of the New World (Baker, 2002).
The reviewed text addresses four major concerns the author originally experienced with
contemporary worship: pastor-dominated services; lack of congregational involvement; lack of
true freedom during worship; and the message of Gods story is often missing. In the process,
Weber rediscovered worship as the main function of the church. He further recognized that it is
the source for active spiritual renewal when balanced with the Word and the Table in both
language and symbols, which can be enhanced by art forms. His synthesis produced four
essentials that must be active in worship: the celebration of Christ, telling of Gods story, active
congregational response to God and each other, and presence of the Holy Trinity. Weber expands
this thesis as eight principles over the books next nine chapters.
Worship celebrates Christ is the authors first point (Chapter 2), and in it he establishes
that worship is to be lived, not proven (31). In the next chapter, an order of worship is
suggested, with four key categories: the Preparation, the Word, the Table, and the Dismissal.
Each of these is further parses according to historical practices and purpose (e.g., Preparation to
include an opening hymn; the call to worship; the invocation; the acknowledgement of God;

confession of sin; and words of forgiveness; Gods Word to include an affirmation of faith; the
Lords Table to include appropriate pattern of prayers and faithful to the way in which God
himself has sought after his creation (62); and the Dismissal to have a Benediction and
recessional hymn with the order to go. From these patterns, Webber encourages individual
congregations to forge their own appropriate style (66).
The discussion then moves to how God speaks and acts, with emphasis on the
significance of religious sign language what God does in and through the bread and wine, as
well as the Bible (78; Chapter 4). This chapter is followed by and explanation of the symbols.
Gods primary symbols are his Word and the Lords Table, while the aspects of preparation and
dismissal are secondary symbols.
The discussion then moves to the awe (quoting from Acts 2:42) of engagement through
personal responses to God and fellow worshippers. For Webber, the engagement is reminiscent
of his commitment at conversion a reminder of who is present in worship . . . the source for
power for living . . . determines priorities and puts me at peace with God, my neighbors, and
my own life (126).
Chapter 7 covers returning worship to the people, noting that worship represents a
meeting with God and his people, and therefore requires participation from the priesthood of all
believers. The structure of the Preparation, Word, Table and Dismissal honors basic biblical
pattern of worship and also provides authentic context for the struggle between order and
freedom (133). To Webber, this is best harmonized with a sacred sense of time, as
demonstrated scripturally in the Hebrews Exodus and their holy festivals. The author further
suggests following the pattern of the Church year for corporate worship (Chapter 8). He then
details his support for integrating the various arts into worship, although he does concede that art

is not necessary (177). Music, art, drama, dance, space (facility design and sanctuary
arrangement), and color (as with the color of the Christian season) can all add to the worship
experience (Chapter 9).
Some ministry leaders may reject Webers overall blend of biblical and historical worship
patterns, and his personal suggestions for adding creativity. However, the overall message is
relevant: God created us to worship; this means active participation; and it should include aspects
of biblically authentic Preparation, Word, Table, and Dismissal. Additionally, Webber does
encourage churches to move slowly, although deliberately, toward worship change. He knows
that any suggested changes in worship patterns will draw resistance, and the process will take
timeeven suggesting that pastors and congregations work on one aspect at time (197-98). He
includes a study guide, therefore, to help leaders and participants determine how to create and
participate in a more authentic worship experience.