Daniel Block is the Gunther H. Knoedler Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College, where he has been a faculty member since 2005. He is the author of numerous scholarly books and articles, including commentaries on Judges (The New American Commentary, Volume 6), Ezekiel (New International Commentary on the Old Testament), Deuteronomy (The NIV Application Commentary), and Obadiah (Zondervan). He has devoted the bulk of his academic career to the study of Ezekiel and Deuteronomy. Block was also heavily involved in the production of the New Living Translation of the Bible.
About the Book
In this volume, Block presents his biblical theology of worship (xiv). He wants his readers to “establish biblical patterns of worship and the underlying theological convictions that are rooted in Scripture” (xiv). In a day when so much ink on the subject of Christian worship is devoted to discussing how church services can be molded to please people, it is refreshing to see a book about how worship services ought to be molded to please God. Block’s high view of God and Scripture permeate the book.
In chapters 1–2, Block presents God as the object of worship and humans as the subject of worship.
Chapters 3–5 discuss worship in daily life, family life, and at work.
Chapters 6–10 present Block’s ideas about how the ordinances, Scripture reading, preaching, teaching, prayer, music, sacrifices, and offerings fit into corporate worship.
In chapter 11, Block proposes that corporate Christian worship should involve us in the divine drama of redemption. Block sees this accomplished through the observance of Sabbaths and through observing the festivals and holy days of the Christian liturgical calendar.
In chapter 12, he argues that our modern worship spaces should be designed to reflect the designs of the Tabernacle and Temple. The final chapter is an appeal for those who lead in worship to be spiritually minded and to be guided by biblical examples and precepts. The book concludes with three appendixes. The first is devoted to discussing the doxologies of the New Testament. The second discusses hymnic fragments in the Pauline epistles. The third is devoted to the topic of Sunday worship in early Christianity.
The Book’s Value
This book is a valuable addition to a Bible student’s library for several reasons. First, it is difficult to read this book without being infected by Block’s passion for God to be worshiped in a way that makes honoring His Word and pleasing Him the priority.
Second, by approaching the subject of worship topically, Block provides the reader with a volume that is essentially a systematic theology on worship. It doesn’t have to be read from cover to cover to be useful. Instead, it can be used as a reference book. Each chapter and various sections within chapters can stand alone like the articles in a Bible dictionary or handbook.
Third, this book is valuable because of Block’s meticulous cataloging of what the Scriptures, especially the Old Testament Scriptures, say about worship. Block laments that other contemporary works on worship do not pay enough attention to Old Testament revelation. No one can accuse him of the same deficiency.
Fourth, Block does an excellent job reminding his readers that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God”. He points out that we should esteem Deuteronomy as much as we do the Psalms.
Fifth, the reader cannot help but gain from Block’s insights into the history and practices of corporate worship in ancient Israel.
Sixth, Block’s approach to presenting this material can serve as an excellent outline for anyone wanting to develop a class on the theology of worship.
Value May Be Diminished by Theology Method
Though the book is valuable, its value is somewhat diminished by the way Block does theology. His approach to the topic of worship is deeply rooted in his view that New Testament Christians are still essentially under the authority of the Mosaic Law. He assumes that there is little, if any discontinuity between the Testaments and blurs the biblical distinctions between national Israel and the Church (153). In fact, he thinks the use of the title Old Testament reflects a “dismissive disposition toward the Hebrew Bible.”
Instead he prefers the term First Testament. It is rather difficult at times to discern what Block thinks is new about the New Testament. For example, the section on baptism as worship is colored by Block’s insistence that baptism is merely a replacement for circumcision as a covenant initiation rite (282). Likewise, in discussing the role of the Holy Spirit in worship he does not see a difference between the way that Old Testament saints related to the Holy Spirit and the way that Christians relate to the Spirit today.
Block argues that the Old Testament saints were regenerated and empowered by the Spirit in the same way as New Testament Christians. Block’s argument does not address why Jesus promised His disciples, in John 14:16–17, that after returning to His Father’s house, He would send the Holy Spirit to them, not just to abide with them, but to be in them. Block’s argument also does not address why the disciples had to wait for the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem until Pentecost. Both passages indicate that at Pentecost the Holy Spirit began doing something new in the lives of believers.
While he condemns other authors for ignoring what the Old Testament says about worship, Block is at times guilty of ignoring, or at least diminishing, what the New Testament has to say. He clearly gives the Old Testament hermeneutical priority over the New Testament. More than once, he says, “unless the New Testament expressly declares First Testament notions obsolete, they continue” (7, 25, 294).
Block defends this approach by pointing out that the New Testament authors are relatively silent about the specifics of worship. He assumes that their silence means that they saw Old Testament worship forms—the keeping of Sabbaths and feast days, as still required for believers in the church age.
However, he does not attempt to explain why James did not command Sabbath and feast observance for the Gentile converts to Christianity in Acts 15. If “First Testament notions” continue, we should expect to hear this expressed at the Jerusalem Council. If God still requires these observances, James’s omission is a serious one that could result in Christians, especially Gentile Christians, failing to worship God properly.
Moreover, Block does not offer any explanation as to why the New Testament writers never command their readers to keep Israel’s Sabbath and feasts. When interacting with Paul’s teachings about Christians being free from Sabbath and feast day observances in Romans 14:5–6, Galatians 4:10, and Colossians 2:16, Block asserts in each case that Paul could not have had the seventh day Sabbath or First Testament observances in mind (279, 294). However, he does not support these assertions exegetically. Instead, he opines that Pauline comments on Sabbath keeping are “scarce and vague” (279).
Block comes close to suggesting that the transition from Sabbath to Sunday worship is an unwarranted departure by the church from God’s design (281). Block argues that the Sabbath was observed by God’s people before the giving of the Mosaic Law (282), that the first Christians continued to keep the Sabbath and to assemble for worship on Saturday (278–279), that Sunday worship is never mandated in Scripture (280), and that Sunday worship only developed as Christian ties to Judaism loosened in the second century (280–281). Block also fails to offer any exegetical support for these claims.
He argues that Paul’s instruction in 1 Corinthians 16:2 about collections for the saints does not suggest that the early church met for worship on Sunday, but rather that Paul assumed that the first day of the week was a convenient time for people to deposit their gifts (279). He concludes that New Testament evidence for Christian worship on Sundays is entirely circumstantial (281).
Despite its theological shortcomings, this volume is a helpful reference guide to what the Bible, especially the Old Testament, says about worship. Moreover, it is an excellent call for believers to worship God in ways that are guided and shaped by the Scriptures, and to strive to worship God in ways that please Him and declare His glory and His worth.