The Oxford History of Christian Worship Review

The Oxford History of Christian Worship
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The Oxford History of Christian Worship ReviewWhen I first heard this text was in preparation, I couldn't wait for its release. I have studied theology, church history, and liturgy, and have made some attempts to piece the three together in various ways, but this book in many ways represents a convergence of my interests in a singularly interesting way. As is often the case with such texts from Oxford, it is comprehensive, authoritative, well illustrated, well documented, and well constructed. According to the preface, 'Christian worship has a history of two thousand years and, by now, a global reach. This book traces its winding course and describes its varied manifestations in ways suited to the general reader as well as to historians, theologians, and scholars of religion.' The book is also useful as reference for students, church-goers and liturgists who wish to learn more about the history and development not only of the broader sweep of Christian practice, but also their own particular traditions or denominations.
There are overlapping ideas of organisation of the text. The primary principle is chronological arrangement, breaking from there into geographical and confessional/denominational identity. Many of the thirty-four chapters are devoted to specific practices of traditions in a time or place (for example, the chapter on 'Anglicans and Dissenters' by Bryan D. Spinks traces Anglican worship from the early 1500s to the present in England), whereas some chapters are devoted to more general considerations ('Women in Worship' by Teresa Berger or 'Liturgical Music' by William T. Flynn).
The first chapter, by editor Geoffrey Wainwright, sets the tone for this broad study of Christian worship. He looks at issues in worship and liturgy from scriptural and theological bases - there is a highlighted essay entitle 'Liturgy and/as Language' which describes the complex system of verbal and non-verbal symbols and signs that form a distinct pattern of communication and communion.
The final sequence of chapters looks at particular practical issues involved in worship situations (music, spatial settings, visual arts, vestments and objects), together with some general theological/social concerns (women in worship, ecumenical work). Editors Geoffrey Wainwright and Karen B. Westerfield Tucker provide the final chapter, entitled 'Retrospect and Prospect', the writing and photography is so up-to-the-minute that there is a picture of Pope Benedict XVI at his inaugural mass. Their description touches on contrasts and comparisons, continuations and innovations, and they end with words that make sense: 'What will, by definition, prolong the history of Christian worship is the continuing gathering of people, in faith and in the name of Jesus, to encounter in praise and prayer, in scripture and sermon, in sacrament and song, the God understood to be the self-revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and thus communally to exercise the vocation and fulfill the destiny for which they as humans were created and redeemed.'
Each chapter includes its own bibliography, notes, highlights of primary texts and liturgies, and graphics (of which there are over 200 black-and-white images through the chapters). There are also over 30 full-colour plates in three collections interspersed with the text. There is a biblical references index, and an incredible 46-page general index in the back that is very helpful.
Geoffrey Wainwright and Karen B. Westerfield Tucker are both Methodists (Wainwright a British Methodist, Westerfield Tucker a United Methodist), but both have worked and served in ecumenical capacities for a long time. The thirty-six additional contributors include women and men from every inhabited continent, and denominations and jurisdictions Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant.
This has become my regular bedside reading, and promises to be one of the more valuable and significant reference books on my shelf for some time to come.
The Oxford History of Christian Worship OverviewThe Oxford History of Christian Worship is a comprehensive and authoritative history of the origins and development of Christian worship to the present day. Backed by an international roster of experts as contributors, this new book will examine the liturgical traditions of Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant, and Pentecostal traditions throughout history and across the world. With 240 photographs and 10 maps, the full geographical spread of Christianity is covered, including Europe, North America, Latin America, Africa, East Asia, and the Pacific. Following contemporary trends in scholarship, it will cover social and cultural contexts, material culture and the arts.Written to be accessible to the educated layperson, this unique and beautiful volume will also appeal to clergy and liturgists and more generally to students and scholars of the liturgy, Christian theology, church history, and world history.

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