Book Review: The Worship Architect by Cherry
Constance Cherry, The Worship Architect: A Blueprint for Designing Culturally Relevant and Biblically Faithful Services (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2010). $22.99. Paper.
This book does not delve into detail into the Regulative Principle. It does not quote the Westminster Confession of Faith or the Three Forms of Unity. It is not a book on Reformed worship. So if the book that you are looking for is an introduction to Reformed worship, this book is not for you. Before you stop reading this review, however, know that a book cannot be summarized by what it is not. Cherry’s proposal is not reformed, but much of the book is amicable to the Reformed tradition.
In order to describe what biblical and culturally relevant worship looks like, Cherry evokes the image of an architect. In order for a building to be properly constructed, it must be set on “pillars,” or a foundation. Cherry argues that worship is the same way and that there are four “load bearing walls” which are necessary for facilitating the dialogue of worship (God speaks to us, we respond). The worship “architect” (read: pastor) must call the people to worship. But Cherry is quick to note that this call is not simply the call of the minister. It is God’s call that comes through the minister that His people gather for worship as a corporate body. So this is the first “load bearing wall.”
The second is the Word. Like the call to gather, the Word is not just the minister reading the Bible or giving a sermon. It is the Word of God spoken to his people. Cherry also makes a critique of the modern Protestant service. She says that many Protestant churches have eliminated Scripture reading from their worship services. Cherry argues that we ought to follow the apostolic example and include them. She even includes an appendix giving advice on how to read longer Scripture passages in an engaging way.
One criticism in this section is that Cherry does not spend time reflecting on the value of the participants in the service worshiping God with his Word. To be fair, there are hints of this idea by Cherry, but this section would have been stronger had she included more reflection on the function of the Word in our response.
The third wall is the Table of the Lord. As the people have gathered at God’s call and heard God’s Word, they are called to participate in the Supper of God’s people (She includes what she calls alternative response as another way of achieving this in traditions that do not celebrate the Supper every week). Cherry argues that this is one of the clearest ways that God’s people are called to participate in the dialogue of worship. Cherry notes that the Supper is part of a corporate activity and not just an individual exercise. The response of the sermon is done by the community, and not just individual members.
Finally, Cherry talks about the “sending.” Cherry defines the sending this way: “The sending is a time when God blesses us to bless the world in Christ’s name, and commissions us to live in a particular way as a result of having heard the word as a community” (112). God is the originator and consummator of worship. Typical Reformed liturgies label this the “Benediction.” Cherry’s view of this aspect of the service is refreshing and important. The dismissal of the service must be intentional because it is when God pronounces a blessing on his people in order that they may be a light to the world.
Cherry concludes that these four walls are essential for the worship of God and without these four walls, biblical worship cannot commence. Then Cherry continues to detail various elements of the worship service. Her discussion on worship style is excellently done, and she discusses five common myths regarding style of worship. Cherry also gives an extensive discussion of encountering God in music and the wisdom of using various tunes and songs in the worship service.
Much more could be said about Cherry’s book (including footnotes, it is 293 pages), but upon reflection of the above mentioned aspects of the book, it is a book that Christian ministers should read. It does not mean that they will always agree with Cherry. For example, her chapter on utilizing the Christian year may be one that Reformed pastors utilize for various theological reasons. However, even in this chapter there are numerous insights that require reflection. I would highly recommend this book to ministers who wish to think more rigorously about why we worship the way we do and the implications of our worship on our congregation.
Reviewed by Brandon Addison