June 08, 2013

Review: Worship by John MacArthur

John MacArthur. Worship: The Ultimate Priority. Moody, 2012. 211 pp.

In this book, John MacArthur makes one point over and over again. Worship is about more than music. It is a life lived to the glory of God, and, for the believer, it is the highest priority. The book is necessary, MacArthur says, because "much of what is done in the name of worship nowadays actually dishonors Christ" (p. 51).
MacArthur manages to cover a lot of ground in this short book. Chapter 1 starts off with a discussion of the need for true, biblical worship among God's people. Topics covered in the rest of the book include: unacceptable forms of worship (pp. 20-25), the sufficiency of Scripture (pp. 30-36), the inevitability and necessity of suffering (pp. 173-174, 181-182, 190), the importance of the doctrine of the Trinity (p. 149-152), and worship as the goal of salvation (pp. 53-66).

MacArthur, like A. W. Tozer before him, understands that the most important thing about a man is what he thinks about God. Consequently, he devotes considerable space (chapters 5-8) to the importance of thinking rightly about God. "True worship," he says, "has as its object the true God. . . . worship, no matter how beautiful or consistent or well-intentioned it is, is unacceptable if it is directed to a false God." Therefore, "If our worship is to be meaningful, if it is to be acceptable, we must seek to conceive of God as He has revealed Himself to us" (p. 78).

Also of note is the discussion of the Sabbath on pages 130-133. MacArthur holds the fulfillment view (Sabbath observance is no longer obligatory for believers because the rest to which it pointed is fulfilled in Christ, see Matthew 11:28; Colossians 2:16-17; and Hebrews 4:9-10). This view is something of a minority report among Reformed evangelicals, so it's nice to see at least one big name come out in favor of it.

W:TUP is, as you might have guessed, a very theologically-driven book. It is not another pragmatic entry into the "worship wars" genre. In fact, MacArthur largely stays away the worship debate altogether. He does weigh in, however, in the book's appendix (pp. 197-211). There he argues for a blended style of worship, one which consists primarily of hymns but still makes room for gospel songs and choruses. His arguments are, as usual, driven by biblical theology rather than pragmatism or personal preference.

My one criticism is this: MacArthur can come across as so dogmatic that those who would benefit the most from his work may be turned off. For example, his (in my opinion, well-deserved) jabs at those of the Pentecostal/Charismatic persuasion (pp. 32, 65) will probably be found quite off-putting by some. This is unfortunate, because (in my experience) many in that tradition would benefit greatly from this book.

Don't misunderstand me, though. I don't disagree with anything MacArthur has written here. I think his dogmatism is quite warranted. But, as a former Pentecostal, I know how easily offended many are when one of their doctrinal distinctives is criticized. But, at the end of the day, it's still a good book, one that I would be happy to give to a friend (charismatic or otherwise) who has been influenced by the many unbiblical ideas about worship currently so prominent within Evangelicalism. Recommended.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Worship: The Ultimate Priority is available here:

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