Worshiping Trinity: Coming back to the heart of worship
Robin Parry (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2005)
The title came to my attention when I was casting about for a term paper topic in the fall semester seminar on the Trinity. It’s not exactly a theological work, per se, though Robin Parry is a theologian and in Worshiping Trinity he is urging the recovery and practice of Trinitarian commitments and vocabulary in Christian worship. Okay, so it is a theological work in the sense that worship is a theological exercise, in the sense that it is problematic when public worship is not considered as an expression of theology, and in the sense that too often worship leaders (musicians and preachers) do not think that all the service components must meet the same theological scrutiny as the sermon. Parry is balanced, clear, and orthodox. He appropriately draws on sources as diverse as the Church Fathers and modern worship songwriters, on Methodist hymn writer Charles Wesley and the Catholic theologian Karl Rahner.
I found Parry’s tone distracting. I’m not sure how much of that is because he is English (with that distinct, droll, ironical humor) and how much that he is Charismatic (with a stereotypical ambivalence about theology). He is a PhD in theology, gaining his degree under Gordon Wenham (University of Gloucestershire) – so, no theological lightweight. But as he writes about worship and the Trinity, he is sometimes wacky; not about worship or the Trinity, but still in a distracting way, for my taste. I love me some English humor and self-effacement, but I think the informal way of doing theology in this book would be just as effective without chapter titles such as the first: “Theology and Worship up a Tree, K.I.S.S.I.N.G.” Or with asides like this one: “the examples we have examined so far are what we could call ‘fruitcake’ songs. I don’t mean that they were written by people who are or were fruitcakes! I mean that . . . “ (129, emphasis added). Or this particularly distracting: “There have been occasions when we shy away from using the ‘F-word’ (Father) in worship.” (105) Really?! I know it’s a quibble, and the book is so fine in so many ways. Maybe I’m sensitive to it because I have been in a context where some feel that the way to de-formalize a traditional service is to tell jokes. This book would have been as acceptably informal without such distractions.
Grumbling aside, Parry has
- offered a thorough introduction to the theology of the Trinity,
- situated it in the church’s public worship,
- identified its absence across Protestant practices of worship (formal Anglican as well as his own charismatic service),
- bridged history and ecclesiologies to provide good examples and remedies,
- analyzed song and hymn lyrics,
- provided a system for categorizing songs according to their Trinitarian content,
- and provided helpful suggestions for modern song and hymn writers.
He does not limit himself to congregational song, however; his healthy theology of worship includes every action of gathered worship, so he addresses the sacraments, praying, and preaching. An author that will quote both Basil of Caesarea and Matt Redman while making the same point has done his work and knows how to work his material. In spite of my rant about tone, this is a book I will recommend and use.