The heart of this book consists of seven essays, each of which explores worship in a particular time in American history, and by a particular subculture. The first essay focuses on the worship of the Puritans in the 1500s and 1600s; the second on worship in American Methodism in the 1700s; the third on the worship of Our Lady of Guadalupe by the San Antonio Texans in the 1800s; the fourth on worship of African Americans in Georgia during the Jim Crow era; the fifth on how the National Catholic Rural Life Conference affected Romish Liturgy in the early to mid 1900s; the sixth on a comparative history of Park Congregational Church and Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI, from the mid 1800s to the present; and the seventh on American Catholicism since the 1950s, noting some of the changes made by the Second Vatican Council. The essays appear in a generally chronological order.
The book’s final section consists of three more essays, each a commentary on the seven historical essays.
This book is part of the Liturgical Studies series of books put out by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. The series includes some valuable books. I do not consider this particular book to be one of them.
Anyone reading a compilation of essays will find some chapters more interesting than others. I was most interested in those regarding Puritan worship, and the comparative history of Park Congregational Church and Eastern Avenue CRC. But even the general point of the latter chapter was not gripping to me. Within the fabric of the history of these congregations, James Bratt kept weaving the subtheme of how both congregations produced conservative political leaders for the Grand Rapids area and in the state and federal legislature. And this underscores that all seven of the historical essays have “worship” only as their starting point; they mean to show that worship affected the lives of the people in every area—from planting crops to fighting wars to running for political office.
Another thing: if the Calvin Institute for Christian Studies, a nominally Reformed think tank, were to publish a history of American worship, I would fully expect it to include chapters about the worship of Methodism and Roman Catholicism, and I would expect to read the book with profit. However, this book is not a “history” of “worship,” but is about “worship” in “history”—that is, each of the seven main essays is just one snapshot of worship in one denomination or subculture. One has to be interested both in worship and in Puritanism, or Methodism, or Roman Catholicism, to want to pick up this book. And three of the seven essays are devoted to worship in the Romish tradition, while five of the ten authors appear to be Roman Catholic—yet nary a word of negative evaluation of the worship of Rome is to be found in this book.
For an evaluation of Rome’s worship, and instruction for the Reformed believer regarding worship that pleases God, it appears that one cannot turn to various books put out by the Calvin Institute for Christian Studies; but one could turn to various chapters of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion.
And that, dear readers, would be a better use of your time.