Alexis D. ABERNETHY, editor, Worship That Changes Lives: Multidisciplinary and Congregational Perspectives on Spiritual Transformation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008. pp.285. $15.95 pb. ISBN 978-0-8010-3194-6.
Reviewed by Marie CONN, Chestnut Hill College, Philadelphia, PA 19118

Written, as the subtitle implies, from a variety of viewpoints, this collection of essays is useful in many ways. While academically satisfying, the essays are at the same time quite readable and practical.

In her Introduction, Alexis Abernethy (borrowing from Dueck, Gorsuch, and Reimer) defines spiritual transformation as “that experience which a person labels as transforming, [frames] linguistically as spiritual in nature, and [results] in significant behavioral change.” (13)

The book is divided into three parts: theology of worship; worship and the arts; and worship narratives and transformation. The essays are as varied as the scholars and practitioners who wrote them. One which I found particularly engaging is Todd Farley’s “Worship, Dramatic Arts, and the Agogic Moment.” Farley’s focus is the role that symbolic actions and dramatic art forms can play in worship, and how these actions and art forms can evoke in participants an “agogic moment,” a moment of change.

In “Under the Mango Tree,” Roberta A. King invites us to leave North America behind and explore the role of music in the worship styles of sub-saharan Africa, an area of explosive growth in Christianity. I happened to read this essay shortly after hearing a speaker remind us that the majority of the world’s Christians can be found in the southern hemisphere. King shows how the Senufo Christians have integrated their African heritage into their worship: “Senufo Christians have developed their own, uniquely religio-social event, the locus of which is the worship-music event. For the Senufo, music evokes spiritual negotiation within their African Christian context.” (154)

Ryan K. Bolger’s essay, “Contemporary Perspectives on Worship,” examines what Bolger calls the “emerging churches” in the UK and the US. Bolger describes emerging churches as “new expressions of church arising out of popular or postmodern culture.” These churches, in his experience, take many forms. In these churches, according to Bolger, the secular and the sacred become one. The sacred includes all of life, including secular music and poetry. This is something that Christians have been insisting on for centuries, but somehow this is not what resonates in many mainstream worship styles. Emerging churches tap into human creativity, and see art and narrative as essential. “In emerging churches, participants are contributors rather than spectators, producers rather than consumers. The benefit is in the doing.” (176)

All in all, this collection of essays should be of interest to anyone who has an interest, academic, professional, or personal, in various aspects of worship, and who strives to make worship a transformational experience for all involved.

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