Essay / Theology

Review of John Jefferson Davis' Worship and the Reality of God

As an Anglican, what drew me to this book was Davis’ subtitle: An Evangelical Theology of Real Presence. I imagined that the book must be about the Eucharist (and it is) but as it turns out, it is so much more. The book is a kind of tour de force – a primer on pre-modern, modern and post-modern worldviews and they impact what one thinks is happening in Christian worship; a history book on the practice and theology of the Eucharist; and a constructive theological project that forces the reader to step up and take action. In short, this is a good book.

Davis, professor of theology and ethics at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, lays out his project as one of recapturing a proper ontology of God so that evangelical worship will be renewed. As the title states, this book is about worship. In Davis’ view there are three competing ontologies: 1) scientific materialism (the ontology of modernity); 2) digital virtualism (the ontology of postmodernity); and 3) trinitarian supernaturalism (the ontology of eternity). Davis’ goal, of course, is to argue for the superiority of trinitarian supernaturalism. He goes about his project by making three claims: 1) renewal of evangelical worship calls for a change of perspective regarding the participants in worship (God, the church and the Christian); 2) “the real, personal presence of the risen Christ in the assembly in the power of the Spirit [is] the central and fundamental fact of true worship” (p. 34); and 3) the risen Christ continues to meet his people in joyful fellowship at the communion table.

Davis believes that the evangelical church has lost a proper sense of God’s holiness and majesty. He argues, therefore, that the evangelical church needs to recover a sense of the “heaviness of God” and that this recovery will counteract the effects of modernity and postmodernity that make God seem “lightweight.” In Davis’ theology the church is a theanthropic reality, that is, it is a unique God-human community where “the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, [are] eternally united by the Holy Spirit to the body of Christ, the believing church” (p. 34). Therefore, such a view demands that the worshipper see God for who he is while also seeing himself as a “trinitarian-ecclesial self.” This argues against the modern and post-modern view of humankind as a sovereign and disconnected self.

Further, Davis’ contention that the true reality in Christian worship is the presence of God, makes Christian worship an experience where God’s own holiness and glory are “really” there (as are the angels, archangels, saints and martyrs). He argues that the worldviews of modernity and postmodernity have erased from the Christian imagination the truth that God is present, making him seem distant and unreal, placing the focus instead on the human preacher, the musicians and the audience.

Lastly, Davis believes that the Reformation Christian traditions tossed the baby out with the bath water when they reacted to a concept of the real presence in the Eucharist and began to celebrate communion infrequently. Davis argues that instead of seeing Christ present on the table that evangelicals need to understand that Jesus Christ is at the table, as the true minister and celebrant. Thus, Christ’s “presence is real, dynamic and personal, mediated by the Holy Spirit” (p. 35).

Taking all this into consideration, Davis concludes the book with practical suggestions for pastors and church leadership to implement this new understanding of worship. Davis is a solid theologian and has an excellent grasp on modern and post-modern worldviews. As a theologian who has also won awards from the Templeton Foundation, it is not surprising that Davis would also use insights from the sciences but his inclusion of ideas from the worlds of video gaming and virtual reality were surprising. Davis’ text is not “grumpy” insofar as he is merely railing against the loss of something that he is nostalgic about recovering. Rather, Davis’ argument is engaging and thought-provoking. If pastors, church leaders, seminarians and seminary professors read this book carefully I do not doubt that things would begin to change in the evangelical church. My hope is that this will happen and that it will happen soon.

Share this essay [social_share/]