When I first heard that an Assemblies of God theologian had written a book entitled “Liturgical Theology” I was giddy with excitement. I never would have guessed that this would be something that Pentecostals would be exploring. But, because Pentecostals and Evangelicals have not much meditated on the Church’s worship, both historically and theologically, this book is a challenge to engrained and unexamined habits. The quote on the book says in no uncertain terms “Bad worship produces bad theology, and bad theology produces an unhealthy church.” In this way the book is not a simple introduction it is a dare for Evangelicals to think critically and theologically about what we do when we “worship.”
In the first chapter of the book Chan begins with building an ecclesiology. asserts that “the church is an ontological reality.” Not as a thing called out to ‘fix’ a creation gone awry, but a thing which exists for itself and for God, having been called out purely for God’s own glory.
Instead of seeing the church as called out of Creation to fulfill a purpose Chan proposes that
“The church precedes creation in that it is what God has in view from all eternity and creation is the means by which God fulfills his eternal purpose in time. The church does not exist in order to fix a broken creation, rather creation exists to realize the church.”
In his section on the body of Christ Chan explores the way in which the church is a sacramental communion which is fed by the Eucharist and is ‘Christ embodied in his church.” In a creative move he challenges what he believes is a crude understanding of church Tradition in Evangelical circles as a sort of one-time propositional deposit which is simply re-proclaimed. Instead, Chan argues, as we are ontologically linked to the living Christ, so the Tradition is alive and in process as the Church is continually being formed into his likeness.
Moving on he takes in sweeping and quick motion chapters on the “Foundations” of his thesis. One on the “Worship of the Church,” “The Shape of the Liturgy,” and “The Liturgy as Ecclesial Practice.”
Speaking of the “Worship of the Church,” Chan examines Worship and the Church, Theology and the Divine Glory, continually playing off of three points he makes early on. 1) Worship is that which distinguishes the Church as the Church 2) Worship realizes the Church and 3) Worship is God’s action in the Church.
In the third chapter, he moves on to what could be called, in my opinion, the central challenge Chan is making through the whole book. Of course he goes over much more in the book, but one gets the impression that Chan wants to bring Evangelical “worship” out of the seeker ages and start taking serious consideration of what we are doing.
“Unless our respective orders of service . . . conform to the basic ordo, we are not being shaped into the community we are meant to be”
And it is here that for the first time we get into the nitty gritty of how Word and Sacrament relate to one another. For Chan, the Eucharist is the total focus of the liturgy. Even Word relates to it. Indeed, there are important ways that the Eucharist is an acted Word, allowing us to “take in” the Gospel as Communion with God rather than just the intellectual illumination of the preached word.
From here we are introduced to the Liturgy as an Ecclesial practice. Where are the “subjective” and “objective” poles in a “worship service?” How does it relate to private individual devotion and the Church at large? How does it form us? We are told that it is not intention that provides grace. Rather since all of salvation is “gift,” simply by “being there” ascribing glory to God, we are being shaped by His action in us, even when we don’t “feel” it.
Chan calls for a revival of the Chatechumenate and challenges Evangelicals to see “salvation” not as a mere “conversion experience” but as a grand process. We should be instructing new “converts” more and restricting Eucharist to the baptized. It is the massive focus on the “conversion experience” which ends up completely individualizing salvation and relativising the Sacraments to fancy (or unfancy in most congregations) acoutriments that should be repeated but are barely necessary, if at all, for salvation.
The penultimate chapter walks us through the various parts of the Liturgy itself. A very handy chapter to be sure, especially for those unfamiliar with the “liturgy.” He explains the theological significance of the different parts and how they relate to one another and to the doctrines of the Church.
He examines, finally, the “active participation” aspect to the liturgy. Presumably to fend off those who want to glibly insult the liturgy as “cold externalism” or “ritualism.” Though grace is inwardly received without “intent” or “purpose,” Chan is keen to help us understand how one can be attentive to the various parts of the liturgy and encourages us to meditate and be “caught up” in the worship. As Hans Gadamer posits that “play does not fulfill its purpose unless one loses themselves in play” so Chan, trying to avoid both ritualism and subjectivism, says that “the point of the liturgy is to get lost in it” to be caught up into the action of God among his people, to receive His gifts without demanding full comprehension.
This certainly is a bold book, and in many ways is to be commended. As a Pentecostal evangelical Chan certainly is more able than most to transform the idea of the church from a tradition-less biblicism into a living sacramental community given sustenance in the Eucharist and being guided by the presence of the Holy Spirit. And as younger Evangelicals continue to reject division over interpretive disparities between fellowships, sola scriptura is bound to be itself superceded as common life in Communion is made primary over issues such as ‘pre-destination.’ In these proposals I think Chan to be right on and I hope that this book can be a part of the recapturing by Evangelicals of the whole history and tradition of the Church.