A few weeks ago, I picked up Mike Cosper’s Rhythms of Grace (Crossway, March 2013) and quickly devoured it. Mike is Pastor of Worship & Arts at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY. That I knew I would love and highly recommend the book is a no-brainer, because Mike and I have tracked along the thought-patterns of many of the same theologians, philosophers, thinkers, writers, and practitioners in the field of Christian worship today. I want to point out a few things about the book, along with what I think are its best, must-read points and chapters.
A Biblical-Theological Structure & Emphasis
It’s remarkable that for the first 50% of a book on worship, Cosper doesn’t even mention music. Instead, the first four chapters walk through telling the story of the Gospel in all of Scripture, particularly through the lens of worship. It’s beautiful.
Understandable, Digestible, & Memorable
Another remarkable thing about Rhythms of Grace is in the presentation of the information. It’s one thing to know and believe something. It’s another thing to communicate it thoroughly and convincingly, yet with brevity and clarity. Cosper excels at this balance. It probably comes from the fact that he’s taught on these subjects and ideas many times and has learned how to hone content into digestible portions. Chapter 5, “Worship One, Two, Three” is a prime example of this. There, he lays out a wonderful paradigm on how to think biblically about worship from the 10,000-foot view:
- Worship has one object–God.
- Worship has two contexts–scattered and gathered.
- Worship has three audiences–God, the Church, and the world.
The upshot of this simple paradigm is that many of our conversations about worship on the ground level would be so much more fruitful if this paradigm were in place. So often, when we dialogue about “worship,” we’re talking past each other, not necessarily because we disagree, but because we’re speaking about different facets (e.g. gathered, corporate worship vs. whole-life worship). Frameworks like “worship one, two, three” establish concrete biblical-theological ideas so that we can speak the same language and actually talk to rather than talk past.
Distilling Recent Worship Thought
Rhythms of Grace acts as a primer for some heavier reads that some worship leaders find too cumbersome to wade through. For instance, Chapter 6, “Worship as Spiritual Formation” is a rough distillation of the thought of James K. A. Smith in Desiring the Kingdom and Imagining the Kingdom. If well-intentioned worship leaders have picked up those books and put them down, overwhelmed by their density, I would heartily recommend reading Cosper’s chapter.
The Three Strongest Chapters
Chapter 9, “Sing, Sing, Sing” – Not only is it a marvelous exposition and application of Colossians 3:16, it cuts to the heart of issues of musical style, preference, singing, and the role of music. I’ve never seen anyone dive into the issue with so little splash and so much balance and biblical clarity. Every worship leader must read this.
Chapter 10, “The Pastoral Worship Leader” – In this chapter, Cosper gave me a way to think about the ever-vexing questions of cultural relevance and “contextualization.” It is so clear and so convincing. Cosper’s paradigm, especially on pp. 176-179, will most likely forever be the way I think and talk about these issues.
Appendix C, “The Sound of (Modern) Music: Technical Challenges for Audio and Congregational Singing” – Who recommends an appendix? I do. It’s short but incredibly incisive. It is the best brief treatment on its topic I have ever read. In it, you’ll find a defense of loudness in worship, a parsing of the difference between “loud” and “bad,” and a very brief summary on how this plays into everything from musicians and instruments to sound engineers and gear. And the opening page levels the playing field by delivering a really cool, unexpected punch to the gut.