Preaching to the Straw Man Choir?

Jonathan Cruse’s book What Happens When We Worship has a simple point. Something important happens between us and God when we worship (p. 1). He presents a theology of worship (ch. 2-7), the pieces of a proper worship service (ch. 8-13), and some brief remarks about how to prepare for worship (ch. 14-15).

This is a book written with more zeal than tact.

The author is Very ReformedTM, which is something better experienced than described. He repeatedly impugns the motives and intent of millions of Christians across the world with broad brush accusations of mercenary pragmatism, and straw men caricatures. This is Cruse’s default rhetorical device. It doesn’t work well if you desire to reach and persuade an audience that doesn’t already agree with you. For example:

  • Cruse suggests that, for Christians, “[g]oing to church gets the same checkmark in the to-do list as going to the grocery store or doing homework,” (p. 1). This is unhelpful. Would Cruse really characterize his own congregation this way? Or, is he just talking about “other churches?”
  • He claims some Christians “dutifully suffer through the service while secretly wishing church wasn’t an obligation,” (p. 3). Who are these people? What real Christian would describe his habitual attitude this way?
  • Cruse writes, “Sadly, many Christians think the only way to worship with joy and gladness is through manufactured means,” (p. 3). Note his use of “many.” He then declares most churches either have an (1) entertainment approach, or (2) a mystical approach (pp. 4-8). His descriptions drip with sarcasm and scorn. He declares, but does not prove, that churches that disagree with him are motivated by mercenary pragmatism. “[I]t wins people to worship with something that will tickle their fancies and yet never save their souls,” (p. 5).

If you don’t do worship the way Cruse thinks it ought to be done, you get the impression you have compromised in some fundamental way. The problem is that Cruse never defines “worship,” and because he makes broadbrush characterizations of his targets you don’t really know who he’s talking about. Is he attacking something like Hillsong NYC? Or, my own congregation? Would Cruse accept that the local Calvary Chapel engages in authentic worship? You don’t know, because Cruse doesn’t tell you.

… when we capitulate our worship to the trends of the culture, we have lost something powerful that is meant to be happening in worship: we are meant to be separated from the world.

p. 71

I agree. But, Cruse never defines the aesthetic style that he believes is “holy,” and so we have no idea what this means. I presume the local Calvary Chapel thinks their worship style is holy. According to Cruse, are they wrong? If so, why?

The entire book proceeds in this manner. Cruse’s seems impatient with congregations which are not Very ReformedTM and don’t practice his peculiar form of the Regulative Principle. Unfortunately, this negates his entire message unless you already agree with him.

The author’s historical horizon seems to begin with the Reformation. He locates orthodoxy within a framework that begins at Calvin and ends with the Puritans. He appears to lack a catholic sense of solidarity or familiarity with the global church, past and present, as betrayed by his cursory comments about mysticism (pp. 6-8). He likes to provide quotes from famous theologians from secondary sources (p. 5 (fn #2), p. 19 (fn #4-5), p. 175 (fn #2)), which is sloppy.

Cruse sees evangelism as something that happens through the means of grace during worship. He argues the only imperative verb in Mt 28:19 is “make disciples,” and cites a book in support, but not the Greek text itself (p. 21, fn. 7), which I presume he can read. He admits that, yes, you must make disciples by evangelizing, but you really make disciples by having true worship, so that’s the key thing. The church fulfills the Great Commission when it gathers for worship (pp. 21-22). The “divinely mandated” methods for church growth are the ordinary means of grace―word and sacrament (p. 115). Cruse thus unfortunately embodies the old stereotype of Reformed folks as the “frozen chosen.” His theology of evangelism is therefore unhelpful.

He has a truncated version of God as the celestial policeman. There is little love or grace. God is the stern judge, ready to kill. Cruse writes:

One pastor I know sometimes opens the worship service by saying, ‘If you are not a Christian, we are glad you are with us today. We hope you will be encouraged by your time with us. But I must warn you that we come to meet with God today, and if you are not right with Him, you may not like what He reveals to you about Himself.’ That’s the idea.

pp. 72-73

Cruse appears to lack a category for God as the grieving husband (Hosea 1-3) who seeks His darling child―whose heart yearns and aches to rescue His people (Jer 31:20) and who loves His chosen with an everlasting love (Jer 31:3). His Calvinism swamps his theology proper, and so Cruse topples off the tightrope and presents a God of profound anger. In short, I think John Gill would have liked the author very much.

The otherwise positive contributions the author does make are discussed more substantively in other volumes. I suggest Hughes Old’s Leading in Prayer: A Workbook for Ministers as a guide to incorporate the traditional aspects of Western liturgy into your service, to the extent practicable. I think Cruse would appreciate much of what Olds has to say. In that respect, I’m suggesting an alternative to Cruse that upholds some of his own ideals.

I believe this is a book written for Very ReformedTM people who want to feel those warm tickles inside that tell them that, yes, they are right to be Very ReformedTM. This is fine, but it isn’t a book calculated to persuade. I’m off to listen to an Unspoken song. Unfortunately, I suspect Cruse would not approve.

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T Howard's picture

TylerR wrote:
Cruse sees evangelism as something that happens through the means of grace during worship. He argues the only imperative verb in Mt 28:19 is “make disciples,” and cites a book in support, but not the Greek text itself (p. 21, fn. 7), which I presume he can read. He admits that, yes, you must make disciples by evangelizing, but you really make disciples by having true worship, so that’s the key thing. The church fulfills the Great Commission when it gathers for worship (pp. 21-22). The “divinely mandated” methods for church growth are the ordinary means of grace―word and sacrament (p. 115). Cruse thus unfortunately embodies the old stereotype of Reformed folks as the “frozen chosen.” His theology of evangelism is horrifying.

Tyler, I'm not sure how pointing out that there is only one imperative verb in Matthew 28:19 (i.e. μαθητεύσατε) means evangelism only happens through the means of grace during worship.

Is that what you're criticizing?

TylerR's picture

Editor

That's what Cruse said. He says worship is the goal of the church, and evangelism is a component of worship. He sees evangelism as taking place when true worship happens, through the means of grace. He explains that the only imperative in the Great Commission is to make disciples, and you do that by proper worship. 

His approach is "If we worship well, they will come!" He seems to find no place for corporate evangelism.

If you're having trouble following the Great Commission connection, it's because of Cruse, not me! I'm just explaining what he said.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

T Howard's picture

I got it now. Thanks.

Yes, I would agree that such an argument doesn't agree with what Matthew 28:19 teaches or with what we see happening in Acts. There are, after all, three participles in Matthew 28:19 that describe how we are to make disciples. One of them is "going"!

T Howard's picture

[after reading the attachment]

Matthew 29:19 doesn't say the mission of the church is evangelism. But, it also doesn't say the mission of the church is worship.

Matthew 29:19 says the mission of the church is to make disciples. How do you make disciples? By "going," by "baptizing," and by "teaching." In other words, making disciples involves gospel proclamation to the unsaved, assimilation/identification of new believers with the body of Christ, and catechism.

All three can be accomplished outside of the formal worship service. In fact, that is exactly what we see happening in the book of Acts (e.g. Acts 8). That being said, the worship service is a focused time for teaching, preaching, and sacrament.

So, I'm not sure why the author tries to qualify what Matthew 29:19 actually says, other than to point out that it doesn't say the mission of the church is only evangelism. Who is arguing that?

TylerR's picture

Editor

I'm not sure. I believe he's such a Very Reformed guy, with a corresponding high church liturgy, that his entire prism for understanding "the church" is through worship. So (the best I can tell) he sneers at churches that make evangelism more important than worship. I don't think he's attacking low-hanging fruit like Osteen or Hillsong NYC. I think he really means "ordinary" churches that aren't like him. Worship is everything to him.

It's very difficult for me to express the contempt Cruse seems to have for churches that aren't Very Reformed. He was only ordained in 2017, but runs in the Very Reformed crowd associated with Joel Beeke in Grand Rapids = thus this book got published. I suspect (but cannot prove) that his tone and approach is generated more from tropes and stereotypes as opposition, rather than actual reality.

At one point, he criticizes evangelical churches for caving in to a "entertainment" mindset, and in support cites an ad he saw once from a United Methodist church. That isn't evangelical! His other support is to cite a billboard a friend of his once saw that promoted entertainment in worship. This is hearsay, and it's silly. Ridiculous!

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

G. N. Barkman's picture

Matthew 29:19 doesn't say anything.  (But Matthew 28:19 certainly does.)

G. N. Barkman

T Howard's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:

Matthew 29:19 doesn't say anything.  (But Matthew 28:19 certainly does.)

Nice. Thanks for the catch.

However, hover over the links and magically Matt 28 displays.  Smile

Andrew K's picture

You think this guy's bad, Tyler?

Have you ever met an EP proponent (Exclusive Psalmody)?

TylerR's picture

Editor

I suspect Cruse may be one, but I'm not sure. That's why I linked to the "Unspoken" song at the end with a smile!

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

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