There are many books on Christian worship: some helpful and some not-so-helpful. Nicolas Alford’s Doxology: How Worship Works clearly belongs in the former category. Though affirming the broader sense of worship (as a way of life), the book intentionally focuses on congregational worship. Alford is preeminently concerned that God’s people worship by the Book. Drawing from the Reformed tradition, he concisely expounds and carefully applies the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW), which, in essence, is the doctrine of sola Scriptura applied to church life and ministry.
But Alford does more—which is what makes this book superior to many others. First, he prefaces the the major principles that should govern our worship with a chapter that distinguishes between authority and influences. The Bible is the ultimate authority for worship. Nevertheless, there are other considerations that may and, in some cases, should affect the way we understand and apply the Bible. Alford defines and explains these influences in the following order of priority: Confessional/Convictional, Traditional/Cultural, and Preference/Deference.
Second, Alford identifies seven prefatory principles that we must employ as we seek to order our worship aright: the Biblical, Trinitarian, Covenantal, Ecclesiastical, Sabbatic, Governing, and Commissioned principles. These are Scriptural vantage points or perspectives from which we can ascertain the biblical contours of worship more clearly.
Three themes dominate James Smith’s You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit. (1) Our loves are like unconscious dispositions we have towards the things and events around us and they reveal our identity. (2) The habituation of godly virtues forms our inner self-our soul. So while gaining knowledge of God and His Word is vital to discipleship, the gaining of virtues—the forming of the soul—is the core of discipleship. (3) The primary way of gaining virtues (of forming the soul) is liturgy in the church.
Chapter 1 explores love and worship. Which is more indicative of our identity? What we love, or what we think? Smith argues that what we love defines our identity. We as humans love something. “You can’t not love.”1 Our loves dictate our choices. Smith compares our loves to our compass, a default orientation of the soul.
Virtues are the habituated, internalized inclinations of the soul “to be compassionate, forgiving, and so forth.”2 “As Aristotle put it, when you’ve acquired a moral habit, it becomes second nature.”3 “Those habits that become ‘second’ nature operate in the same way: they become so woven into who you are that they are as natural for you as breathing and blinking. You don’t have to think about or choose to do these things: they come naturally.”4 “In fact, if I have to deliberate about being compassionate, it’s a sure sign I lack the virtue!”5