Previous | Next

Spring 2000 · Vol. 29 No. 1 · pp. 69–71 

Book Review

A Royal “Waste” of Time: The Splendor of Worshiping God and Being Church for the World

Marva J. Dawn. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999. 377 pages.

Reviewed by Jonah C. Kliewer

A Royal “Waste” of Time is a sequel to Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down which appeared in 1995. The concern which inspired the writing of these two books was the observation by Marva Dawn that churches “made decisions about worship without much theological reflection, or stayed stuck in traditionalistic ruts, or constantly increased the hype to keep folks interested, or withdrew into musical snobbery” (2-3). Her conviction that the health and growth of the Church has everything to do with worship drives her concern.

On page 228 of A Royal “Waste” of Time, Dr. Dawn reviews her personal pilgrimage in order to establish her credibility and authority in the area of worship. It is a convincing saga. Her qualifications include a Ph.D. in Christian ethics and the Scriptures from the University of Notre Dame. She currently serves as theologian and author with Christians Equipped for Ministry, Vancouver, Washington, and is adjunct professor of spiritual theology at Regent College, Vancouver, British Columbia.

Each of the six parts of this book begin with a Scripture-based sermon, since Dawn emphasizes that the Church’s worship must follow scriptural guidelines in order to form a biblical community. Though she speaks as a theologian it is clear that Marva Dawn has a special interest in music of the Church. The title of the book was inspired by an encounter with a student in the Sacred Music Department of the Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey. She asked, “Are we wasting our time here?” Dawn answered: “In the light of rapid changes {70} in congregations’ attitudes toward worship and of numerous controversies over styles and substance, one might wonder if preparing to serve as a church musician is a waste of time” (13).

But from this point to the end Dawn discusses responses to a lengthy list of questions and in so doing draws on the wisdom of an impressive list of authors. A sampling of these questions will suggest the content of the book and the breadth of its appeal:

  • “How has postmodernism affected Christian thought?” (39ff)
  • “What does it mean to be the Church for postmodern times?” (54ff)
  • “Why is setting limits on the media critical for Christian worship?” (70ff; Dawn’s treatment of this issue is particularly urgent for the church today)
  • “How has ‘consumerism’ affected the Church’s worship?” (One of Dawn’s statements here should raise eyebrows. “. . . it is utterly dangerous for churches to offer choices of worship styles,” 98)
  • “How does the Church exercise the difference between worship and evangelism?” (124)
  • “What happens when God is not the center of worship?” (155)
  • “Worship is not a matter of taste!” (How does one resolve the conflict of “Traditional” vs. “Contemporary” taste?)
  • “What idolatries invade the Church?” (Idolatry of ease, of materialistic consumerism, experiential consumerism, information consumerism, of autonomy and power, of intimacy? 225ff)
  • “What are the purposes of song in worship?” (287)
  • “Why has the Church forgotten its eschatology?” (355)

A final question which summarizes the burden of Dawn’s writing is:

  • “Are our congregations conducting worship that is deep enough to equip people to lay down the world’s follies and shoulder the cross, or do we simply seek a good time?” (341)

Dawn’s writing is readily accessible to the average reader but the book would be most meaningful to clergy and to church musicians who are conversant with theological concepts.

This book was recommended most highly by a friend of mine who has worked in church music all of his life. He asked all those who bought a copy at $15.00 to send him the copy if they did not respond enthusiastically after reading it; he would reimburse all comers at full price, then give the books to clergy and church musicians. I echo his {71} recommendation but stop short of following his example. [See an excerpt from Dawn’s book in Direction 28:2 (Fall 1999): 139-52—Ed.]

Jonah C. Kliewer
Professor Emeritus of Voice and Choral Music
Tabor College, Hillsboro, Kansas

Previous | Next