In the final section of By the Waters of Babylon Aniol turns to the issue of worship. In this section he does an admirable job of defining worship, defining the mission of the institutional church, and establishing the regulative principle of worship. Though differing with an exegetical point here or a detail there, I am in full agreement with the general thrust of the argument in this section.
One of the best parts of this section is the discussion of “authentic worship” versus worship as a shaper of behavior. Aniol notes that according to some understandings, authenticity is presented as being who you are―with no discussion of whether who you are needs to change. In contrast to this Aniol argues that worship should reshape who we are. Being authentic should not excuse being unlike Christ. Rather, worship should reshape us so that we are authentically more and more like Christ. This is profound and worthy of careful meditation.
Also helpful is Aniol’s argument that the worship heritage that western nations enjoy should be passed along to people of other cultures. This makes sense to me, given that cultures change over time as well as by place. Thus even western nations are making use of the riches from previous cultures when they draw on their own tradition. I would raise one caution here. There should be no assumption that non-western cultures are simply fallen and do not contain the resources for right worship. While on the one hand, one should argue that every culture is totally depraved (meaning that there is no area of culture untouched by the Fall), no culture is as bad as it could possibly be. Thus there is the need for discerning structure and direction in every culture. Further, while Christians in new cultures do not need to re-invent the wheel, missionaries should make a careful distinction between passing on the rich heritage of Christian worship and simply imposing American ways of doing things. American ways are not necessarily biblical ways, and it may well be that in many areas the indigenous culture is less fallen than American culture.
Finally, Aniol makes the intriguing point that Scripture comes with inspired literary forms that are authoritative for our worship. This is a significant point, but it begs for enlargement. What are these forms and what are some concrete ways that they should be regulating worship at present? I would like to see some development of this idea in Scott’s future writing.
In some ways this has been a critical review, but the criticism comes not because I oppose Scott’s project but because I support it and hope to strengthen it. My largest disagreement has to do not with the substance of Scott’s proposal or even with the viewpoints that critiques but with a tendency to favor the two-kingdoms approach and to associate the reformational viewpoint with transformationalism. I think balancing the assessment of these two groups will actually strengthen the overall thesis of the book. I commend By the Waters of Babylon to everyone interested in missions, culture, and worship.