Our “best books” series spotlights essential reading for Christian leaders. This week’s pick is Unceasing Worship, by Harold Best.
Worship is more than a style of music or event that happens in a church building. It includes such things, but far exceeds them. The Bible gives us a deeper, broader, richer view of worship. This book, with great skill, shows that everyone everywhere is always worshiping—the only differences being who or what, and how.
Best says, “The burden of this book develops the concept of continuous outpouring as the rubric for our worship. As God eternally outpours within his triune self, and as we are created in his image, it follows that we too are continuous outpourers, incurably so. The trouble with our outpouring is that it is fallen. It needs redeeming, else we spend our outpouring on false gods appearing to us in any number of guises. Salvation is the only way our continuous outpouring—our continuous worship—is set aright and urged into the fullness of Christ,” (10).
We are, every one of us, unceasing worshipers and will remain so forever.
In chapter one, Best proves that “Nobody Does Not Worship” saying, “We begin with one fundamental fact about worship: at this very moment, and for as long as this world endures, everybody inhabiting it is bowing down and serving something or someone—an artifact, a person, an institution, an idea, a spirit, or God through Christ. Everyone is being shaped thereby and is growing up toward some measure of fullness, whether of righteousness or of evil. No one is exempt and no one can wish to be. We are, every one of us, unceasing worshipers and will remain so forever, for eternity is an infinite extrapolation of one of two conditions: a surrender to the sinfulness of sin unto infinite loss or the commitment of personal righteousness unto infinite gain. This is the central fact of our existence, and it drives every other fact. Within it lies the story of creation, fall, redemption, and new creation or final loss,” (17–18). Best writes: “I have worked out a definition for worship that I believe covers every possible human condition. It is this: Worship is the continuous outpouring of all that I am, all that I do and all that I can ever become in light of a chosen or choosing god,” (18).
He goes on to say, “We were created continuously outpouring. Note that I did not say we were created to be continuous outpourers. Nor can I dare imply that we were created to worship. This would suggest that God is an incomplete person whose need for something outside himself (worship) completes his sense of himself. It might not even be safe to say that we were created for worship, because the inference can be drawn that worship is a capacity that can be separated out and eventually relegated to one of several categories of being. I believe it is strategically important, therefore, to say that we were created continuously outpouring—we were created in that condition, at that instant, Imago Dei. We did not graduate into being in the image of God; we were, by divine fiat, already in the image of God at the instant the Spirit breathed into our dust. Hence we were created continuously outpouring,” (23).
“God is the Continuous Outpourer; we bear his image as continuous outpourers.”
Best finds the origins of our worship in the nature of the Trinity saying, “God is the uniquely Continuous Outpourer. He cannot but give of himself, reveal himself, pour himself out. Even before he chooses to create, and before he chooses to reveal himself beyond himself, he eternally pours himself out to his triune Self in unending fellowship, ceaseless conversation and immeasurable love unto an infinity of the same. Within limitless intercourse, transcendent speech and splendid work (the Father to the Son, the Son to the Spirit, the Spirit to the Father), the Godhead goes about its glorious work of being the eternal I AM THAT I ACT THAT I AM, with nothing contingent, preceding or following. This is the originating outpouring for which these mere words fail and into which our faith-not-yet-become-sight peers with intense longing,” (21).
He goes on to say, “God is the Continuous Outpourer; we bear his image as continuous outpourers. Being made in the image of God means that we were created to act the way God acts, having been given a nature within which such behavior is natural. The difference between God and humankind, merely and mysteriously, is one of singular finitude and unique and multiplied finitude. Whatever character or attribute God inherently possesses and pours out, we are created finitely to show and to pour out after his manner,” (23).
Best goes on to say that because of sin and the fall, we remain worshippers but are now idolaters worshiping created things rather than the Creator God as Paul articulates in Romans 1.
Building on his massive thesis, the book goes on to cover authentic worship (chapter 2), mutual indwelling (chapter 3), corporate worship (chapter 4), the relationship between worship and witness (chapter 5), worship and praying and preaching (chapter 6). The rest of the book covers worship and the arts, with worship and artistic action (chapter 7), creative lessons from the Creator (chapter 8), music and worship (chapter 9), allowing art to be art (chapter 10), worship and art and idolatry (chapter 11), and worship and culture (chapter 12). In the last section of the book he examines culture and the error of mimicking mass culture (chapter 13), and role of quality in worship (chapter 14).
“The call to salvation is a call to redeemed worship.”
The book ends, appropriately so, with calling the reader to the worship of Jesus. Best says, “The call to salvation is a call to redeemed worship. It is offered in the continuum of God’s acceptable time, accepted in the regenerative work of the Spirit and once for all settled in Christ. All subsequent calls to worship, then, are subordinate to, and reflections of, this one call,” (212).
This is a paradigm book that is thorough in establishing a biblical view of godly worship in all of life. Creative types, musicians, artists, and all those who care about the worship of God should read this rich and profound book carefully and prayerfully. It is a great gift to the church, both for our good and the glory of God.