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Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down: A Theology of Worship for This Urgent Time Paperback – July 10, 1995

4.2 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Academy of Parish ClergyTop Ten Books of the Year (1996)

Bibliotheca Sacra
"Few books on worship are as articulate, thought-provoking, well researched, and prophetic as this volume. . . Dawn displays a broad awareness of the popular trends and conclusions presented in contemporary church growth literature as her quotations, discussion, and ample footnotes demonstrate."

CBA Bookstore Journal
"Dawn's perspective on worship is refreshingly theocentric. . . An interesting work that addresses a key topic for Christians."

Christian Century
"In her warmly encouraging book, Dawn explores ways that congregation members and leaders can plan appealing and accessible worship services without 'dumbing down' to the lowest common denominator of popular culture. . . An especially helpful guide to the literature on church growth, authentic contemporary worship and music, and doing theology in congregations."

Christianity Today
"A vigorous defense of more traditional worship. . . Reaching Out without Dumbing Down represents a prophetic voice raising probing questions about worship that evangelicals ought to consider."

First Things
"An insightful treatment of the 'worship wars' that afflict many Protestant denominations and are being felt also among Catholics. Marva Dawn provides much-needed help in understanding why worship that is really the worship of god cannot be compromised to the goal of 'church growth.' No friend of traditionalism, Dawn knows the most astute appreciation of contemporary culture cannot be a substitute for a solid grounding in authentic Christian tradition. An important book."

Modern Liturgy
"This is a serious and accessible call to uncompromising liturgical reform."

New Theology Review
"Liturgists and musicians alike would profit from this pastorally oriented text. The author's genuine, convincing, impassioned account of the meaning of worship and its importance in the life of the worshipper should enable the fulfillment of her hope that it will lead to asking 'better questions."

Southwestern Journal of Theology
"This book is must reading for pastors, musicians, and laypersons who seek to deal with the 'worship wars' in a biblical and practical way. If you read only one book on worship this year, make this the one!"

The Anglican (Canada)
"For those who are longing to find an answer in the morass of today's muddle of worship, Marva Dawn's book is not only a source of hope, but indeed a source of strength. . . For all Christians who take their faith seriously, this is a book to be read and pondered. There is material here for everyone. . . Easy to read, but leads one into deep channels of thought."

The Christian Ministry
"A helpful contribution to any discussion about appropriate life-giving worship."

The Clergy Journal
"Sobering, significant, well written, and well documented. . . Her analysis and observations are persuasive and must be taken seriously."

Theology Today
"A welcome study of the state of the art of worship at the end of this century."

Word & World
"Anyone interested in a book that sizzles and pops while probing important matters of worship and church life might well enjoy (and be challenged by) Marva Dawn's passionate attempt to articulate a theology of worship for the turn-of-the-century culture."

From the Back Cover

Seeking to help local churches think more thoroughly about worship and culture so that they can function effectively in contemporary society, Dawn roots her discussion of worship issues in a careful assessment of significant aspects of the present technological, postmodern society and names criteria by which to judge various cultural influences. She also sketches the essential attributes of true worship - worship that keeps God at the center, builds believers' character, and upbuilds the community. In the process, Dawn discusses music, preaching, Scripture readings, rituals, liturgies, art, and all the accoutrements of worship, and offers practical suggestions for choosing the best tools and forms to deepen worship life, to nurture faith development, and to increase believers' outreach throughout the church and to the world.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 316 pages
  • Publisher: Eerdmans; Later Printing edition (July 10, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802841023
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802841025
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #258,427 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By David Bennett VINE VOICE on November 9, 2001
Format: Paperback
Marva Dawn asks how can the Church reach out, without losing its powerful message? Having attended many churches, I believe the Christian message is often "dumbed down" to fill pews. Dawn confronts our long-held views of worship. Worship, she says, is about God, not us. Christ, not entertainment value, is its meaning. Dawn reinforced my current beliefs, though I wish I had read her book earlier. I attended a "contemporary" church (she points out that it is more like an 80's church; if truly "contemporary" it would use trendier music), and found little depth. As I was discovering the riches of Christian tradition, my old church was proudly ignoring the past. Ultimately, she says we practice idolatry when we mimic empty secular culture, instead of transcending it.
Contrary to popular notions, "contemporary" churches don't appeal to all young persons. Dawn tells about a college student who left a "contemporary" service saying his intelligence was insulted. Many tire of being entertained, especially when their lives become rough and upbeat songs don't cut it, and the power-point presentations become indistinguishable from any other self-help seminar. Worship should subvert culture. Since the true gospel is shocking, it is not something that is able to be mass-marketed.
Dawn is not an old-timer. She believes that some traditionalists have let the liturgy become stale. The idolatry of "doing things as they always have been done" is no better than embracing secular society. She is not a future-fearing hidebound; she wants us to engage Christianity's rich history, but not just follow it blindly. She believes that liturgy, "the work of the people," should indeed be the people's work, not just the pastor's.
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By A Customer on May 18, 1999
Format: Paperback
As someone who tends to resist the "popular-culturalization" of life, I was drawn to this book. Dawn points out the error of approaching church planning by "How can we fill the pews the fastest?" She reminds us that pop culture and its associated cults of celebrity, wealth, and popularity are counter to the "otherness" of Christianity. Christians should be in the world but not of it. She couches her arguements in the larger terms of the changes that have taken place in American culture - changes she sees as distressing - that "ordinary people" don't sing or play instruments any more, that there is increased consumerism, that people are increasingly taking part in amusements that are passive and that separate them from other humans. But Dawn also challenges "traditionalists" not to fossilize in their worship styles and points out that some change may be necessary.
I agreed with much of what Dawn had to say; a person who is into "praise songs" and the church as mall probably wouldn't agree with her. She is pretty harsh on the "marketing-driven" churches, but I do think much of that harshness is deserved, considering what could happen to Christianity if it becomes just another "lifestyle choice."
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Format: Paperback
Marva J. Dawn, a Lutheran theologian at Regent College in Vancouver, throws in her views on the current "worship wars" being waged in churches across America. Taking a firmly traditional stance, though not in an unconditional and close-minded way, she details how churches have become captive to today's therapeutic, TV-addicted, and narcissistic culture. Churches have unthinkingly adopted the standards of the secular culture by singing songs that have more to do with our feelings than God, preaching sermons that are motivational speeches rather than exegeses of the Word, and encouraging church atmospheres which pretend to intimacy but replicate the alienation of our age. Dawn, citing figures as diverse as social critics Neil Postman and Jacques Ellul to theologians Walter Brueggeman and David Wells, shows how American Christianity got that way, and details some positive corrective steps. Worship is about God, and worship should form the character of the Christian, she insists, and anything less than that is unworthy of the Lord.
The book's clarion denunciation of the easygoing, narcissitic "gospel" is a real eye-opener and a prophetic challenge to the contemporary church. Though somewhat repetitive, her points are made clearly and with good support from both Scripture and theological tradition. The passion in her critique stems from what's at stake, which is the very life and death of God's people today. Her case for the traditional liturgy is particularly compelling in how she describes its effect on children and newcomers to the church. Having a set, repeated, and Scripture-rich liturgy following the church calendar will do much more to shape the worshiper's character than most of today's informal services.
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Format: Paperback
Worship is meant to be meaning-full. Every word, pause, and action is (or should be) intentional and holy. Dawn invites the reader into (an admittedly one-sided conversation) that reminds the reader of the sacredness of a gathered community of faith; and persuasively argues for the preservation of the rich tradition of Christian worship.
Passionate proponents of "contemporary" worship will at the very least find points of disagreement. In fact, they may very well be offended. Nevertheless, this excellent book is a much needed and well-researched counter to the current trend towards assuming that traditional worship has no connection or meaning to contemporary culture.
I highly recommend this book to anyone planning, contemplating, or participating in Christian worship in any form or denominational tradition. Warning: It may very well change things you have believed for a long time.
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