I’ve been a fan of Glenn Packiam for awhile. I have a friend who has been going to New Life Church for some time and he introduced me to Glenn’s writings. I’ve also seen Glenn play with the Desperation Band, which he founded with Jared Anderson and Jon Egan. Through his books, such as Secondhand Jesus and Butterfly in Brazil, I found that Glenn has a great way of conveying his experiences and Christian thought clearly and plainly.
I started reading Discover the Mystery of Faith after I saw Glenn tweet some quite bold statements (for an evangelical) regarding the Eucharist. He spoke of the body and blood in terms of real presence and also as a mysterious work. This is a particular doctrine which I adopted while still an evangelical and it’s turned me towards the Orthodox church and sacramental life. Needless to say, these statements I caught wind of on Twitter are just the beginning of what Glenn tries to convey in Discover the Mystery of Faith.
I bought the Kindle edition which doesn’t have the accompanying album and supposedly has some liturgical music Glenn has written. My review will be based solely on the merits of the content of the book.
The main thrust of book is about Glenn’s own exploration into how worship shapes our faith while also looking into the early Christian history regarding worship. It’s a very light read at 118 pages. There are six chapters, which cover a lot of Glenn’s personal journey into embracing the mystery of the faith in worship and how he has implemented it into his own ministry.
I’ll start with what I think are Glenn’s strongest points in the book.
First, this book is an excellent way to bridge the gap between liturgical worship and the practice in modern day worship. I am most conservative in my beliefs about worship and so I lean more towards the liturgical service, but I can understand that unless you’ve been raised in a church which has liturgical services, the beauty and meaning of liturgy may escape you.
Second, Glenn really brings his points home by diving into the Patristic texts and showing how the early Christians saw worship from the beginning. Most importantly, Glenn points to how the Eucharistic table was perceived as the center of worship. He doesn’t quite get to the point where he mentions all the sacraments, but he presents the idea which underlines the sacraments very well -that God comes to us in tangible mysteries, consummated by the worship of His people.
Glenn states some rather startling observations about the current state of modern worship, including:
Perhaps part of the reason the Church is malnourished and our faith is anemic is because our worship services have become a theological Happy Meal.
If our songs are juvenile, they may simply be a symptom of our adolescent faith. But maybe they are also part of the problem. Maybe our simplistic, peppy songs actually perpetuate our spiritual adolescence.
I would tend to agree with both of these statements, but this is also where I come to the negative part of my review.
The book has so much potential to shift the reader’s paradigm regarding modern worship, but as Packiam tiptoes towards the edge of the precipice of posturing towards the “high church”, he then reverts back to the evangelical shoulder-shrug at the end. This is something I find utterly perplexing. If modern worship has truly evolved into a “theological Happy Meal”, wouldn’t the solution be to go back to the liturgical feast, given that our predecessors clung to it for several centuries? Could it possibly be that they understood the weight of worship far better than we do now?
I understand there are a lot of other factors to consider here, including the developmental history of liturgy to modern worship, but this book doesn’t even attempt to graze those questions. One particular moment that sticks out to me is when Glenn recounts his experience of going to an Eastern Orthodox worship service. I gathered he got a lot out of the experience and was taken aback by the beauty he saw, but then concluded that it was a preference choice without ever even bothering to ask why this style of worship still lives within the tradition of the Orthodox church. I would have even preferred a full statement of dismissal towards the full-on liturgical style to Glenn’s juking of these above inquiries altogether.
In conclusion, I think that this is a fascinating book for two reasons: 1) It bridges the gap between the modern evangelical understanding of worship and the hunger we can feel for deeper meaning in worship, which can ultimately draw us to the liturgical style. 2) It is a sort of look into the way many Christians perceive Christian history. Some see it as a nice bookmark in the continuing, evolving story of Christianity, but they never consider that it might be the well-worn path we’d do best to try and tread. They’d rather borrow ideas as they suit them comfortably, but disregard the ones that don’t fit in with their cultural context. Christianity becomes a bit like a buffet of rituals and doctrines, without the baggage of the ecclesiology. There’s a lot of questions asked here, but the answer Glenn provide may not necessarily be satisfying.
I know this may sound harsh, but it’s something I’ve had to deal with myself. If you divorce the Tradition from the ecclesiology, you end up with hollow ritualism.
All in all, I do recommend this book. Especially if you disagree with my assessment of it’s material. You may find yourself at least looking down the path of liturgical worship and find a wealth of meaning which can speak to your spiritual life.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars ¤¤¤