The Future of Protestant Worship:

Beyond the Worship Wars.

By Ronald P. Byars. Louisville , London :

Westminster John Knox Press. 2002. 138pp.

The war between the traditional style of worship and the contemporary style of worship is the focus of the book. Ronald P. Byars' intention is not predicting which of these styles will be declared the winner of the worship wars or the "wave of the future" (p. 125). His purpose is to engage readers to examine critically the two styles of worship from the theological, liturgical, historical and cultural perspective.

  The book begins with a description of the cultural context that demands change which inevitably invites conflicting views. The entrepreneurial spirit and pioneering mentality to experiment nontraditional ways of worship have succeeded in drawing large crowds of baby boomers and Gen Xers into churches who dared to be different (pp.1&2). The Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois in the United States is one example and has "created clones of that church" because its impact has dared ministers of traditional congregations to change! (p. 2).  Many reasons have been given for the need to change but the perceived inescapable task of the church is be "reformed" to meet the relevant spiritual wants and hunger of people in the postmodern age (pp.1-35).  Apparently, the answer lies in the reformation or restructure of the worship service and "it's in this [cultural] environment that we see more and more churches describing their services as 'traditional' or 'contemporary' " (p. 3).  The author devotes two chapters on discussing the meaning of "traditional" and "contemporary " to discourage the simplistic interpretation of traditional as out-of-date service in contrast to contemporary as up-to-date service (Chapters 3,4).

The elements that make up a contemporary style of worship are described and assessed in chapter 4.  The Willow Creek Community Church is singled out for a closer examination since it is built on an "entertainment" model (p. 18) and one that is sought after by many church leaders to carbon copy.  He tends to view what Willow Creek is doing is "not about worship. It's about evangelism." Its "popular" seeker service is attracting many but has "often replaced the Lord's Day service that both nurtures believers and enables the church to practice its "royal priesthood" (p. 56).   He leaves a question for those who are pioneering worship to consider "whether worship is meant to be a tool for evangelism and/or recruitment of new members, and if so, whether those are its primary purposes" (p. 3).  He also cautions the danger of "contemporary worship" that tends to be "webbed to a single generation--the boomers" that will cause the churches to believe that if "they want to survive, they will need to tailor worship differently for each successive generation" (p. 129). It will result in an unhealthy segregation by generation.

In Christian worship, "tradition" means "those things that have been handed on " which refers to the "church's accumulated experience in prayer, praise, thanksgiving, lament, Word, and sacrament" (p. 39). He recognizes that "worship today may introduce variations on the tradition, or critique the tradition, or reaffirm it" but he is firm that the church "cannot escape accountability to the tradition. . . .If it owes no debt to the tradition, than it can't really claim to be Christian (p. 39). His concern is that the church must not forget its biblical and historical roots:

We are, unavoidably, an historical people. We are rooted in the Scriptures both the Hebrew Scriptures and the Scriptures of the new covenant. . .   The same history has instructed and shaped, . . . countless generations that have been similarly rooted in it. No matter how contemporary we are, we are members, as the Apostles' Creed says, of a "holy catholic church" and a communion of saints." The church needs to be mindful of its roots for fear of cutting off a basic source of nourishment (p. 4).

Is it possible to adopt a worship model that honours the Great Tradition and relates to contemporary culture?  The author is positive and supports his view with a model of worship to bridge the great divide in chapter seven.

The book is a useful source for discussion and contemplation on the theology and culture of worship. It is an affirmation that worship is central to the life of the church warning that "the church that ceases to worship ceases to be the church" (p. 7). It is also a recall of the crucial role of the church in handling on or subverting the substance of the faith to subsequent generations, that is, not forgetting that "the content of the faith shapes worship, worship shapes the content of faith" (pp.46, 96).
(Review by Dr Ng Peh Cheng)


There was no chapel on 2 June as it is a public holiday (Vesak Day). Chapel speakers for the following weeks are:

  • 9 June - Dr Quek Swee Hwa

  • 16 June - Dr Ng Peh Cheng

  • 23 June - Dr Philip Satterthwaite

  • 30 June - Mr Mathews Abraham

Sharing by Dr Aquila Lee:

During my period of hospitalization, I had to bear with constant and extreme pain without being able to sleep for even a moment over several days: the doctors could not give me any painkiller due to my liver condition. There are many places of learning in this world and I thank God my bed at the Singapore General Hospital has been a place of great learning as I experienced much blessing from our Almighty and loving God. I would like to share some of these blessings with you, especially with those who remembered me in your prayers and some of you even came forward to donate blood for my recent surgery. Many Christians speak of identifying themselves with our Lord’s sufferings when they watched “The Passion of the Christ.” (Personally I found from a historical point of view that the portrayal of Jesus’ Passion was too exaggerated and over-dramatized.) Here is a poem I wrote as I was listening to a Korean gospel song and as I reflected upon our Lord’s sufferings and mine.


If the bitter cup He drank one tastes not
His suffering one truly understands not.

If His ordeal one experiences not
His deep pain one truly comprehends not.

If the Cross He carried one carries not
His atoning death one truly knows not.

His bitter cup became my own ‘cup’.
His suffering my suffering.
His Cross my dearest treasure.
His resurrection my glory.

Editorial Note:

Pray for Dr Lee as he recuperates at SGH. Thank God for his successful surgery and pray for a speedy and complete healing and for the Lord to supply all his needs. Remember also his wife Priscilla and son Abraham.


  1. We wish to congratulate Rev Dr David Wong Wee Fatt on his successful completion of the Doctor of Ministry at Fuller Theological Seminary. Dr Wong’s Ministry Focus Paper submitted to Prof. Peter Hintzoglou at the Faculty of the School of World Mission carried this abstract: “This paper identifies the important components of the leadership training program of the Haggai Institute and formulates a plan to assess and enhance its effectiveness ... [on the basis of] objective, biblical and theoretical principles of leadership training. It addresses learning theories which provide the foundation to adult learning. It also addresses principles of biblical leadership in a complex world of many rapid changes. Strengths and weaknesses of the program are evaluated with the view to examining the plausibility of an experience of such intensity and significance that subsequent life’s work may be traced to it. The goal is to provide a helpful instrument to critique similar training programs.”

  2. Dr Quek Swee Hwa is away next week from June 14-18 ministering at his Church Camp at AWANA, Genting.

Building Fund update

A Blessed Birthday to ...

Mr James Ong  14/6

Ms Rebecca Lee  14/6

Dr Quek Swee Hwa  15/6

Dr Cheng Ching Keng  17/6

Mr Daniel Ng  18/6

Mr Gordon Goh  18/6

Mr Yong Pin Yoon  18/6

Mdm Eva Fong  18/6

Mr Loke Mun Tai  18/6

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