Pastoral Insights on Worship: Daniel Block and Sandra Maria Van Opstal

Book Review: For the Glory of God, Daniel I. Block, 2014

“Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation” Psalm 95:1

When Christians gather for worship, they gather for an audience with God and should draw near to God with undivided devotion and pure lives” -Daniel Block

Text: For the Glory of God. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic. 2014. Author, Daniel Block. D.Phil in Semitics, University of Liverpool, Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College. Author of Twenty Books and Commentaries.  He has worshiped and served in multiple denominations, including Evangelical Free Church, Southern Baptist, Bible Churches, and Congregational Churches.

After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a great roar, “Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!” Revelation 7:9-10

“This next worship is an inclusive and diverse table that embodies reconciliation and points to the future celebration of God’s people from every tribe, tongue, people and language” -Sandra Maria Van Opstal

Text: The Next Worship: Glorifying God in a Diverse World. Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press. 2016. Author: Sandra Maria Van Opstal, MDiv at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.  Liturgist and activist. She is a board member for Evangelicals for Justice.  Co-Founder and Executive Director of Chasing Justice. She spent 15 years with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship as Director of Worship for Urbana Missions Conferences and as their Chicago Urban Program Director. She explains that “my work, writing, research, and training have been to reimagine the intersection of worship and justice.” She has been closely affiliated with the Evangelical Covenant Church and the Christian Reformed Church.

Van Opstal wrote Next Worship while pastoring in West Side Chicago. She is a 2nd generation Columbian American Latina. Her learning at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, combined with 20 years of ministry, grounded her discussion of developing multi-ethnic congregational worship in a diverse world.  She focuses on the theology of the Lord’s table, and its call to hospitality, inclusion and mutuality.  

Van Opstal’s work was a good foil for Block’s book. In some ways the two could not have been more different. One, a strict Biblical Theological approach, with broad application from a trained Old Testament theologian. Block’s work represents keen insight from a traditional Evangelical perspective: he is a white/caucasian male, Canadian born, and European trained professor. Her work represents the hard-won learning of a young Chicagoan leader in intercultural pastoral ministry, worship and justice-making.  Van Opstal’s book stretched me to broaden my expectation of congregational worship, Block’s book drew me in as a deep exegetical Bible study pressing me to devotion and reverence in corporate worship.

Sandra Maria Van Opstal: The Next Worship, Intervarsity Press, 2016

I found both texts’ discussion of worship to be relevant to my past and future work. I experienced my call to chaplaincy ministry while serving as a musician and worship leader at Fort Leonard Wood for Soldiers from 2005-2008 during America’s military surge in Iraq and Afghanistan. I designed worship services weekly for 500-1000 Soldiers. Since becoming Active Duty as a Chaplain in 2012, I’ve been actively engaged in planning worship at each duty station, and frequently led teams of musicians during worship services.  Spending time with these texts allowed me to think deeply about the theology underpinning worship, the timeless aspect of what worship is about through Block, and the demand to contextualize that worship in an ever diversifying world—using Van Opstal’s eye toward justice, fellowship and reflecting the global unity of the body of Christ.

I want to give a brief summary of Block and Van Opstal and close with a question for consideration.

Block has written numerous commentaries, traveled internationally and lectured on worship. He is steeped in biblical Greek and Hebrew and in cultural backgrounds of Biblical eras. This allows him to offer unique insight into the kinds of worship that represent “true worship of the one true and living God.” He believes that Scripture will lead us to these answers, and that true worship is essentially a vertical exercise “human response to God, with God’s glory as the aim.” His working definition of worship is, “True worship involves reverential human acts of submission and homage before the divine Sovereign in response to his gracious revelation of himself and in accord with his will.” (23)

He believes we ought to ask, “what does God think of what we are doing in worship?” He cautions against a preoccupation with how worship makes us feel, against its being human-centered rather than God-centered, about worship which neglects to center the Word of God, and about allowing worship to be exploited by market-driven values. (xii) Discussing dimensions of worship, Block focuses on our attitudes, physical expressions, and rituals. He offers the Biblical etymology of key words for worship: To fear, to walk, to love, to serve, to keep and to be prostrate before God. (Histahawa (HB), proskyneo (GK), abad (HB), douleuo, leitourgeo (GK). (12) In one of the closing chapters, he considers the theology of sacred space and focuses on the architecture of church buildings and the function behind their design.

Van Opstal sets out to “explore what glorifying God looks like in diverse settings.” (14) She explains, “through worship we experience the now-but-not-yet of God’s kingdom” (15) Two definitions of worship have deeply influenced her:

“Worship refers to the self-expression of a particular church community in a public celebration of its faith. It has both vertical and horizontal dimensions: one’s relation to God and one’s relationships with fellow worshipers. It is an expression of adoration and praise to God in community” 16

“To worship is to know, to feel, to experience the resurrected Christ in the midst of the gathered community. It is breaking into the Shekinah (glory) of God, or better yet, being invaded by the Shekinah (glory) of God. 16

To communicate the urgency of her work, Van Opstal refers to statistics that “over half of young American Christians (18-29) are people of color.  She explains that the coming generation of leaders will be non-White and non-Western. (30) She offers guidance to worship pastors, that the ideal worship team is a “multi-ethnic team that employs high collaboration, inclusion and shared leadership” 91

Discussion Question:

How might pastors and military chaplains “operationalize” Van Opstal’s vision of developing multicultural, multi-ethnic, congregational worship?  Is her admirable project the right aim? The church is global and should be inclusive and embrace the diversity of worship forms and styles. But how do we choose which styles to incorporate? Should localized worship strive to reflect the wider global composition of the church, or rather the worship practice of the church’s immediate geographic area? In the constantly changing environment of the military, I have often seen service members want something stable in their liturgy (even traditional and simplified), while at the same time desiring to innovate ways to reach out with Jesus’ Gospel of salvation and show unity and solidarity.

Van Opstal Quotations:

Photo of Worship in Nigeria (from Yahoo News Article:

Explaining her work at Urbana Conferences: “tens of thousands of college students gather from across the country and are invited to consider God’s heart for global mission” (conference meets once every four years).

Dr. Monigue Ingalls, an ethnomusicologist and professor at Baylor University, describes Urbana as “earthly rehearsals for the heavenly choir” in her study of how worship shapes our understanding of what is to come. 12

“Christian worship is, among other things, the place where we catch a glimpse of ‘the future Reign from which and toward which God calls us.” 15 Justo Gonzalez

“When I use the word worship I will be speaking of the congregational aspect, not of the holistic definition which includes every aspect of our lifestyle” 16

“I am excited to explore approaches, forms and styles of multi-cultural worship that will launch us into the next season of the church. My passion is to share how people have been creating spaces and places of worship which can serve as models that will inspire us to future thinking”  17

“Multicultural worship is not entertainment. It is an act of solidarity with communities we may never meet. It is connecting our story to their story, through which the Holy Spirit brings communion.” 22

“The guiding image of communion at the Table of Christ is central to why we participate in cross-cultural worship. The table communicates fellowship with others (across differences as Jesus modeled) and with God” 25

“Worship should strike a health balance among four dimensions in cultural context: worship is transcultural, contextual, cross-cultural and countercultural.” 31

Worship in Galilee (taken from

“The church has always been and will always be a multiethnic, multilingual, global community.  How then do we capture people’s imagination in an embodied experience in worship?” 36

“This next worship is an inclusive and diverse table that embodies reconciliation and points to the future celebration of God’s people from every tribe, tongue, people and language” 52

“Reconciliation in worship is expressed in three ways “hospitality, solidarity and mutuality” …through congregational worship we can and should communicate “I welcome you’ “I am with you” “I need you” 62

“Multiethnic worship, at its basic level, should have diverse cultural expressions of song, dance, arts, poetry, language and instrumentation” 113

“Theologian Robert Webber suggests four components of worship for every service: Gathering, Word, Supper and Sending”  124

“We must be skilled at developing processes of change that help people embrace the discomfort” 141

“When people ask me what they can do to help their communities change I tell them to:
-engage people in dialogue (and listen)
-model in your own life what you want to see happening
-invite people to join you
Its more effective to inspire people than to rebuke them.” 147

Block Quotations:

Reading –>Hearing –> Learning –> Fearing –> Obeying –> Living 

(Perspective found throughout Scriptures)

“Throughout first and new testaments we see that the heart and life of a person provided the lens through which their worship was evaluated” Ch 1

“We need to understand both the worlds out of which the biblical texts arose and the worlds in which we moderns live.” Block, Intro

2 Corinthians 6 offers a repetition of an ancient covenant formula pertinent to understanding worship: “I will reside in them, I will walk among them, I will be their God, they shall be my people.”

Church Sanctuary in Kappl, Germany


“The urge to treat the Holy Spirit as an object of worship is extrabiblical; it derives not from Scripture but from philosophical and theological deduction…the NT knows nothing of the worship of the Spirit.”  52 

He qualifies his controversial perspective, saying that the Holy Spirit is Co-equal in the Trinity; but in Scripture is never singled out for Worship, as are the Father and the Son. I would like to ask him to explain this perspective, it echoes what I heard growing up from some Evangelical Free Church perspectives, but differs strongly from my Pentecostal understanding of unabashedly glorifying in worship the Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.


“In the new order what the physical temple was to Israel, the church as a spiritual community has become to the world: the holy residence of God indwelt by the Spirit” 319

“Thus the church that takes sacred space seriously (not as a retreat from the world but as a bridgehead into it) will go straight from worshiping in the sanctuary to debating in the council chamber; to discussing matters of town planning, of harmonizing and humanizing beauty in architecture, green spaces…proper use of resources…” 327 from N.T. Wright

“In many churches that have moved from a traditional to a contemporary style of services, a symbolic act is performed every Sunday: before the service, a large screen comes down over the stage, often hiding the cross and replacing it with pious but narcissistic words of devotion…Instead of celebrating God’s love for us, we celebrate our love for God. Yet if we understand the worship event as an audience with God, and that what God has to say to us is primary and more important than what we say to him, this should be reflected in the design(of the facility and the worship service)” 329

First Christian Church, Plano TX

Counsel to Worship Leaders:

“Promoting worshipers’ awe and reverence before God must be a primary goal of those who lead worship” 359

 “People should instruct and exhort one another, sing to one another, intercede on behalf of one another…worship leaders’ work is to develop this kind of community and promote genuine participation in corporate expressions of homage and submission” 360

Of Corporate Worship: (pg. 324 and following)

  1. When Christians gather for worship, they gather for an audience with God and should draw near to God with undivided devotion and pure lives (Ps 95:1-2)
  2. When we gather for worship, we gather for corporate acts of homage and submission (HB 12:28)
  3. When we gather for worship, we gather with an eschatological vision (we experience in microcosm what we will enjoy for all eternity)
  4. When we gather for worship, we gather to edify and build up the body of Christ: reading and preaching of the Word, public prayer, songs of lamentation and praise, public testimonies of God’s grace, celebrating in communion, joining hands in ministries to those in need

Dimensions of Worshipful Personal Devotion:

Heart/mind: worship from the inner being (Dispositional worship)

Soul: worship involving the whole persion (Gestural/liturgical)

Strength: worship with all one’s resources (life as worship)

Gathered Outdoor Worship (taken from