Book Review: By the Waters of Babylon

By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture by Scott Aniol
Amazon Link

This review is not timely. Aniol published By the Waters of Babylon in 2015. After I discovered him and his book through an acquaintance who is one of his students, I let it sit too long in my online shopping cart before I finally purchased it on January 9.

Structure and Theme

I read it in three days–quite the feat for a father of two young daughters if I say so myself. It is not light reading, but is certainly accessible. There is much background information and theory, but application is there. I would argue Aniol gives readers the tools to apply biblical worship principles rather than doing so much of the work for us. Aniol’s main contribution here is groundwork for most of the book: historical information (transformationalism; the missional church), comparing historical and contemporary understandings (definitions of mission and culture), and where understandings and definitions split from biblical bases (culture is the behavior of depraved individuals). The payoff is in the last third of the book, where Aniol lays out his case for a biblical relationship between worship and mission: the glory of God is foremost, worship is our purpose, and mission is the church’s God-given task to make disciples who are worshipers; or simply, “disciple-worshipers.”

Culture

The proper approach to culture, Aniol says, “could be called the sanctificationist approach” which he states, “simply seeks to apply what the Bible has to say about behavior to every area of the Christian’s life” (116). The missional church movement, as helpful as it has been in increasing overall zeal for evangelism, accepted the contemporary anthropological definition of culture and adapted to that. In doing so, their corporate worship time became a) primarily evangelistic, and b) simply a tool for the church to use in fulfilling its mission–a secondary to support the primary.

The Assembly of the Saints

Aniol, on the other hand, makes a compelling and biblical argument that the weekly gathering of the saints on the Lord’s Day is a sacred event, a time set apart as regulated by God for his glory and our edification:
” … corporate worship is the public acting out of the spiritual realities of worship; it is a weekly dramatic re-creation of drawing near to God through Christ by faith” (135).
And since the Bible includes various “kinds of imaginative forms God chose to communicate his truth” (158), it follows that ” … the truth must include not only the expression of right doctrine but also the expression of right imagination. The imagination is shaped and cultivated through aesthetic forms” (157). In other words: the manner matters. For example, corporate worship may make us happy–even making us smile with delight in God, but it must be serious. A lack of seriousness in genre or conduct teaches otherwise.

Wholeheartedly Recommended

Should every elder who plans and/or executes a worship service read this? YES. Should every elder who focuses on music in the church read this? YES. However, what is obvious (and I am thankful for it) is that Aniol sees worship not simply as music or the arts, but a way of life for the believer with a special regard for the assembly of the body to whom the believer belongs.

Additional suggested reading topics based on this book:

Two-kingdoms theology, ecclesiology, the regulative principle of worship, biblical genres.

Spoken Word: The Trinity

“The Trinity” is a human term that does not appear in Scripture
But truths throughout the Bible paint a crystal-clear picture
It and “Triune God” are phrases we use to summarize
What God has revealed about himself to human ears and eyes
The Trinity is present at and responsible for creation
Was there at Christ’s baptism and seen in Revelation
A very convincing verse is 2 Corinthians 13:14
The Son’s grace, the Father’s love, and the Spirit’s fellowship are seen
In Isaiah 44, the Lord says “there’s no other God besides me”
It’s also true that the Father, Son, and Spirit share divinity
But, the Spirit is not the Father, the Father is not the Son
The Son is not the Spirit, yet they are Three in One
We don’t serve many, no we serve one God in Three Persons
Yes, one Being alone is worthy of all creation’s worship
The God we serve is self-sufficient, in eternal community
He said, “Let us make man in our image,” all for his glory
God the Father, Son, and Spirit didn’t create out of need
We contribute nothing to God, he is perfectly complete
The Trinity does not change, doesn’t improve or get better
Oh, but the Triune God changes us; the Three work together
The Father purposed it, the Son, Jesus, purchased salvation
The Spirit produces it to make the one once dead a new creation
Changed, our thoughts of God rightly regard knowing him as serious
But God doesn’t illuminate everything; his ways are still mysterious
You can’t explain the Trinity, though some will try it still
They’ll point you to the simple apple—the seeds, the flesh, the peel
They take one thing with several parts to try and achieve their goal
And say, “God is like this apple here; the three parts make the whole”
They might even say, “Thinking of the Trinity as water will suffice”
“God is like it in its three forms of vapor, liquid, and ice”
But God the Trinity does not exist in equal parts divided
Coming together as the One True God only when united
As for thinking of the Triune God as forms like states of matter
Is that liberty or just wrong? I’m afraid that it’s the latter
You might be saying, “Hey, these words you’re bringing here are brutal”
But explaining the Infinite God with finite things is entirely futile
We could try forever to give a metaphor or a simile
But none are adequate, so I’ll just say, “God is One in Three”
God didn’t reveal more to us because this is how he planned it
And at least on this side of heaven we’ll never understand it
But doesn’t it make more sense that God’s beyond our comprehension?
It’s not an issue to struggle with how Three are One without division
And just how the Three could be one God, one being, and one essence
Maybe I’ll be able to wrap my mind around when in his presence
No matter what, when faith is sight from down on bended knee
I’ll worship my great Savior, the Triune God of one and three

Spoken Word: Imputation

Consider the beauty of the truth known as imputation
It’s how God chose to deal with our sin and its devastation
In order to comprehend why this doctrine is so great
First, we gotta understand those born of man’s original state
And for that we go back to the only man never born
To Adam, the first man, whom Genesis says God formed
From the dust of the ground and breathed into him life
Gave him dominion over the earth, even gave him Eve, his wife
But there was a serpent in the Garden, there just to cause problems
But praise God, in Genesis 3, He tells us how He’s gonna solve them
Before that, back to our story, the serpent said, “God should share the glory
“Eat this fruit, be absolutely like Him; don’t ignore me”
Eve, deceived, reached into the tree and took forbidden fruit to eat it
Adam, apparently there the whole time, should have told the serpent, “Beat it!”
But no, he stood there silently while his wife Eve took a bite
She gave him some, he ate, and instantly they knew things weren’t right
So, Adam fell and brought the stain of sin onto all humanity
Because he represented us, his sin nature was passed to you and me
You might say, “That’s not fair! When Eve shared we weren’t there to deny it”
But I say, “Trust me on this, if you were there, you would’ve tried it”
In wisdom, by making the first Adam our representative federal head
God is justified in the work of the Last Adam to raise His people from the dead
Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin 1
Righteousness comes through one man: Jesus, God’s great gift to men
And just like one man’s sin spreads out onto all, thus our sin nature
Righteousness is credited, or imputed, onto God’s people through the Savior
And it works both ways–our sins were imputed onto Jesus. Hear this:
He was made sin, who knew no sin, that we might become His righteousness 2
For as by one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners 3
The many will be made righteous by the obedience of the Life Giver
God’s law shows us our sin, but also the grace that abounds all the more 4
So that grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Christ our Lord 5
Now that you’ve heard it, you might be asking, “What’s the modern application?”
Here it is: you live for Christ; righteousness is yours through imputation

1) Romans 5:12
2) 2 Corinthians 5:21
3) Romans 5:19
4) Romans 5:20
5) Romans 5:21