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.

RAPID THEOLOGY: Celebration and Anticipation (Matthew 1, Revelation 21) #001

For this very brief episode, I recorded some thoughts based on a sermon I recently preached pointing out the beautiful symmetry and parallelism in Matthew 1 and Revelation 21.

The short, single-topic, reading from a transcript is likely what to expect more of going forward, though I do hope to record some episodes more like #s 002-009 someday soon.

TRANSCRIPT:

In Matthew 1, we read of the angel who appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him to take Mary as his wife, and that he was to name the child conceived in her by the Holy Spirit “Jesus.” We then read:

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

Matthew 1:22-23

Take note in particular this language—the meaning of the name “Immanuel”—God with us.

Then consider Revelation 21 and its parallel. John sees a new heaven and a new earth, and new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. Then verse 3:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God …”

Notice the striking similarity? At the incarnation of Jesus Christ, he is called Immanuel, which means “God with us.” At the exaltation of Jesus Christ, once again God will dwell with his people. Once again, God will come to us.

During this season, we focus on celebrating the first coming of Christ. We celebrate what the Old Testament saints anticipated. They were wise to look to the Scriptures and anticipate the arrival of their Redeemer. We would be wise to learn from them and do likewise: to search the Scriptures and anticipate the return of our Redeemer. Like those saints of old, there is much we don’t know; God’s Word is not explicitly clear on some things concerning eschatology. However, we know what to believe: that he is returning, and his return and the hope of the assurance of our eternal habitation in a city prepared by God, in a “better country,” should cause us who are in Christ to live fundamentally differently from those who are in Adam—it should cause us to see this world fundamentally differently.

Darrell Harrison said, “The Gospel calls the follower of Christ to adopt and embrace an entirely different view of this world—so different, in fact, that we are to live in it as if we belong to another world altogether, because we do.”

Indeed, the Bible is clear in its language that we are “not of this world.” Those in Christ are aliens, strangers, exiles, and sojourners—the wilderness bride of Christ.

God’s Word tells us plainly to live this mortal life in light of eternity, expecting Christ’s return: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
Colossians 3:1-4

In his book Far As the Curse is Found, author and professor Michael D. Williams wrote:

The future to which we aspire shapes our attitudes and decisions in the present. It’s important to know where we are headed, for it tells us how to live in the present. That is as true of what we see to be our ultimate future—the issue of human destiny—as it is of our proximate futures. To live responsibly in the present requires that we be acquainted with our future end.

We believers must be able to confidently tell the world:

I ALWAYS have joy and hope and the knowledge that at the end, on the last day, I will stand before my Lord and Savior JUSTIFIED and everything I did for His Kingdom will be worth it—for His glory and my good! Everything I endured in this life—grief, pain, loss—will be worth it—for His glory and my good! I don’t know exactly every detail about how my story ends, but I know how my eternity begins: WELCOMED by my gracious Heavenly Father into everlasting life with HIM, where he will dwell with us.

I’m anticipating that. Are you?