Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Book Review Praying and Believing in Early Christianity

A few years ago I came across a very interesting book by the well known liturgical theologian Robert Taft, SJ. In this book Taft explores the various intersections of early Christian society, culture, and liturgy. He looks for example at the numerous sermons from this period and what they can tell us about the liturgy during that time. I found his work fascinating since it pushed the boundaries of liturgical studies, exploring the other documents that shed light on liturgical development during this period.

So when I saw Prof. Johnson's new book Praying and Believing in Early Christianity (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2013) I knew that I had to review it. Johnson is a professor of liturgy at the University of Notre Dame and a pastor in the Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

Praying and Believing is aimed primarily at graduate students in liturgical theology or pastors like me who are interested in the intersection and connection between liturgy and what the liturgy means for the Church today. The book is organized around five major chapters:

Liturgical Praying and the Priority of Grace

Doxology and the Trinity 

Christ and Mary 

Worship and Praxis 

Praying and Believing Together 

Johnson reminds us that our present liturgy did not just fall from the sky but developed over time, layers upon layers of additions, shifts, and changes, yet the important things like the role of the Holy Spirit in our salvation as well as the two natures of Christ and the development of the creedal formulae found their way into the liturgy. Anyone who has attended and participated in an Eastern Orthodox liturgy for example is well aware of the emphasis on the Trinitarian formula Father, Son, and Spirit which is repeated over and over again in the Liturgy. He also draws our attention to the the role of the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos in the life of faith. Popular devotion to her began before the time of the Council of Ephesus in 431 CE which was the council that finally affirmed her as "Theotokos" or "God-bearer." Popular devotion to her also inspired the creation of feast days in her honor (her birth, her entrance into the Temple, and her death) found their way into the Church year as well.

Prayer and belief, liturgy and life, they go together. In this fascinating book Johnson shows us exactly how belief and faith, liturgy and life play together in our Sunday worship. Don't let the small size of this book fool you either, while small it deals with large issues which are not just interesting for historical purposes but are necessary for our life of faith.

For more information about Praying and Believing in Early Christianity click here