Christmas is just around the corner! Crossway+ members can receive 50% off hundreds of books and Bibles in our 2022 Christmas Gift Guide through 12/25.

Podcast: How Ancient Liturgy Can Renew Your Walk with Jesus Today (Jonathan Gibson)

This article is part of the The Crossway Podcast series.

Enriching Our Daily Liturgy

In today’s episode, Jonathan Gibson talks about why liturgy—something he argues that we all already have, even if we don’t know it—can be such a powerful force for good in the life of the Christian when rightly understood and practiced.

Be Thou My Vision

Jonathan Gibson

Designed to be read in 15–20 minutes a day, this liturgical devotional guide will give readers focus and purpose in their daily quiet time while teaching them historical prayers, creeds, and catechisms that point them to Christ.

Subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google Podcasts | RSS

Topics Addressed in This Interview:

00:56 - What Is a Liturgy?

Matt Tully
Johnny, thank you so much for joining me today on The Crossway Podcast.

Jonathan Gibson
It’s good to be here, Matt.

Matt Tully
Today we’re going to talk about this topic of liturgy. It’s a word that for some it is encouraging and it has a richness and a depth to it, but for many others there is a suspicion around this idea of liturgy. It can evoke feelings of coldness, dryness, Roman Catholicism, or something like that. I want to unpack that a little bit and explore why you would say this is a really valuable concept for all Christians. Before we jump into some of those other topics, could you define liturgy? What do you mean when you use that word?

Jonathan Gibson
The first thing I would say is that it comes from the Bible. It’s a Greek word—leitourgia—from which we get our English word liturgy. It’s used in two ways in the New Testament. One way is in Philippians 2:30 where Paul says that Epaphroditus' self-sacrificial work was a service to him—a leitourgia. It was like an act of worship. Then it’s used more narrowly in other parts like Hebrews 9:21 where it’s used of the ritual service at the tabernacle. So, it’s used broadly of all service to people or to God, and more narrowly of a service when God’s people gather in a ritual setting. We use the word worship, which can also mean service. That’s really what the word means. It’s a service; it’s an act of worship. Those who are suspicious or nervous of it are understandably so. You think of, as you said, Catholicism or nominalism. People think, If I use liturgy I’ll become a nominal Christian, just someone who goes through the rote liturgy each week but doesn’t actually engage with it in their heart. I get that, but it’s a biblical word and I think we should use it. It doesn’t have to be something that is rote or formulaic, but it is something that actually helps you engage with it.

Matt Tully
When you would use that word in conversation, for example, in speaking about your church’s liturgy or even a personal liturgy, what would you be meaning when you say that word? What do you have in mind?

Jonathan Gibson
I have in mind the narrow sense—the sense of what we do as God’s gathered people in a ritual sense. In saying church liturgy, I’m meaning it in the narrow sense—the order of service of worship in a church gathering. For my own personal quiet time, I’m meaning it as the order of elements that I’m using in my personal quiet time. The way I put it to people is it’s not whether your church has a liturgy, it’s just which liturgy your church has. You look at the evangelical non-denominational churches and they say, Well, we don’t do liturgy. But actually, they do. Their liturgy is you sing for twenty minutes, you say a prayer, you listen to a Bible talk, and then you sing for ten minutes. That’s a liturgy. It’s just unwritten and not thought through well perhaps. We all have a liturgy, so it’s not whether but which. The same goes for your quiet times. We all have a liturgy in our quiet times. Our liturgy generally is start with a quick prayer to ask God to bless the quiet time, read the Bible, and then respond with some petitions to God. So it’s prayer, Bible reading, prayer. What I’m trying to do with Be Thou My Vision is say we’ve all got a liturgy, but is it a good one or a bad one? Is it a rich one or is it a bit anemic? That’s what I’ve tried to do with Be Thou My Vision is enrich each of our daily liturgies with elements that I hope enhance our time with the Lord.

04:56 - The Narrative Journey of Liturgy

Matt Tully
One of the things that I’ve often noticed about different liturgies that I have been exposed to—or again, to use the more generic, evangelical word: different orders of service—is that the more intentional ones have a kind of narrative arc to them. There’s a starting point as you enter into the service, and it’s different than the ending point. You’re going somewhere. Can you speak to that? Is that something that you feel like is inherent in a well designed liturgy? How would you describe that journey that the worshiper goes on?

Jonathan Gibson
When I did the book Reformation Worship with Mark Earngey, one of the things we noticed was that the Reformers were very intentional that the liturgy should communicate the story of the gospel. So you start with God calling us to worship. You start with a Scripture reading. You don’t start with a prayer. But if you think about most non-denominational church services, they start with prayer.

Matt Tully
Actually, you open with a praise song.

Jonathan Gibson
Okay, yes. You open with a praise song or a prayer, but notice it’s man’s response to God is what we begin with. But that’s not where worship begins. It begins with God speaking to us, and then we respond. God first spoke to Adam in the garden, gave him the law having to do with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and then expected him to respond. If he had passed the test in the garden, then he would have enjoyed a fellowship meal with God. I actually think that’s the basic structure of liturgy: call, response, meal. What Adam did was he substituted pure worship for idolatrous worship. He heard the call of Satan to eat from the tree; he responded in disobedience—obedience to Satan and disobedience to God—and he did have a meal. But he had the wrong meal. That general pattern of call, response, meal is then reflected in Exodus 20–24 where God calls Moses up the mountain and calls Israel up to worship him. They respond in Exodus 24 saying, We will obey all that you have laid before us. And then the elders go up the mountain with Moses and they have a meal with God. So it’s call, response, meal. It’s the same in 2 Chronicles 5–7 where Solomon does the same. He has a worship service where he makes all the sacrifices at the dedication of the temple. If you follow there, you get the same basic structure of call, response, meal—they have a meal. And then in the book of Revelation you can see a similar pattern. So I think that’s the general pattern to liturgy. You can fill it out in Exodus and Chronicles with confession, sacrifices of praise, adoration, intercession, and things like that. So, it’s there in the Bible. Then what we saw as we looked at these Reformation liturgies was there’s this general story. You begin with the call to worship from God—he calls us to his worship through his word—and then it’s adoration. You praise him for who he is as our creator and our maker. And then you move to a reading of the law where he gives us his commands and we see that we haven’t lived up to them, so it naturally leads into a time of confession. Having confessed our sins together, there’s the assurance of pardon where God comes to us and assures us that because of Christ and what he’s done for us, our sins are forgiven. Then you hear from him in his word, and then you can respond again through offerings—your gifts of money—through more intercessory prayers or saying the Lord’s Prayer or one of the creeds. It’s a way of reaffirming your faith, having heard from God. Then it ends with the benediction, the blessing of God on the people of God, and a charge to go out and serve Christ wherever you go that week. So yes, I think there is a clear structure and story to it. I like the phrase that I heard in Bryan Chapell’s book, Christ-Centered Worship: “Structures tell stories.” Again, this goes back to my point earlier that every church has a liturgy. Even those who say they don’t have a liturgy, their unwritten liturgy is telling a story and the question is, Is it telling the story of the gospel, or is it telling another story? That’s the challenge for our churches: What story does your liturgy tell?

09:44 - Isn’t Liturgy Too Complex?

Matt Tully
That might lead into another objection that someone might have related to liturgy; namely, it can easily get too complex. You have all these different elements that have to flow in a certain order—is it being too rigid in how it has all of these different elements competing for the attention or understanding of the participant?

Jonathan Gibson
No. I’ll go back to the statement earlier that structures tell stories. Every story has different elements to it, which makes it such a good story. It’s the same with our liturgies. Perhaps I could switch the analogy to a nice beaded necklace. If all the beads on the necklace are the same color that’s nice, but if you change them up and you have them all different colors, it’s a more striking necklace. That’s what we’re really doing with a liturgy, which has different elements: call to worship, adoration, reading of the law, confession, creed, the Gloria Patri, the prayer of illumination, catechism, sermon, intercessory prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, etc. I know what you mean. Is it overly complex? No, it’s just a beautiful necklace.

Matt Tully
Keeping on with that analogy of the necklace, is there a danger, in your mind, of someone who maybe isn’t very skilled or experienced in making jewelry putting together all these different colored beads, but it’s actually not in a very well designed beautiful pattern? Instead, it’s just kind of overwhelming and confusing. Is that a real danger that you’ve ever seen or experienced?

Jonathan Gibson
Yes, I suppose if you ask some random on the street to start making necklaces and here’s a bunch of beads, they could really mess it up. What you want to do is say to them, Go speak to someone who has made the necklace before and has sold good necklaces and people like the necklace. Go speak to them and find out what they did. What I mean by that is go read church history. Go get these Reformation liturgies and see what the Reformers did. If you claim to stand in the Reformed tradition—whatever your church denomination is—if you claim to be downstream from the Reformers, but your church service looks nothing like what the Reformers did, then you need to ask yourself if you’re really standing downstream from the Reformers.

Matt Tully
I wonder if there’s a dynamic of a need for pastors and leaders—and even us as individual Christians—some of us might have this impulse to not just copy someone else. We feel like we want to figure out for ourselves or do it fresh; it needs to be new in order to be relevant or compelling to people. Would you kind of push back against that impulse when it comes to liturgy?

Jonathan Gibson
Absolutely. I think innovation is the curse of the modern church. Innovation is the curse on the modern evangelical church. We’re all into how everything has to look new, sound new, feel new. Mix up the liturgy this week; do something a bit different. C. S. Lewis has a very striking comment on liturgy. I’ve forgotten where it is, but it’s a quote that’s in the early chapters of Reformation Worship where he says that a fixed order of liturgy is better to concentrate on God than a liturgy that changes every week. He says that every week with a liturgy that is fluid, you don’t know what’s coming next. You’re then concentrated on what’s coming next. Is it going to be another song? Is it going to be a little interview at the front of the church? Is it going to be a prayer? Where are we being led? You don’t know where you’re being led because it’s just random every week, or mixed up every week. He says a fixed liturgy takes the concentration away from the actual liturgy and puts it back on God because you know what’s coming. You know the order. So, I think that’s really important. And I think Lewis has tapped into something there.

14:14 - Isn’t Liturgy Too Repetitive?

Matt Tully
On that front then—the repetition—that leads into another objection that I’m sure you’ve heard before, that the repetition can lead not only to things feeling boring but maybe even worse, that boredom can morph into this rote, not even thinking about it anymore, just saying the words, and my mind is elsewhere altogether. There’s a coldness to it. I have some sympathy for that. When you look at certain elements of the Roman Catholic church and those who have come from that background, there are elements to that liturgy where they’ve testified to growing up saying the same words, hearing the same words said, and you can tell they’re just sort of getting through it. What would you say to that kind of concern that someone might have?

Jonathan Gibson
The first response would be to push back against it. The way I do that, or would do that, is to ask, Do you concentrate for the whole of the extemporaneous prayer in your church? I had a friend who, when he went into ministry, Richard Bewes (who was the successor to John Stott at All Souls in London) gave my friend some advice. One of the things he said was, Just know that in public prayer, your congregation has switched off after thirty seconds. Let’s all be honest; it happens every week. I currently go to a church where the intercessory prayers go for five minutes, and it is hard work to stay concentrated. That’s partly my problem and my issue, but when you look at someone like Cranmer, he made short collects. He made these short prayers, they were written down, and they were said together as a congregation. So, there are ways in which the rote, formulaic prayers are actually a better way to keep you more concentrated for longer. If I was a minister again, I would have a confession of sin that was said jointly—everyone has it in front of them—and when that happens, because you’re saying it out loud, you’re concentrating more than just someone else confessing the sins of the church for you. I’m not saying that’s wrong, but I’m just saying we need to be creative about what actually works. I don’t just mean in the twenty-first century. Cranmer, in the sixteenth century, did that for a reason. People were illiterate, for one, so it was improving literacy, but it was also memorization—they were memorizing these prayers. I think I would just say there’s a place for rote prayers and formulaic prayers. It’s back to that C. S. Lewis thing—you know what’s coming. As you get to know that prayer, you then know what’s coming and you can concentrate on it more. Is there a danger that it just becomes saying words that your mind and heart are no longer engaged with? Absolutely. But then there’s that danger with extemporaneous prayer. I could tell you what the rote, formulaic, unwritten, extemporaneous prayer is for most evangelical non-denominational churches at certain parts of the service: Lord, we pray that you would just come among us now and that you would just be with us and just bless us. As the minister opens the word, please help us to hear you speak to us. It just sounds very similar to what I hear in any other church. I can switch off with that just as much as a rote prayer, but if the prayer is in front of me and I’m saying it with everyone else around me, I’m actually more concentrated on it. So, to connect this to Be Thou My Vision, one of the things I say in the introduction is that I would really encourage people to read this liturgy out loud. Don’t just sit in your bed and read it silently. You’ll get distracted or your mind will wander. Actually say it out loud. If you’re doing it together as a couple or as a family, read the rubric: Hear God’s call to worship through his word

Matt Tully
The headings.

Jonathan Gibson
Yes, the little red rubric headings in italics. If you read those out loud, whether it’s in a family setting or with more people, then it’s more interactive as well.

18:57 - A Renewed Interest in Liturgy

Matt Tully
I think anyone who is somewhat familiar with the topic of liturgy—maybe their church does have a formal liturgy that they talk about, or maybe their church doesn’t but their aware of some of these concepts already—they might be aware that it seems like there is a bit of a resurgence of interest in liturgy—in some of these historical liturgies, some of the creeds and confessions from history that are often incorporated into a liturgy. There seems to be a renewed interest among some Christians who historically haven’t been as interested in that. Have you noticed that? What do you think is behind that?

Jonathan Gibson
I have noticed it, and I’ve seen it among Millennials wanting more liturgy or wanting more—

Matt Tully
Are you saying something good about Millennials right now?

Jonathan Gibson
Yes. I’m supportive of Millenials. I see that. The illustration I always think of is that Tim Keller in New York, working with young professionals, he put on different styles of service—some a bit more contemporary with Jazz music and some a bit more traditional. He said what was interesting is that in New York, the service that was most popular with young professionals was the more traditional service.

Matt Tully
That’s very counterintuitive for a lot of people.

Jonathan Gibson
Yes. It’s a bit like a bad diet. You’re on a diet, you’re eating junk food, and you think your diet is fine; but then you start trying some other foods. At first the tastes are a bit strong and you’re not quite sure about it, but you persevere and you keep eating that same food. Actually, your taste buds really—

Matt Tully
Come back to life.

Jonathan Gibson
Yes, and they have a richer appreciation for different kinds of taste in food. Then you don’t want to go back to the junk food. I actually think that’s what we’re starting to see. I think people are a bit bored of the evangelical non-denominational church service. I think people have had a bit of enough of that and they want more than just twenty minutes of singing, a Bible talk, another song, and prayer. I think people are wanting more than that, and the same for their quiet times. So, what I would say is give it a go. Give it a go and see what you think. Maybe it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s totally fine. Actually give it a go for thirty-one days and just see what it does to your spiritual walk with the Lord and your prayer life. For me, I find myself less distracted and more concentrated, less bored and more engaged. I find myself spotting things in Bible passages that I had never seen before because they’re short two verses for the call to worship or short two verses for the assurance of pardon. I just find myself, because I’m using that verse as an assurance of pardon, I’m now thinking about it a bit differently and I’m spotting things. And then there are things in the creeds as well that I had not really ever appreciated.

Matt Tully
Are there any other benefits to liturgy that you’ve experienced in your own life?

Jonathan Gibson
I think it’s enriched my view of God as the triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If you say a creed everyday, you’re basically reciting the doctrines of the Trinity. That has really been something that I’ve enjoyed. As you know, we lost our daughter five years ago—Leila. At her funeral we stood and said the Apostle’s Creed. . . . I believe in the resurrection of the dead . . . . So, things like that have come to mean a lot to me—to affirm that everyday and each Lord’s day that there is a life of the world to come. It sort of grounds you, recalibrates and reorients you to what life is about and what the future is about.

Matt Tully
When you’re restating those core doctrines of the faith—those core pillars of what we are as Christians—each and every day, it connects them to these experiences and struggles that we’re having on a daily basis. Having that rhythm of repeating, reciting, and reminding ourselves of those doctrines would bring them to the fore, as you said, in our own minds.

Jonathan Gibson
Yes, they’re fresh in your mind. They’re on the tip of your tongue, so to speak. They’re on your heart. They’re there to help you in whatever you face that day. When you get up and you affirm the Apostle’s Creed—that you believe in God, the maker of heaven and earth—that day when you come across a difficulty, you think, Actually, my help is in the Lord who made heaven and earth. So, these great truths, even in the creeds that are based on Scripture, come to serve very practical purposes. God can help me with anything because he made everything. Where do I know that he made everything? Well, I say it in the creed every week. He made all things— . . . maker of heaven and earth, things invisible and visible . . . . That’s the Nicene Creed, which is all based on Scripture, based on Colossians 1.

24:38 - A Connection to Church History

Matt Tully
One of the other things that I know many people who appreciate liturgy will say is that they love the way that it connects them to history and roots them in this long tradition of the Christian church. Speak to that a little bit. Is that a big part of it for you? You’ve already referenced a number of figures from church history and talked about their stories a little bit, but how does that help you personally in your own walk?

Jonathan Gibson
I think that a church that has a good, rich liturgy with creeds in it and some of the ancient order of elements connects you with the stream of Christian tradition that’s been going on for two thousand years. I think that’s a good reminder for pastors and churches today, that the church didn’t just appear in the twenty-first century out of nowhere. The church has been in existence since Jesus Christ and the apostles set it up in the New Testament. So yes, it helps us connect to that. I’m thinking also of the quote by Cyprian of Carthage who said, “You cannot have God for your father and not have the church for your mother.” Now, that sounds so Roman Catholic to us, but that’s Cyprian of Carthage, and Calvin quotes it in his Institutes. This is a very Protestant conception that the church is your mother. It’s where you were either born into or came to faith, even as someone from the outside. The church was the organism that nurtured you in your faith. That’s all that the analogy is saying. The way I play that analogy out is if you’re going to say that you’re a Christian church that stands in the Christian tradition, or a daughter church of the mother church (the ancient church) so to speak, you ought to look like you mother. If you say you’ve come from your mother, you ought to look like your mother.

Matt Tully
Some resemblance.

Jonathan Gibson
Yes. The question that I think churches need to ask is, Does your service look like it belongs? Does it look like it’s two thousand years old? By that I don’t mean that it uses “thees” and “thous” and all of that. I’ve got no time for that, and nor would the Reformers if they were alive today because it was all about the vernacular—bringing the gospel and the Scriptures and the liturgy into the vernacular.

Matt Tully
So it’s not about having highfalutin language that no one understands; that’s actually the opposite of the point.

Jonathan Gibson
Exactly. It was a Latin mass that Luther wrote a German mass about.

Matt Tully
He bought it into the language of the people.

Jonathan Gibson
He brought it into the vernacular of the people. So, that’s what I’m getting at. It’s not about ancient language and using language of the sixteenth century. Even here in America I’ve noticed—and this is just the church circles I operate in—everything in the service generally feels contemporary, but when we come to say the Lord’s Prayer, for some reason we say it in the old English.

Matt Tully
“Our Father, who art in heaven . . .”

Jonathan Gibson
I’m told it’s because everyone knows it, so that’s what we do. But I’m like, it would just take two months of saying it in modern English and everyone would know it in modern English.

Matt Tully
I wonder if that is what some people associate with liturgy, that it has this otherness quality to it. What do you think about that? Should that be part of what liturgy is trying to do, or is that actually a distraction?

Jonathan Gibson
I think if it’s having to do with using language that’s been dead for four hundred years, then it is just—what was the term you used there?

Matt Tully
There’s an otherness to it.

Jonathan Gibson
They think it’s an otherness, but it’s not really an otherness; it’s just old language. But the otherness that I want to see in a liturgy is an ancient creed, but said in modern English. That’s the kind of connection I want. I want ancient roots; I want to feel connected to the ancient church—the apostolic church. But that doesn’t have to come in the form of language that’s four hundred years old. It’s getting that distinction right and the balance right. That’s what I mean by feeling connected to the past—not using the language of the past, but the content of the past in contemporary language.

29:14 - Overemphasizing Liturgy

Matt Tully
Speaking to the person who loves liturgy, who is maybe a pastor or a congregant who already understands the value of this and feels the value of it, are there any dangers to an overemphasis on liturgy?

Jonathan Gibson
Yes. It’s like everything—there are ditches on both sides of the road. There is some high church liturgy that makes me uncomfortable.

Matt Tully
What would be an example of something that would do that?

Jonathan Gibson
It’s mainly including elements that are not prescribed in Scripture—bells, smells, candlesticks, the sign of the cross, bowing at the front. All of that I think is unbiblical. You can have elements, but that for some is high liturgy and it enriches the liturgy. Maybe we can come back to this, but I will mention physical gestures in our church services. There’s that aspect that I think liturgy can start to be done badly in a non-biblical way. And there are some people who just love the liturgy instead of loving the Savior. Again, to go back to the Reformers and to what C. S. Lewis was saying, the Reformers were trying to recover a reformed, biblical liturgy because they wanted to recover the gospel. They wanted people to see the gospel in the service, to hear it in the service. That’s why they reformed the mass, because the gospel had been lost with the erroneous teaching in the mass. They didn’t get rid of the liturgy; they just reformed it. But the whole purpose of it was that we would worship God aright through his Son, and love him and his Son more in the grace and power of the Holy Spirit. So, yes, there are ditches on both sides of the road, and people can get too into liturgy as a thing in and of itself. Liturgy is a means to another end. That’s the way I would put it. It’s a conduit, but it’s not the destination. The destination is God, so the question is, What liturgy would most help us to concentrate on God in this time together as a church? Or, in my own time with the Lord, what liturgy would help me to concentrate most on God?

31:50 - The Participatory Nature of Liturgy

Matt Tully
One other benefit that I know that you believe and that others have spoken to is the participatory nature of many liturgies. It is something that we are all doing together. It pushes back against the idea that the church service is something that I go to watch sort of passively; rather, I’m involved in every facet of it. Does that resonate with you? Do you think that’s an important part?

Jonathan Gibson
Yes, very much so. Again, you see it in some of the psalms—the antiphonal thing with the refrains. I think a service that has the minister doing the most from the front is a) not as biblical as it could be because I think there is this antiphonal thing that you can find in different parts of Scripture with the angels singing back and forth and things like that. Our worship on earth is really just patterning our worship in heaven. So, yes, and I think again it’s back to that point of concentration. If someone else is doing all the work for me from the front—praying the prayer of adoration, praying the prayer of confession of sin, and I’m not saying every single prayer has to be a congregational prayer—if they’re doing most of the prayers from the front and the only prayer I say is the Lord’s Prayer, then I’m just not as engaged and concentrating. I think that prayer of adoration is good for the minister to lead the congregation in prayer in that way. Confession of sin I think should be corporate. I think the prayer of illumination could be the minister himself, or he can mix it up and have the congregation say that as well. Intercessory prayers—I think that’s the pastor who should say that prayer, but there’s ways that he can do it. He can split it into three and say, We’re going to pray for personal things, and at the end of this prayer I’m going to say “Through Jesus Christ our Lord,” and I want you to join me with saying a hearty amen. And then I’m going to pray for the world, and then I’m going to pray for our church. At the end when I say, “Through Jesus Christ our Lord,” join me with an amen. And then have a collect kind of prayer—a short paragraph prayer—that either the minister writes, or you take one of the collects from The Book of Common Prayer or one of the Reformer’s prayers, and you say that together as a congregation at the end of the prayers of intercession. So, I think there are ways that the minister can include the congregation, and yes, we sing together, but we don’t pray together a lot. But I think it’s both. They met together to pray together as a church in the book of Acts.

34:36 - Practical Advice

Matt Tully
Maybe as a last set of questions, I wonder if you could speak to three different categories of people who might be listening right now. The first is pastors or church leaders who are leading a church that doesn’t focus a lot on liturgy. Perhaps they haven’t thought much about this topic before, and they’re interested in taking some steps to be more intentional to bring in some of these rich Christian traditions and the history of this into their services to be helping people to be more participatory. What would be some practical next steps that you recommend they should take as they explore that more?

Jonathan Gibson
If they get a Sunday off church, go to a church that they know is more liturgical and just go and experience it. It’s like much in ministry—things are better caught than taught sometimes, and what might convince you to become more liturgical or enrich your liturgy (I should be consistent there and say not becoming more liturgical because everyone is liturgical) is go and experience it somewhere and you can say, I love the way they did this or that. Our church doesn’t do that and this is a way that I can enrich my service at the church. So the first thing would be to go and find a church service that does it and just experience it for yourself. The second thing would be that on the internet you can go to church websites and they have their order of service on there that’s posted each week. That’s another thing to do. Find another church that you know would be following a more set liturgy and just click on and download the bulletin and see what they do. It’s actually one of the things I do when I want to visit a new church—I want to go and find what their liturgy is like.

Matt Tully
You feel like you learn a lot about them?

Jonathan Gibson
Very much so. Gordon Fee said, “Let me hear you sing and I will tell you your theology.” I say, “Let me see your liturgy and I’ll tell you your theology.” The third thing would be to read some good books. Bryan Chapell’s book Christ-Centered Worship would be a really helpful place for a pastor to start. The book Reformation Worship that I myself and Mark Earngey did—we have three chapters at the beginning of it that are twenty-six liturgies. I wrote an essay on a biblical theology of worship called “Worship on Earth as It Is in Heaven,” and I trace the kinds of liturgy we see in the Bible. A bit of what I’m say in there is a call-response meal, and then other elements of confession, sacrifice, and praise, hearing from the word, etc. thrown in there. So that would be a book to get. I do a biblical theology of worship and Mark Earngey does the history of the reformation of worship, and then we talk about how then should we worship today and what elements should you include in your worship and how should your worship service look. So, those three essays I think might be helpful. And then Be Thou My Vision. If people are interested and want to taste and see what it’s like, get the book and give it a go for thirty-one days. I totally appreciate it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but if nothing else, it might just encourage people to do their quiet times a little bit differently.

Matt Tully
The second category of person is the regular Christian who has heard what you said today, even about our personal quiet times, and they feel the need for perhaps more structure to it, more of a rhythm to it, rather than it being kind of a see what I can pray for today—whatever comes to mind—and I’ll open my Bible to an open spot and just hope that God speaks to me. What encouragement would you offer to that person? Obviously, you want them to check out your book, Be Thou My Vision, but are there other things that they can be thinking about or exploring that would be helpful?

Jonathan Gibson
I read and R. C. Sproul book years ago on the Lord’s Prayer. I’ve forgotten the title of it—it was published in the 70s or 80s. He just had the little acronym ACTS, and it’s just stayed with me. When you pray, just think about ACTS: A is adoration. Start with adoration. C is confession. Confess your sins to God. T is thanksgiving. Thank God for something. S is supplication. Make your requests known to God. Just that little thing helped me in my quiet times. I was generally trying to use the ACTS structure when I prayed.

Matt Tully
Yes, that’s a mini liturgy.

Jonathan Gibson
Yes, there you go.

Matt Tully
Jonathan, thank you so much for helping us think a little bit more deeply about this topic of liturgy generally, as it applies to the church and our corporate worship, and also as it applies to our own personal daily worship of God. We appreciate it.

Jonathan Gibson
Thanks, Matt, for having me on the podcast. It’s been a real pleasure to chat to you about it.


Popular Articles in This Series

View All

Podcast: Help! I Hate My Job (Jim Hamilton)

Jim Hamilton discusses what to do when you hate your job, offering encouragement for those frustrated in their work and explaining the difference between a job and a vocation.


Crossway is a not-for-profit Christian ministry that exists solely for the purpose of proclaiming the gospel through publishing gospel-centered, Bible-centered content. Learn more or donate today at crossway.org/about.