Too Deep for Words: A Theology of Liturgical Expression

Clayton J. Schmit Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville May 1, 2002

This work by Schmit, associate professor of preaching at Fuller Theological Seminary, has the additional subtitle “The Power of Preaching, Prayer, and Ritual in Worship.” The book focuses on the aesthetic aspects of congregational worship.

The work consists of two parts. The first four chapters present the philosophical framework in which Schmit defines art as the creation of forms that are symbolic of human feeling in which God reveals Himself. Presentational language represents an art form with the capacity to express things too deep for words and to create resonance between people (chap. 1), and it is the primary vehicle to reveal the “hidden God” through careful preaching and worship leadership (chap. 2). Further the language of worship leadership with its intrinsic power “bind[s] the community together” and enacts the fulfillment of God’s promises with the unique capability to disclose God’s presence to the community (chap. 3), a phenomenon that occurs primarily through the pursuit of excellence (chap. 4). In chapters five through seven Schmit applies his aesthetic theory to the leadership of congregational worship in preaching, public prayer, and ritual action.

Schmit’s philosophy begins with the assumption that “the art we pour into worship is created not for God’s sake . . . [but] for the peoples’ sake” (pp. 65–66). Hence his understanding of the aesthetic is fundamentally anthropocentric and utilitarian. It exists not for the glory of God but as the means for believers to experience Him. Therefore the primary function of art, including all forms of oral communication, is “to stimulate the feelings and attitudes of the hearers. Therefore, the effort to communicate a concept (or information) is secondary” (p. 88). While both are necessary, the literal assertions of a sermon “play the part of harmony in relation to the artistic meaning of the work” (p. 89).

Schmit’s discussion of worship leadership through verbal and ritual language is stimulating and helpful for all facets of public pastoral leadership. It could have been drawn, however, from a more theocentric philosophy of aesthetics.

—Timothy J. Ralston

October 1, 2006

Biblotheca Sacra

This review appeared in the Oct-Dec 2006 vol. 163 no. 4 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.

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