There are many books on Christian worship: some helpful and some not-so-helpful. Nicolas Alford’s Doxology: How Worship Works clearly belongs in the former category. Though affirming the broader sense of worship (as a way of life), the book intentionally focuses on congregational worship. Alford is preeminently concerned that God’s people worship by the Book. Drawing from the Reformed tradition, he concisely expounds and carefully applies the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW), which, in essence, is the doctrine of sola Scriptura applied to church life and ministry.
But Alford does more—which is what makes this book superior to many others. First, he prefaces the the major principles that should govern our worship with a chapter that distinguishes between authority and influences. The Bible is the ultimate authority for worship. Nevertheless, there are other considerations that may and, in some cases, should affect the way we understand and apply the Bible. Alford defines and explains these influences in the following order of priority: Confessional/Convictional, Traditional/Cultural, and Preference/Deference.
Second, Alford identifies seven prefatory principles that we must employ as we seek to order our worship aright: the Biblical, Trinitarian, Covenantal, Ecclesiastical, Sabbatic, Governing, and Commissioned principles. These are Scriptural vantage points or perspectives from which we can ascertain the biblical contours of worship more clearly.
Next, Alford transitions to what he calls the “Major Principles.” In addition to the RPW, he includes the Vertical Principle of Worship (VPW) and the Internal Principle of Worship (IPW). I found these two principles extremely useful in that they highlight the ultimate objective (ascribing worth to God) and the necessary disposition (heartfelt love to God) of corporate worship. The latter principle is particularly helpful in reminding us that the right forms and rituals aren’t enough: God wants our heart!
Finally, Alford urges the reader to put function (what is this part of worship designed for) before form (what’s the best way or manner to fulfill the design). He closes with some wise counsel concerning three hinderances (“thieves that steal worship") and three helps (“themes that ignite worship”). The study questions at the end of each chapter make this a great resource for Sunday school classes or small group Bible studies.
In summary, Doxology isn’t written to tell you how long sermons should be, whether it’s okay to use PowerPoint, or what genre of music should accompany your church’s hymnody. Rather, Alford’s aim is to thoroughly equip you with a carefully nuanced biblical framework so that you, by prayer and the help of God’s Spirit, can discern what is most conducive to God’s glory and the church’s edification. Without doubt, this is one of the best primers on God-honoring corporate worship I’ve read. Highly recommended.
Bob Gonzales, Dean
Reformed Baptist Seminary