Melanie C. Ross is assistant professor of liturgical studies at Yale Divinity School and Yale Institute of Sacred Music. Mark Noll is, well, Mark Noll

The following excerpts are taken from Ross’s new book Evangelical versus Liturgical: Defying a Dichotomy, for which Noll has written the foreword. 

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From the Foreword by Mark A. Noll . . . 

Evangelical versus Liturgical

Evangelical versus Liturgical

This book, though presenting its research calmly and moving carefully to thoughtful conclusions, has been written by an author with a mission. At first glance, Evangelical versus Liturgical? Defying a Dichotomy would seem to be on a fool’s errand, for it reflects commitments to both the theoretical liturgical studies that have flourished in Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant circles as well as the worshipping lives of Protestant evangelicals for whom “liturgy” can sometimes sound like a dirty word. Yet by bringing together her mastery of standard authorities in the study of Christian liturgy and her own familiarity with evangelical traditions, Melanie Ross shows that, far from a fool’s errand, this task can lead to edifying illumination.

The result of her pioneering effort is a challenge to scholars of liturgy to recognize that “free churches,” which may be inert to traditional or formal liturgical studies, nonetheless can possess responsible (if unselfconscious) liturgical traditions. Along the way it shows that these churches have often developed insights about worship that formally trained liturgical scholars need to appreciate, and that these churches deserve a place at the table in liturgical study more generally.

But the book also aims a challenge at evangelicals by showing that formal liturgical studies pose no threat to the free churches, that the informal liturgies of evangelical churches may contain unrecognized problems, and that free churches would benefit from more liturgical self-consciousness. Professor Ross has explored aspects of these themes in technical articles written primarily for scholars. With this book she shows that ordinary Christians who are concerned about their own worship practices, along with scholars, can benefit by “defying a dichotomy.” . . .

As a whole, this book is enhanced by Professor Ross’s broad reading in contemporary theology, both evangelical and other; it is marked by a solid grasp of American religious history; it reflects thorough knowledge of evangelical, mainline Protestant, and Roman Catholic liturgies; and it is particularly alert to how those liturgical practices have changed over time. Most importantly, it is a strategically important attempt to bridge the gaps that continue to divide the American Christian landscape between self-conscious liturgical scholars and dedicated evangelicals. The payoff from Melanie Ross’s close attention to the day-to-day worshipping lives of ordinary American believers, her unusual measure of theological sophistication, and her deep liturgical learning is a feast for heart and mind in equal measure.

From the Introduction by Melanie C. Ross . . . 

The notion of “middle” is important to me because I live with one foot in both evangelical and liturgical worlds. When I first entered the world of liturgical studies, I was confused by a lexicon of words I had never encountered in my nondenominational church: anamnesis, epiclesis, homily, lectionary, and antiphon, to cite but a few examples. Over a decade later, I continue to do a great deal of translation work when I talk to my family and church friends about my chosen academic discipline. I am sympathetic to honest critiques of my tradition: evangelicals should be engaged in deeper study of sacramental practices, ecumenical creeds, and the liturgical year. Resources abound for introducing these topics, and I use them regularly in my teaching.

At the same time, I keep in mind John Witvliet’s caution:

It is terribly tempting to teach worship with an undertone of guilt (“if you don’t do it this way, be shamed”), fear (“worship practices out there are pretty bad, and getting worse”), or pride (“how fine indeed it is that we don’t pray like those [fill in the blank] publicans”).

Witvliet stresses that “even in the bleakest days,” the most fitting “gospel undertone” for discussions of worship is gratitude. So, in addition to introducing my low-church evangelical students to the riches of Catholic, Orthodox, and mainline Protestant liturgical traditions, I want to help them see that they themselves have important gifts to bring to the ecumenical table.

However, this book was born out of the discovery that little translation work was being done in the opposite direction: it was — and continues to be — difficult to find academic literature that explains “low church” evangelical worship practices to those from more “high church” liturgical traditions. In 1989, liturgical historian James White noted that evangelicalism had been “almost totally ignored in liturgical scholarship, as if such an omnipresent American phenomenon did not deserve description, still less interpretation.” Fourteen years later, in 2003, liturgical theologian Graham Hughes reported little change in the scholarly landscape: “One faces an unmapped (possibly hazardous) territory in attempting to include evangelical Christianity in an account of liturgical theology. . . . This style of worship is simply bypassed in discussions of liturgical theology.” White and Hughes sound similar notes of caution to their mainline and Catholic colleagues. “We face a basic problem in ignoring the worship of most North American Christians,” says White; and Hughes comments that “as a highly prominent way of making sense of ‘God’ in our times, [evangelicalism] belongs in an account of liturgical meaning production.”

White, Hughes, and a handful of other liturgical scholars have taken steps to address the lacuna, and I am appreciative of their pioneering work. But as an individual with deep academic and experiential knowledge of evangelicalism, I find their scholarship problematic on a number of levels.

Too many historical accounts of evangelical worship fixate on the controversial innovations of Charles Finney and neglect the ecumenical vision of earlier evangelical leaders. Too many liturgical scholars use the words “fundamentalism” and “evangelicalism” interchangeably, despite the fact that historians like Mark Noll, George Marsden, and Joel Carpenter have spent thirty years nuancing the definitions of both terms. Too many descriptions of evangelical worship are written by mainline scholars on the basis of isolated visits or secondhand reports. Most of these accounts are now decades out of date and describe a “seeker-service” model whose influence has waned significantly among evangelicals. There is pressing need for work that brings together the best of liturgical scholarship with the best scholarship on American evangelicalism and puts both in conversation with worship practices of contemporary congregations. I hope this book is one small step in that direction.

Click to order Melanie C. Ross’s Evangelical versus Liturgical: Defying a Dichotomy

Craig Harline

Craig Harline

Craig Harline is the author of Way Below the Angels: The Pretty Clearly Troubled but Not Even Close to Tragic Confessions of a Real Live Mormon Missionary. He teaches European history at Brigham Young University. Learn more about him at

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Why would a former Mormon-missionary want to publish his presumably very Mormon account of his presumably very Mormon mission with Eerdmans?

Or even more to the point, why would venerable old Eerdmans want to publish such a Mormony thing as that?

I can speak only for myself, of course, but I’m pretty sure that the answer to both questions is basically the same, and it’s this: the book is meant just as much for other-believers as it is for Mormons.

If it were more the triumphalist-faith-promoting sort of thing, meant to inspire Mormons and alienate just about everyone else, then I would indeed have sent it to a Mormon-oriented press, where triumphalist-faith-promoting sorts of things about missions have pretty much, well, triumphed.

And if it were more the real-inside-story-about-an-obviously-ridiculous-faith-tradition-by-someone-who-saw-the-light-and-thank-goodness-got-out-just-in-time sort of thing, meant to confirm the suspicions of outsiders and alienate just about all Mormons, then maybe I could have interested one of the really big publishing houses, where real-inside-story sorts of things are pretty much de rigueur.

But my story (and most mission-stories) didn’t feel like it fit either one of those long-prevailing sorts of things. Instead it felt like something that any type of believer (including Mormons), might relate to. And where better to try to reach a crowd like that than Eerdmans?

Ironically, it was being a missionary, and then later a historian of the Reformation, that got me a lot more interested in “relating” to other-believers than in converting them. And for me the best way to relate has always been through sharing warts-and-all faith experiences, rather than talking (arguing) about theology.

There’s nothing wrong (usually) with talking (arguing) about theology, of course. In fact it’s usually what people interested in improving relations between people of different faiths think of doing first, in the hope of finding things you can agree on. But it doesn’t always improve relations, or understanding — and not necessarily so much because the respective parties inevitably won’t agree on everything, but because they still don’t relate to each other as people, or in other words still haven’t really seen themselves in each other.

My friend David Dominguez, who as an evangelical law professor at BYU knows a little something about interfaith relating, says that even more important than talking with other-believers about theology is walking with them. Sure, walking usually includes talking, but the sort of walking and talking he has in mind is like the sort on the road to Emmaus, which “teaches us to approach each other gently, with the utmost of care for each other’s well-being, . . . matching each other stride for stride, doing all we can to catch up with the hope and despair we all experience in the practice of Christian faith. Only after we have traveled miles together and given each other time to tell the whole story can we open up the Word in the here and now, among real brothers and sisters, rather than engage in debates over abstract doctrine.”

I think I’d be totally onboard with a rule that says, “No talking (arguing) about theology (or politics or anything else) until you’ve shared enough of your warts-and-all story that you can see yourself in the other person — and not just to keep the noise level down or as some polite preliminary to the main show, but because seeing yourself in the other person actually changes the talking (arguing).”

Oh, seeing someone like that wouldn’t solve everything, and maybe wouldn’t bring world peace (actually maybe it would), and you’d still disagree on assorted things.

Way Below the Angels

Way Below the Angels

But you’d disagree now with empathy and informed understanding, instead of mistrust and suspicion.

And you’d try your darndest to characterize the views of the other person fairly, instead of carelessly or distortedly.

And you’d stop reducing that person to simply a member of a group.

And you’d be happy instead of alarmed about what you had in common.

And you’d be open to learning things from another person’s tradition that aren’t in your own.

And when you saw things in the other person’s tradition that seemed obviously silly and merely culturally bound, you’d be more willing to reflect on things in your own tradition that were very possibly of the selfsame ilk.

But again most of all you’d be inclined to see that other person as someone basically like you, rather than as someone basically not.

Of course some people don’t want to see themselves in the other, like congregants in the Reformation who complained when their preachers didn’t rail enough against enemies of the faith: they needed those enemies in order to define themselves! And, in fact, once you start seeing yourself in someone, it’s hard to go back, because it’s interesting, and comforting, and satisfying.

Eerdmans already has plenty of warts-and-all books that offer even former Mormon-missionaries the chance to see themselves in unexpected others — like Lamin Sanneh’s Summoned From the Margin, or Rembert Weakland’s A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church, or Dorothy Dickens Meyerink’s Ministry among the Maya. Books like these even made me think that maybe others would see themselves in my story too — see the humanness in Mormon missionaries, instead of the usual angelicness, demonicness, roboticness, or (thanks to the musical) moronicness.

And I’m glad Eerdmans seemed to see that too.

Click to visit Craig Harline’s website or to order Way Below the Angels

Welcome once again to Eerdmans All Over, a Friday roundup of all the Eerdmans-related news, reviews, interviews, and other interesting online content we can gather in a given week.

Recent Releases


Study Guide for Inspired
Jack Levison and Ronald Herms


At the Limits of the Secular: Reflections on Faith and Public Life
Edited by William A. Barbieri, Jr.


News from Eerdmans . . .

  • We launched the trailer for Crazy by Linda Vigen Phillips on our YouTube channel, starring Kylie Groot as Laura.
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. . . and elsewhere.

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Daniel Migliore

Daniel Migliore

Daniel L. Migliore is Charles Hodge Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, New Jersey, and author of Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology, the third edition of which will be released next month. 

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While exploring selected churches in Switzerland with noteworthy early medieval frescoes this past June, our little group spent a morning in Sils-Maria, a charming little village where Friedrich Nietzsche spent his summers from 1883 to 1888. The town is near St. Moritz, a region of breathtaking beauty, and it is easy to understand why Nietzsche might have found there both solitude and inspiration for his writing. A philosopher of many talents, Nietzsche is of course best known for his story of the madman who proclaims the “death of God” to the amusement and bewilderment of his hearers. Nietzsche’s legacy is still very much alive, as the continuing production of many scholarly articles and books on his philosophy and the recent neo-atheist literature that is indebted to his work attest.

I had a particular interest in the Nietzsche house in Sils because I had just completed an imaginary dialogue between Nietzsche and Karl Barth that is now included in the soon-to-be published third edition of my introduction to Christian theology, Faith Seeking Understanding. Conjuring a conversation between these two chronologically distant and radically different thinkers was no doubt a preposterous undertaking. Nevertheless, it was fun to write, and I hope also both fun and instructive to read.

Faith Seeking Understanding

Faith Seeking Understanding

As readers of Barth will know, he engages with Nietzsche’s philosophy in a long excursus in Church Dogmatics III/2, but of course Nietzsche knew nothing of this and we can only speculate about his possible response. According to Nietzsche, belief in God, especially in its Christian form, is essentially antithetical to human freedom and human flourishing. Barth, on the other hand, presents faith in the God of the gospel as the basis of a new and fruitful human freedom rooted in the “humanity of God.”

In my dialogue I try to avoid giving all the good lines to one of the speakers and reducing the other to a mere foil. My reason for doing so is that Nietzsche’s critique, even if dated, is in some respects devastating, and if I understand Barth’s way of doing theology aright, his response to the atheist challenge is not to try to defeat it by a clever apologetic strategy but instead simply to present as clearly as he can the Christian understanding of God centered in the person and work of Jesus Christ as attested in Scripture.

It’s altogether possible that readers of the dialogue on my right will think the exercise a failure because Barth does not come away with an obvious victory over the granddaddy of modern atheism. And to my left I can imagine there will be unhappiness that Nietzsche does not triumph over the celebrated theologian who, as many of his critics complain, seems to offer more in the way of preaching than in reasoned rejoinder to unbelief. But if it should turn out that I am wedged between these two responses to the dialogue, perhaps this could be taken as a sign that my conjured conversation is not too far off base.

Click to order the third edition of Daniel Migliore’s Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology.

You probably know that Eerdmans publishes fantastic Bible commentaries. You’re likely aware of our respected theological monographs, our groundbreaking ethics texts, and our library of ministry resources. You may even have heard about our award-winning line of international children’s books in translation.

But did you know that we also publish regional interest titlesArt booksFilm discussion guidesPoetry? Books on Celtic prayer? . . . physics? . . . Fokker airplanes?

Throughout the month of July, we’re celebrating some of the eclectic titles at the fringes of the Eerdmans list as we highlight a different niche collection each Wednesday.

This week we turn our gaze to classical music and musicians. Read on to discover five great books . . .

Visions of Amen

Visions of Amen

Visions of Amen: The Early Life and Music of Olivier Messiaen
Stephen Schloesser

French composer Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) is probably best known for his Quartet for the End of Time, premiered in a German prisoner-of-war camp in 1941. However, Messiaen was a remarkably complex, intelligent person with a sometimes tragic domestic life who composed a wide range of music. This book explores the enormous web of influences in the early part of Messiaen’s long life.

The first section of the book provides an intellectual biography of Messiaen’s early life in order to make his (difficult) music more accessible to the general listener. The second section offers an analysis of and thematic commentaries on Messiaen’s pivotal work for two pianos, Visions of Amen, composed in 1943. Schloesser’s analysis includes timing indications corresponding to a downloadable performance of the work by accomplished pianists Stéphane Lemelin and Hyesook Kim.

Playing Before the Lord

Playing Before the Lord

Playing Before the Lord: The Life and Work of Joseph Haydn
Calvin R. Stapert

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) has been called the father of the symphony and the string quartet. A friend of Mozart and a teacher of Beethoven, “Papa” Haydn composed an amazing variety of music — symphonies, string quartets, concerti, masses, operas, oratorios, keyboard works — and his prolific output celebrates both the heights and depths of life.

In this fascinating book Calvin Stapert combines his skills as a biographer and a musicologist to recount Haydn’s steady rise from humble origins to true musical greatness. Unlike other biographers, Stapert argues that Haydn’s work was a product of his devout Catholic faith, even though he worked mainly as a court musician and the bulk of his output was in popular genres. In addition to telling Haydn’s life story, Stapert includes accessible listening guides to The Creation and portions of other well-known works to help Haydn listeners more fully appreciate the brilliance behind his music.

Read a guest post by Calvin Stapert (“Why Haydn?“) here on EerdWord. 

I, Vivaldi

I, Vivaldi

I, Vivaldi
Written by Janice Shefelman
Illustrated by Tom Shefelman

In this dynamic picture-book biography, told as if by Vivaldi himself, the famous musician’s energetic personality and steadfast dedication to music come alive.

Despite his mother’s vow for him to become a priest, young Vivaldi is only interested in music. He soon grows from a feisty boy who wants to play the violin into a stubborn young man who puts his musical training ahead of his studies for priesthood.

Beautiful, ornate artwork portrays the spirit and splendor of Vivaldi’s hometown, Venice. A historical note, musical score, and glossary will help readers more fully appreciate Vivaldi’s life and musical genius.

Handel's Messiah

Handel’s Messiah

Handel’s Messiah: Comfort for God’s People
Calvin R. Stapert

If you want to enjoy and appreciate Handel’s beloved Messiah more deeply, this informed yet accessible guide is the book to read.

Here you will find fascinating historical background to Messiah, including its unlikely inception, and learn about its reception and impact from Handel’s day to our own. Calvin Stapert devotes most of his book to scene-by-scene musical and theological commentary on the entire score, demonstrating how the music of Messiah beautifully intertwines with and illuminates its biblical text. Through these pages Handel’s popular and much-loved masterpiece will be greatly enhanced for listeners old and new alike.

Read two guest posts by Calvin Stapert (“Messiah: An Oratorio for All Seasons” and “Early Messiah Reviews“) here on EerdWord.

My Only Comfort

My Only Comfort

My Only Comfort: Death, Deliverance, and Discipleship in the Music of J. S. Bach
Calvin R. Stapert

In the history of Western music, J. S. Bach is unsurpassed in mastery of technique and profundity of thought. He was also a devout Lutheran with a broad knowledge of Scripture and theology. Given Bach’s combination of musical prowess, personal devotion, and theological depth, it is not surprising that his music stands unexcelled among artistic expressions of the Christian faith. With the passage of time, however, many of the essential keys to understanding Bach’s music have been lost. My Only Comfort uniquely reconnects modern listeners with Bach’s music, enabling them to listen to Bach with renewed understanding and appreciation.

After an introduction to Bach, his theological knowledge, his musical language, and the various genres of sacred music in his output, Calvin Stapert leads readers through specific works by Bach that express, interpret, and vivify some of the principal doctrines of the Christian faith. For each work discussed, Stapert provides relevant quotations from the Heidelberg Catechism (a novel and provocative approach to the study of Bach), a literal translation of the text set beside the German original, and textual and musical commentary meant to contribute to a more perceptive and devotional listening to the work.