Displaying a masterful synthesis of research Karin Maag provides glimpses into what worship looked like during the reformed age. The focus is not on the contributions of women but it is an excellent choice for anyone wanting to read a female author who makes a valuable historical offering.

Worshiping with the Reformers
Karin Maag
Publisher: IVP Academic
Pages: 234

March is Women’s History Month, set aside to learn of, remember and commemorate the important contributions of women in American history. Worshiping with the Reformers by Karin Maag may not directly correlate but this volume is a valuable account of worship practices in the time of the reformers.

Today readers receive encouragement to engage with books written by women and ethnic minorities to gain a different perspective from the plethora of writings by white males. It’s a legitimate concept as one can no doubt benefit from divergent viewpoints. It reminds me of F. W. Boreham’s encouragement, “I do suggest that a man should be incessantly forcing his mind along new lines, familiarizing himself with unfamiliar themes, pushing his keel into new seas and exploring worlds on which his eyes have never before gazed.”

Do you normally read books by men? Read some written by women. If your reading tends towards those who share your ethnic origin, enjoy the writings of someone from a different race.

Doing this to cross it off a checklist or to fulfill a self-imposed quota is futile if we just go through the motions. Approaching it, however, with a sense of inquisitiveness can expand our horizons. If a reader is looking to read a female author, this book is an excellent choice. Not interested in historic worship practices during the reformation period, all the more reason to push yourself along a different line. You may find it enriching.

Maag, a PhD from the University of St. Andrews, is professor and director of the H. Henry Meeter Center for Calvin Studies at Calvin University. Don’t let these academic qualifications scare you. The books is filled with highly accessible accounts of people and institutions navigating a tumultuous time. It’s fascinating and a joy to read. You don’t have to be an academic, just a learner.

You also don’t have to be of the reformed faith to find this interesting. This covers the practices of a multitude of groups during the reformation period. Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, Reformed and Anabaptists are the main representatives. Expect to read quotations from luminaries like John Calvin and Martin Luther but thankfully we get to hear from lesser known voices and publications. The author’s research and skill is evident from the depth of content and the organization. Using words as her building material, readers get to follow her creation of a historical edifice that is a wonder to behold.

I can’t help thinking that this makes an excellent companion to the Reformation Commentary on Scripture series. Neither is dependent on the other, but this definitely complements the former. It even matches the series in terms of the images and color on the cover. Logos Bible Software should add this resource to their inventory since they include the commentary series. I can’t imagine a better pairing.

What adds to the richness is the secondary aspect: “Although the primary focus of this book is on the practice of worship, most of the chapters include some background on the theological approach adopted by Reformation-era church leaders on various topics.” So it’s not just what but why.

The chapter headings reveal the main topics: Going to Church, At Church, Preaching, Prayer, Baptism, Communion, The Visual Arts and Music and Worship Outside Church.

In walking us through the subject matter Maag points out that even in a particular group, nothing was set in stone. Variation existed. There was “flexibility and diversity.” Even with the best intentions it’s difficult if not impossible to achieve uniform practice.

The purpose in examining the differences is to help ministers and lay people today “think more deeply about various aspects of worship practice.” Why did some incorporate icons and others reject them? Why did some hold to set prayers while others favored extemporaneous expression?

One of the surprises is the role of government. This is one of the big divides between then and now. In various ways governments regulated the practice of worship, even mandating attendance. Officials were looking at what was best for society, seeing people more as groups rather than individuals.

The dedication that I see within these pages is a challenge to my own apathy. The varied expressions lead to considering today’s practices. This window into the past informs the present and has the potential to shape our future. In this time of steadily declining church attendance this can purify the heart to worship anew.

Michael Dalton