Mark Galli. Beyond Smells and Bells: The Wonder and Power of Christian Liturgy. Brewster, MA: Paraclete, 2008. 148 pp. $16.95. Purchase at Amazon or for Kindle for much less.
Note: This review is written by Dr. Gary Shultz.
As a Southern Baptist pastor I am as far away as I could be from Mark Galli’s intended audience, those in or exploring Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, and Roman Catholic churches. I have never been a member of a church that worshipped through the liturgy or followed the liturgical calendar. Yet I benefitted from this book in a number of ways. While it did not convince me to embrace liturgical worship, it did lead me to a deeper appreciation for why so many Christians do practice liturgical worship. I was encouraged by its emphasis on the biblical basis of worship and how each element of the liturgy contributes to a robust understanding of the gospel. I even found myself considering how my Baptist church could incorporate some of these high-church prayers and emphasize the different times on the liturgical calendar so that our weekly and yearly worship would not only be more explicitly gospel-centered, but more in tune with the church of which we are all apart in Christ.
Mark Galli, currently a senior managing editor of Christianity Today and member of an Anglican congregation in the greater Chicago area, formerly an Anglican pastor, writes to explain how the liturgy shapes us to be like Christ, with the goal of leading people to participate in liturgical worship. Over fourteen chapters he explains the basic outline of the liturgy, the purpose of the liturgical calendar, and the counter-cultural relevance of the liturgy. Weaving together Scripture, personal illustrations, and a few quotes from theological and liturgical works, Galli makes the case that sustained participation in the liturgy helps us meet God, learn the core doctrines of our faith, and experience community together. Above all, Galli stresses the transforming power of the liturgy, including chapters on how the liturgy changes our sense of time, our sense of place, our imaginations, and how we keep one foot in this world while awaiting the fullness of the kingdom. He closes the book with three appendices aimed at people wholly new to the liturgy, explaining terms and dates and charting some of the differences and similarities across traditions.
Beyond Smells and Bells is an introductory work, and Galli succeeds with a non-technical and engaging style. He touches on important doctrines related to liturgy, Word, and Sacrament, but he doesn’t delve deeply enough to scare anyone unfamiliar with those doctrines. Galli is also persuasive. Readers unfamiliar with the liturgy, or newly introduced to it, will find a compelling argument for why liturgical worship is important and worthwhile. However, much of what Galli says about liturgy is true of worship in general. As a pastor of a non-liturgical church I couldn’t help but think again and again that what I just read applied to any gospel-centered worship service. All true worship begins with the triune God as he has revealed himself to us in his word, and all true worship leads us to focus on his transforming grace. All true worship draws us out of ourselves and our culture and leads us to true community before God. All true worship brings order our lives and makes sense of our time, place, and vocation. All true worship engages us body and soul, teaches us the faith, and inculcates an authentic sense of mystery and transcendence. Galli emphasizes the importance of repetition in the liturgy and the historical precedent for it, and he also comments on the drawbacks of many contemporary churches seeking to be “relevant” in their worship, but he never makes an explicit case for why liturgical worship should be preferred and practiced over non-liturgical worship. This is not necessarily a failing of the book. Galli is clear about his intended audience, and I was left with a clearer sense of the biblical and practical nature of the liturgy. Yet I was never convinced that liturgy is the only way, or even the best way, to worship.
I would recommend Beyond Smells and Bells as a resource that pastors in liturgical traditions could give to their congregants or visitors. Those who read it in that context would most likely have a deeper grounding and appreciation for liturgy after reading this book. I would also recommend it for non-liturgical pastors and students who want an introduction to a tradition with which they are unfamiliar. I believe those who read it with a spirit of charity, whether liturgical or not, will be encouraged to worship our triune God and people actually like to act on that spirit of charity and help people, some companies even do some world donation scheme to help those in need.
Gary L. Shultz Jr. (Ph.D. The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Fulton, MO. He also serves as Assistant Professor of Religion at Liberty University and Adjunct Professor of Theology and Church History at Baptist Bible Theological Seminary. He writes a monthly book review column for The Pathway and is the author of A Multi-Intentioned View of the Extent of the Atonement (Wipf & Stock).