Dawn Widens Worship

Dawn_review_20191003Marva J. Dawn.[1] 1999. “A Royal ‘Waste’ of Time: The Splendor of Worshipping God and Being Church for the World. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the great disappointments in seminary arose when I took my only worship class and the professor insisted on studying the worship requirements outlined in the Book of Order (the denomination governance manual). It was like taking a class in oil painting only to be given a canvas outlined in a paint-by-numbers schema. Nothing quenches the spirit (1 Thes 5:19) quicker than a programmatic church.


In her book, A Royal ‘Waste’ of Time, Marva Dawn writes:

“Surely one of the greatest problems of our times is that we have become so nonchalant about the Lord of the cosmos. Certainly, if we were more immersed in God’s splendor we would find ourselves thoroughly lost in wonder, love, and praise.” (7)

In theological terms, we have lost our sense of God’s transcendence and prefer a “buddy god” that we can hang with on Sunday morning and forget about the rest of the week—my paraphrase. Dawn goes on to say:

“My primary concern in various churches’ and denominations’ struggles over worship is that so many decisions are being based on criteria other than the most essential—namely that God be the Subject and Object, the Infinite Center, of our worship.” (8)

Having lost its center, Dawn observes:

“Church has been turned into a place, a building, a duty, an hour on Sunday mornings, rather than what we are as ‘those called out’ (ekklesia) by Christ into a way of being in the world to the glory of God for the sake of others.” (9)

When the church’s center is God, the musical forms, the liturgy, and the mode of dress simply recede in importance.

Background and Organization

Marva Dawn received her doctorate in Christian ethics at University of Notre Dame. At the time she wrote this book, she was a seminary professor and the author of numerous books. She has since retired. Dawn writes in six parts:

  1. For the World: Culture
  2. Worshiping God: The Splendor of Our Infinite Center
  3. Being Church: Building Community
  4. Being Church: Forming Character
  5. Being Church: Choices
  6. For the World: Challenges (vii-viii)

Each part begins with a sermon, accept for the introduction where the theme sermon follows the introduction. This sermonic focus loosens the integration of the book, giving it an eclectic form and feel.

Wasting Time

Dawn’s thematic sermon takes Colossians 3:12-17 as its text. A key phrase in this reading is: And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” (Col 3:15 ESV). Dawn applies this text seriously when she reminds us:

“And it [worship] is a royal waste of time because we have to die to ourselves and our egos, our purposes and accomplishments to live now in God’s kingdom.” (14)

For Dawn, wasting time in worship is, in other words, sacrificial, our way of participating in Christ’s crucifixion. This is much like the Apostle Peter’s observation: He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Pet 2:24 ESV)

In my own view, I see worship as a way of participating in the divine rest in creation. We are where God intends us to be, something often hard to achieve in this life.


Marva J. Dawn’s A Royal ‘Waste’ of Time left a lasting impression on me in seminary as I came to see worship differently. In worship, we come to praise and adore God that we might become acquainted with the image we were created to reflect. True worship is more than the musical selections and their performance. Seminary students and pastors are best positioned to understand her detailed examination of contemporary worship controversies.


[1] http://MarvaDawn.org/about_Marva

Dawn Widens Worshi

Also See:

Bonhoeffer Introduces Christian Ethics, Part 1 

Top 10 Book Reviews Over the Past 12 Months

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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