Perspectives on Christian Worship:

A Focused Review of Traditional Evangelical Worship and Blended Worship

By Matt Honeycutt

Through the centuries Christians have both agreed and disagreed on numerous aspects of Christianity. Some aspects are non-negotiable to all believers such as the virgin birth, or the deity and resurrection of Jesus Christ. On the other hand, some aspects of Christianity are debated even to this day such as soteriology, ecclesiology, and eschatology. But among the many topics that are debatable, the manner and expression of Christian worship frequently arises among Christians and church leaders today.

The worship wars of today have roots going back to the first four centuries of Christianity. During the first two centuries, worship was relatively simple compared to the spectacle of the mysterious, pagan religions of the time. However, during the second and third centuries a gradual change took place in Christian worship. But it was not until the fourth century that a marked change in worship occurred. Pagan influences had started to impact Christian worship in ways alien to the simple forms of earlier Christian worship. As Pinson notes, “there arose a tension in Christian worship and practice…about what it meant to be set apart from the world in terms of the relation of church practice and pagan culture.”[1] This same tension continues today as Christians struggle to comprehend how to reach a lost and dying world with the gospel of Jesus Christ without compromise.

In contemporary Christianity some of the more common approaches to worship include liturgical, traditional evangelical, contemporary, blended, and emerging. This essay seeks to present just two of these worship approaches, traditional evangelical and blended. In Perspectives on Christian Worship: Five Views, J. Ligon Duncan (traditional evangelical worship) and Michael Lawrence and Mark Dever (blended worship) present their respective approaches as being the most biblically faithful. These approaches either understand worship from the normative or regulative principle of worship.

Normative and Regulative Principles of Worship

Since the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, sola scriptura has been the mantra for many evangelical Christians. Only the Scriptures, and not church tradition, has the sole authority to dictate what happens in the local church. After all, the Scriptures are God’s words to his called-out ones, his church. Nevertheless, differences of opinion have birthed two principles of worship in Protestantism defining what it means to be led by the Scriptures. These principles are generally referred to as the normative and regulative principles of worship. The normative principle seeks to incorporate things in the life and worship of the local church that are not expressly forbidden by Scripture. Whereas, the regulative principle, according to Alexander and Dever, “states that everything we do in a corporate worship gathering must be clearly warranted by Scripture. Clear warrant can either take the form of an explicit biblical command, or a good and necessary implication of a biblical text.”[2] Accordingly, it is the regulative principle that drives both the traditional evangelical and blended approaches of worship.

Both of these approaches are built on the belief that God alone determines how He will be worshipped rather than any fleeting cultural trend. American culture is fraught with narcissism to its core, and consequently, deeply entrenched in entertainment. Worship of God is not supposed to be a show or a performance for the masses, but a time of reverent reflection on all that God is and all he has done. In essence, biblical worship glorifies God alone and not man. Duncan, Lawrence, and Dever all demonstrate a reverence for God and His word.

Traditional Evangelical Worship

Duncan’s traditional evangelical approach to worship stems from the fact that biblical worship entails focusing on God himself and acknowledging “His inherent and unique worthiness.”[3] Worship is about the reverence and awe of the greatness of God. This can only be accomplished, as Duncan rightly posits, “in accordance with His written Word.”[4] Thus, “the great distinctive of the traditional evangelical approach to public worship is that we aim for both the form and substance of our corporate worship to be suffused with Scripture and scriptural theology.”[5] In other words, Duncan proposes that gathered worship incorporate reading the Bible besides just in the preaching event, preaching the Bible expositionally, praying the Bible with prayers “permeated with the language and thought of Scripture,”[6] singing the Bible with theologically rich music, and seeing the Bible in the ordinances. So, biblical worship, according to the traditional evangelical approach, is not concerned with human preferences or cultural accommodation, but about God’s instructions on how to meet with and delight in Him. Traditional evangelical worship has a Scriptural foundation and a teleological aim, namely the rightly order worship of the Triune God.

Duncan outlines three parts of contemporary worship that should be considered in a certain order for healthy gathered worship: circumstances, elements, and qualities. One of the parts is the circumstances. Circumstances of worship may include, but are not limited to, the style of music, the specific order of the service, what musical instruments used to assist congregational singing, etc. The elements and content (or substance) include the reading, preaching, singing, praying, and seeing the Bible. Duncan’s traditional evangelical worship places the primary emphasis on the elements and content of gathered worship rather than on the circumstances. The circumstances of gathered worship should always be servant to the elements and content, not vice versa. To place the emphasis on the circumstances over the elements and content would invite error by encouraging a consumerist mind set of a congregant. Worship is about the glory of God, not the preferences of people. Another error Duncan sees when the circumstances are emphasized is the alienation of some congregants when a particular musical “style” is given credence over another. In other words, not everyone enjoys the same style music and appealing to one would exclude others from enjoying worship.

What is commendable about Duncan’s approach is his outline of “the qualities of biblical worship.”[7] In relation to these “qualities,” traditional evangelical worship “strives to help the congregation offer scriptural, simple, spiritual, God-centered, historic, reverent and joyful, mediated, corporate, evangelistic, delightful, active and passive, Lord’s Day worship to the living and true God.”[8] These are all “qualities” that are central to the traditional evangelical worship service.

Blended Worship

Lawrence and Dever’s blended approach to worship would include much of what Duncan’s traditional evangelical worship entails, especially worship that is word-centered (i.e. the regulative principle). However, the blended approach outlines a unique course by combining both “traditional and contemporary elements in a nuanced way.”[9] To clarify their position on blended worship, Lawrence and Dever point out four things that blended worship is not. Blended worship is not “a blending of truths or truth-perspectives,” “a blending of diverse theological and liturgical traditions,” “a blending of elements of worship,” or “a blending of media or means of communication.”[10] Instead, blended worship is “corporate worship that consists of its biblical elements (prayer, singing, reading and preaching God’s Word, the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper) but in a variety of styles or forms.”[11] For instance, the singing would incorporate a mix of style as well as hymns, choruses, and praise songs from all ages. In addition, prayer content would vary as well such as thanksgiving, praise, confession, intercession, and commitment type prayers. Scripture reading would permeate the worship service, not just in the sermon. Preaching would be expositional. And, the ordinances would not be so rigid as to stifle spontaneity in praise during baptismal services or hinder somber reflection during the Lord’s Supper. These are all elements (the what done in corporate worship) that would remain consistent, but vary in style and application.

The forms and circumstances (the how) of worship is where the “blended” in blended worship comes into focus. Lawrence and Dever state that even though the elements of public worship are determined by Scripture, the forms have “considerable freedom” in worship.[12] In other words, the principles found in Scripture “should inform and govern our conduct.”[13] This implies there is some freedom in worship. Even so, the elements are still present, but the forms and circumstances will vary in worship. But this does not mean, according to Lawrence and Dever, that there is “unfettered license to innovate, nor does it leave everything simply to taste and preference.”[14] In fact, this is precisely the fact Duncan critiques about blended worship. All forms and circumstances must, nevertheless, still be moored to the principles of the Bible. Thus, the forms of worship must be intelligible, orderly, edifying, unifying rather than divisive, and promote reverence for God.


Although these perspectives are strikingly similar in honoring the regulative principle of worship, there is a marked difference in the way both traditional evangelical and blended formats approach worship. The traditional evangelical approach would most likely not incorporate any contemporary aspects in its worship, while the blended format would add some contemporary aspects of worship without compromising foundational biblical truth. Even though the debate still rages among Christians, the traditional evangelical and blended approaches to worship seem to offer the most biblically faithful modes of worship despite their slight differences. In Lawrence and Dever’s words, both approaches view “worship as a profoundly countercultural activity, defined, informed, and shaped by the culture and worldview of Scripture in redemptive opposition to the idolatrous cultures of this and every other age.”[15]  In other words, the traditional evangelical and blended approaches do not accommodate the culture, but rather, these approaches instead seek to transform culture for the glory of God.

[1] J. Matthew Pinson in Perspectives on Christian Worship: 5 Views, ed. J. Matthew Pinson (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2009), 4.

[2] Mark Dever and Paul Alexander, The Deliberate Church: Building Your Ministry on the Gospel (Wheaton: Crossway, 2005), Kindle, 1188-90).

[3] Duncan, Perspectives, 103.

[4] Ibid, 104.

[5] Ibid, 105.

[6] Ibid, 106.

[7] Ibid, 114-23.

[8] Ibid, 114.

[9] Pinson, Perspectives, 15.

[10] Ibid, 219-22.

[11] Ibid, 223.

[12] Ibid, 241.

[13] Ibid, 243.

[14] Ibid, 244.

[15] Ibid, 134.

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