Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
RAR 7:1 (Winter 1998) p. 209
Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down, Marva Dawn. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans (1995). 316 pages, paper, $16.99.
Most books have fans and detractors, and in most cases the fans share some monolithic characteristic while the detractors display the opposite. The fans and detractors of Marva Dawn’s Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down, however, make for odd bedfellows. She has been equally blasted by hard-core confessional Lutherans and by a review in Worship Leader Magazine, a Trojan horse slipping untold quantities of commercial Christian music past the unwitting protectors of the purity and peace of the church. In all, it’s a dubious distinction she holds. That ruckus alone ought to make one pay attention to this book.
Marva Dawn earned an undergraduate degree in church music from Concordia College in River Forest, Illinois. The school is one of several Concordias sprinkled around the country that were originally designed to prepare parochial school teachers, church musicians, and preseminary students for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. This undergraduate education was to provide the seedbed for an idea that has driven Dawn’s activities to this day. In her post-college years, she became more and more convinced that what one is and does comes from how one worships. Furthermore, she recognized that the musical life of a congregation had a direct bearing on that worship, and that many (perhaps
RAR 7:1 (Winter 1998) p. 210
most) pastors had little understanding of this condition. This interest in the relationship between gathered worship and personal piety led her to a full-blown study of ethics, and she eventually received a Ph.D. from Notre Dame in ethics with a specialty in the works of Jacques Ellul.
Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down is a long meditation on the relationship between corporate worship and ethics. The very title itself is a dialectic concerning the nature of evangelism, and evangelism (the proclamation of the gospel) must happen in gathered worship. It’s one of those rare books that has spoken volumes before the reader opens to page one. Not surprisingly, some are put off by this book merely because of the title, precisely because their method is to dumb down, and they know it! Others are troubled by the cultural concessions Marva Dawn makes, precisely because they are seen not as cultural concessions but as theological concessions.
As a reviewer, I ought to take a position. Yet I am curiously constrained not to do so because I agree with Dawn’s basic premise, regardless of how I perceive her position on the relationship between theology and specific cultural objects. She is fundamentally right: What we are and do comes fr...
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