Worship at the Well: From Dogmatics to Doxology (and back again) -- By: Kevin J. Vanhoozer

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 23:1 (Spring 2002)
Article: Worship at the Well: From Dogmatics to Doxology (and back again)
Author: Kevin J. Vanhoozer

Worship at the Well:
From Dogmatics to Doxology
(and back again)a

Kevin J. Vanhoozer

I. Introduction: Wells, Women, and Worship

Lake County, as the name itself indicates, hardly resembles the arid lands of Palestine, where having access to water is a matter of life and death. Like everything else, the value of water is determined by the laws of supply and demand. There will always be a demand for water, for it is essential to life. No wonder that water is such an important image in the Bible.1 As Americans and Europeans build cities on rivers, so in Palestine communities formed around supplies of fresh water, such as wells. Wells became social centers, a place to meet one’s future wife.

Imagine my surprise, then, upon receiving notice not long ago from the Lake County Department of Public Works informing me of the contents of our drinking water which, it turns out, comes from a well! Although I do not know just where this well is, I strongly suspect it is no longer the best place to meet girls. In any case, I now know the contents of my drinking water, down to the last micron. Besides a number of natural minerals, there are various chemical contaminants, maybe even a radioactive isotope or two, though all well within what the EPA considers acceptable limits.

My interest here is on the last in the series of biblical stories of meetings at the well, the account of Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman in John 4. Water is a rich theological theme in the Fourth Gospel. Jesus mentions water in John 3:5 in connection with regeneration (“born of water and the Spirit”), but here in chap. 4 it is well water that is in view in a conversation that eventually leads to teaching about the nature of proper worship. While it may not be the locus classicus on the subject, our passage in many respects does seem to represent the final word on right worship.

We get our English word “worship” from an old English term that referred to a person of worth: your “worth-ship.”2 What do we do when we worship? We acknowledge and celebrate God’s worth.3 In worship we come together to remember and to respond to who God is and to what God has done for us. In short, we come together to do theology, though in a form that is more informal, participatory, and musical than it is systematic.

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