I ordered a used copy, not sure I would want to keep a book such as this, and in this well-worn book are heavy markings, ear marks, and a cracked spine. It tells me that someone thoroughly enjoyed Bishop Willimon’s book; I found it equally dry and almost mundane. In such an important topic as how Christians have worshiped, worship now (or then, when the book is written), and a call to change the way Christians worship, I was expecting a significant amount of energy illuminating from the book. Yet, I found that his greatest strength was brevity. Written just years before ]]’s masterpiece of Historical Jesus scholarship, Jesus and Judaism, but just three years after his crucial entry, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, Willimon was able to issue the call to return to, or at the very least acknowledge, our Jewish roots and begin to rebuild Christian worship around Historical Christianity.
Willimon begins with the early Jewish synagogue service and the familiar parts of our mutual worship – baptism, a common meal, and the preaching or use of a communally accepted Scripture. He glossed over this commonality, but I suspect that if a revision was issued, this would be a largely expanded section because I believe that with the scholarship earnestly began by Sanders, Christians are rediscovering (without stepping into the realm of Messianic Judaism) the, for lack of a better term at the moment, historical origin of Christianity. We are rediscovering the common origin of both Christianity and modern Judaism in such a way that we can maintain our individual beliefs but maybe seek a better ecumenical spirit. However, even with the deficit due to the era, Willimon is able to maintain a consistent pull back to the ancient Judaism which became Christianity.
It is interesting that Willimon, with his era deficit on connecting Christianity and Judaism, is radically efficient in the modern discussion on corporate worship versus individualism. He doesn’t shy away, although it is still undeveloped given the importance of the issue, from distinguishing individualism from historical Christianity. He brings the readers through the various eras where theological and worship communities were developed together, not by espousing individualism, but by building corporate responsibility and a shared worship experience, although the pendulums of history have swung from the extremely high church of the medieval times to the free church progenitors of modern, capitalistic, Western Christianity. In today’s market Christianity where political pundits are becoming theological soothsayers, religious individualism is moving us away from the Reformation trumpeting of the priesthood of all believers to the catastrophic papacy of all believers. Willimon shows that baptism, the common mean, and the preaching of the word must be corporate experience for the Body of Christ and he does so by following the Psalmist’s Hebraic tradition of rehearsing our Tradition. We are reminded of our place in Tradition and Tradition in our congregation.