Posted: March 12th, 2022
Commission to Worship by Wheeler and Whaley
As a North American Mission Board national missionary and associate director of the Center for Church Planting at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, David Wheeler is eminently qualified to speak on matters of spiritual study, and his jointly authored book The Great Commission to Worship: Biblical Principles for Worship-Based Evangelism demonstrates an extreme aptitude for biblical interpretation and modern empirical inquiry. His co-author Vernon M. Whaley serves as Director of the Center for Worship and Chairman of the Department of Music and Worship Studies at Liberty University, both positions which require a true commitment to evangelical teaching on a societal level. Together, this pair of highly educated religious instructors combine to create a lasting contribution to one of Christianity’s most ofte-repeated debates; between the Great Commission given to the Church as an institution and the Great Commandment given to every human being on an individual basis. The questions posed immediately by Wheeler and Whalen in their opening chapter (“The Mandate of Worship and the Great Commission”) are compelling on many levels, as the authors ask “how do we develop a strategy for evangelism that does not exclude or responsibility to engage in worship?”1
1. David Wheeler and Vernon M. Whaley. The Great Commission to Worship: Biblical Principles for Worship-Based Evangelism. (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2011). p. 5.
Although I was familiar with the evangelism vs. worship debate on a cursory level, reading about the intense debates which occupied the minds of the author’s during their youth served as the inspiration to delve into a proper study of the debate, an experience which proved illuminating to say the least.
From an organizational standpoint, the book is structured in accordance with a 12-chapter scheme, with each chapter offering a unique take on what exactly the authors’ concept of Great Commission Worship truly entails. Chapter 4, for example, instructs readers that Great Commission Worship is Formational, while Chapter 8 speaks of Great Commission Worship as Missional. In each case, the authors choose to confine the scope of their study to a particular segment of Great Commission Worship, which the authors define as “the two-pronged compass of exalting Christ in worship and reproducing His kingdom through biblical evangelism.”2 In the book’s fifth chapter (“Great Worship Commission is Transformational”), Wheeler and Whaley make a seemingly subtle statement on the concept of spiritual change that, when considered within the context of their overall teachings, provides the thematic foundation for the entire work. After engaging in a study session to review the transformational stories of Jacob, Jonah, Exekiel, Paul, Peter and Isiah, the authors observe that “transformation is deeply personal & #8230; (and) must be experienced by each person as he or she worships the Lord. I cannot experience the transforming power of the Holy Spirit for anyone else & #8230; It is only a transformation that God can do in my life for me, individually,” an assertion which provides the basis for the instructional messages provided throughout the book.
2. Ibid, p. 6.
3. Ibid. p. 91.
Coming from a Christian family that was devoted to the concept of worship, but wary when it came to evangelical pursuits, I distinctly remember the feelings of awkwardness which would inevitably arise when aspiring evangelicals would knock on the door and attempt to convert us to another church or denomination. Reading through The Great Commission to Worship provided several avenues for reflection on my personal views towards evangelical practices, and despite my parents’ choice to prioritize personal worship, I find myself intrigued by the concept of bringing others into the proverbial fold. I can remember instances from my days in high school when a particular classmate was suffering through her own parent’s divorce, and despite her openly expressed interest in learning about spiritual methods of coping with adversity, I consciously abstained from inviting her to engage in bible study or similar pursuits. I now believe this decision to withhold knowledge and experience I knew would benefit my friend derived from the sort of fear mentioned by the authors in Chapter 1, wherein they describe “Christians & #8230; (who) are not willing to bypass their fears and share their faith with a family member, neighbor, or friend who is a nonbeliever.”4
Rather than simply provide unsubstantiated opinions or anecdotal evidence, Wheeler and Whaley make sure to infuse the book with a proper level of biblical backing, and in my estimation this rhetorical strategy proved to be highly effective, as the vast majority of readers will be familiar with using Scripture as the basis for forming wider conclusions about their own life. When the authors express a firm conviction that worship and evangelism go hand in hand,
4. Ibid, p. 7.
stating that “if the heartbeat of worship is obedience, then it is impossible to be a true worshipper without being directly involved in the command of evangelism as expressed in Acts 1:8,”5 the ability to reflect back on an actual verse from the Bible significantly strengthened the persuasive power of their overall message.
While the authors combine their backgrounds and viewpoints to create a compelling argument that the debate between the Great Commission to evangelize and the Great Commandment to worship should be solved by a compromise to embrace both practices with equal fervor, the construction of their rhetoric warrants a certain level of critical examination. A great source of confusion for the laymen reading this book will inevitably stem from the authors’ decision to utilize multiple thesis statements and alternating definitions of the same phrase or term. For example, in the Introduction section Wheeler and Whaley declare that the “aim of this book is to help God’s people recapture their Great Commission calling to once again be like the early worshipers in Acts 17,”6 which would seem to offer a definitive thesis statement to express the book’s thematic objectives. However, just a few pages later, they present an altogether separate thesis statement, which is “to address this most basic issue of interpretation in reference to worship and evangelism and how they impact our obedience to the Great Commission.”7
5. Ibid, p. 13.
6. Ibid, p. 6.
7. Ibid, p. 9.
This apparent lack of logical organization and philosophical conviction serves to undermine the author’s overall message, because the reader is left to wonder if various passages are written in support of one thesis statement or the other. In another glaring discrepancy which would prove foundational to Wheeler and Whaley’s overall position, the authors define the act of worship variously as “a lifestyle of walking in submission to God and walking with God,”8 “an act of unbridled obedience even when rational explanations are hard to find,”9 to “Love God,”10 and “the natural response to God’s revelation.”11 When one considers the fluidity of modern language, worship may very well be expressed by each of these disparate viewpoints, but from a rhetorical perspective the authors would have been better served to construct a foundational definition from which situational explanations could be interpreted. The principles of effective communication dictate that a standard classification be used in any conceptual debate such as the divide between worship and evangelism.
Upon exposing myself to the wealth of knowledge contained within The Great Commission to Worship: Biblical Principles for Worship-Based Evangelism, my mind immediately began formulating various plans of action I could use to bridge the gap between
8. Ibid, p. vii.
9. Ibid, p. 12.
10. Ibid, 27.
11. Ibid, p. 36.
my commitment to worship in accordance with my family’s teachings of private devotion, and my desire to participate in evangelical pursuits which I am convinced will benefit friends, family and strangers alike. The first action I hope to integrate into my daily routine is participating with bible study groups and like-minded organizations operating on campus, because I believe engaging with the evangelical community in my own area will inspire me to try and teach others in my life about the Bible, the teachings of the Lord, and the benefits of a faith-based lifestyle. By reaching out to peers who have already embraced evangelism in their own lives, I hope to learn more about the practice on a genuine level, in addition to studying its precepts from an academic perspective. Second, I would like to discuss the issue with my parents and explore their own attitudes towards the debate covered this book, and perhaps even have them read a few chapters to get a better understanding for the lessons I am learning as part of my spiritual development. I doubt their long-held convictions as to the value of private, personal worship will be changed at all, but I would be interested in learning about my parent’s reactions to the views expressed by Wheeler and Whaley. Of particular note, I would like to ask my parents what they think of the authors’ contention that “many times in Scripture it appears that while God is always our object of worship, the concept of obtaining salvation (evangelism) appears to be the motivation,”12 because I am sure my parents hold a different conception of worship’s greater motivation and meaning. Finally, the last point of action I would consider after reading this book would be to continue my study of the age-old debate between the Great Commission to evangelize and the Great Commandment to worship, as this topic has proven to be endlessly fascinating both from a personal and a spiritual perspective.
12. Ibid, p. 11.
Wheeler, David, and Vernon M. Whaley. The Great Commission to Worship: Biblical Principles
for Worship-Based Evangelism. (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2011).
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