Latimer Publications, 2020
Rob Smith is something of a Christian polymath: singer, songwriter, musician, theologian, author, and pastor. And as such, his book, Come, Let Us Sing is rather like his “magnum opus” in that it is the product of extensive research, deep reflection, and years of practical experience. I only wish it had been published thirty-years ago so that I could have benefited from it more in my ministry!
The book itself is helpfully divided into three parts. One, Why God’s People Gather; two, Why God’s People Sing; and three, Helping God’s People Change. This covers everything from the history, theology and practice of congregational singing and all set within a robust Biblical-theological framework regarding Christian worship.
One of the sections which I found to be the most helpful was Smith’s response to those who see church gatherings not as divine “worship” but as focused on human “fellowship”. There has been a huge debate over this within Sydney evangelicalismy over the past twenty-five years, and it is dealt with both judiciously and in an irenic manner. Ultimately, Smith shows that while worship does involve all of one’s life (Rom. 12:1-2), passages such as 1 Cor. 14:24-25 and Acts 13:2 prove that church gatherings are rightly said to be expressions of “corporate worship”.
Building upon this, Smith argues that “…edification is the mode our worship takes with respect to one another, as we engage with God together” and that we “…gather, then, both for the purpose of divine glorification and for that of the church’s edification, understanding the necessity of the latter to achieve the former. For the only kind of public worship that truly glorifies God, is that which simultaneously edifies others.” Wise words indeed.
There are also a couple of excellent sections on the role of the Psalms in shaping what we sing, and in particular the role of praise as well as lament, or what Smith memorably refers to as “praising in the dark”. Smith also offers some challenging observations regarding the danger of idolatry:
In my Australian context, I have often been told that Aussie men don’t sing and are quite uncomfortable with exuberant praise or expressions of emotion…But if I happen to attend a World Cup Rugby match (and assuming the Wallabies are winning) what do I see and hear? Men singing their hearts out, sometimes with tears in their eyes; men clapping and cheering with joy on their faces; men leaping into the air with arms raised and filling the air with shouts of praise. Indeed, more emotional and exuberant worship is hard to find!
Ultimately, Smith argues that God should be praised because He deserves, demands and desires it. There are other fascinating aspects that are explored in the work as well, such as the relationship between music and prophecy (see 2 Kings 3:11-19). He also outlines practically how music in church can better aid the congregation in both engaging with God and edifying one another.
This is an important book and the church of Christ is all the richer for it.