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Liturgy as a Way of Life: Embodying the Arts in Christian Worship

ISBN: 9781441256041



Philosopher Bruce Ellis Benson explores how the arts inform and cultivate service to God, helping the church to not only think differently about the arts but also act differently. He contends that we are all artists, that our very lives should be seen as art, and that we should live liturgically in service to God and neighbor.

Working from the biblical structure of call and response, Benson rethinks what it means to be artistic and recovers the ancient Christian idea of presenting oneself to God as a work of art. Rather than viewing art as practiced only by the few, Benson argues that we are all called by God to be artists. He reenvisions art as the very core of our being: we are God’s own art, and God calls us to improvise as living and growing works of art. Benson also examines the nature of liturgy and connects art and liturgy in a new way.

This book will appeal to philosophy, worship/liturgy, art, music, and theology students as well as those who are interested in engaging issues of worship and aesthetics in a postmodern context.

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Key Features

  • Connects liturgy and art in a compelling and insightful way
  • Examines how the arts can be a service to God
  • Challenges the current church to think differently about art and harness its potential
  • Redefines the nature of art in biblical terms


  • The Call and the Response
  • Deconstructing the Discourse of Art
  • Improvising Like Jazz
  • On Not Being an Artistic Whore
  • Becoming Living Works of Art

Praise for the Print Edition

This packs a lot of punch for a short book. Yet the tone is gracious, cautious, and often conversational. It signals a new ‘turn’ in worship studies: a concern for a theologically rich and culturally alert engagement with the arts in congregational worship. It deserves a wide readership and will doubtless provoke a whole series of fruitful improvisations.

Jeremy Begbie, Thomas A. Langford Research Professor of Theology, Duke University

Jazz music—so creative and free, so grounded and disciplined—provides a vivid and illuminating metaphor for reflecting on the internal dynamics of faithful and fruitful Christian lives and worship practices. This book pushes readers beyond any initial superficial appeal of this analogy to explore how it might radically convert our perceptions about the shape, tone, and sheer beauty of Christian discipleship.

John D. Witvliet, director, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary

Drawing upon the rich resources of Gadamer, Marion, and others, Bruce Ellis Benson forges a distinctly improvisational vision of how the arts can be newly embedded in the fabric of our lives, our worship, and our communities. He also calls for the church to acknowledge the crucial nature of the arts for envisioning an incarnate spirituality that celebrates beauty.

—Bruce Herman, Lothórien Distinguished Chair in Fine Arts, Gordon College

‘Call and response’ and ‘improvisation’ are only two of the many ideas Benson fleshes out in this book. I appreciate these two especially because our culture has so misunderstood the terms ‘liturgy’ and ‘creativity’ (which is God’s alone). We need a philosopher to set us right.

—Marva J. Dawn, teaching fellow in spiritual theology, Regent College, Vancouver, Canada

Bruce Ellis Benson’s refreshing book critiques common ideas about art and liturgy that often limit our access to them. Drawing on a wide range of philosophy and theology as well as his own experiences as a musician, Benson engagingly argues that our lives are inescapably artistic and liturgical. He proposes that all art and worship are characterized by improvisation, which responds to what has come before but changes and adds to it. Liturgy as a Way of Life embodies such improvisation, as Benson builds on and weaves together ideas from the past and present to create a dynamic, helpful way to see, to know, and to be.

—Ted Prescott, emeritus professor of art, Messiah College

Bruce Benson has performed an important work for the church by demonstrating that the arts can neither be ignored nor merely confined to worship styles or outreach ministries. Benson’s theological and philosophical study of call and response opens up space for pastors and worship and arts ministry leaders to explore the implications of the aesthetic in the Christian life and in the life of the church.

Daniel A. Siedell, director of theological and cultural practices, Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, FL

Product Details

Bruce Ellis Benson (PhD, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven) is professor of philosophy at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. His areas of expertise include contemporary French thought and philosophy of art. He is the author of Graven Ideologies, The Improvisation of Musical Dialogue, and Pious Nietzsche, and the coeditor of several books, including Evangelicals and Empire.




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