by F. Gerrit Immink
Wm. B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Mich. 280 pages
Immink is rector and professor of homiletics at the Protestant Theological University in Groningen, Netherlands. Like most European nations these days, the Netherlands is predominantly secular. The largest Dutch church is Roman Catholic; the next largest is the Protestant Church in the Netherlands, formed in 2004 as a union of three bodies: two large Reformed churches and a much smaller Lutheran church. In 1998, the three predecessor churches published a service book, Dienstboek: een proeve, which is liturgically similar to those published by American denominations in the recent past, although more eclectic, since it also includes Calvin’s liturgy and the Dutch Reformed liturgy of 1578.
Nevertheless, there appears not yet to have been any widespread conversation in the Netherlands focusing on a Reformed theology of liturgy. Immink may be seeking a discussion that transcends continental boundaries.
Footnotes indicate that the author has read widely in Reformed liturgical studies published in English as well as Dutch and German.
In seven chapters, the author describes worship as anchored in the faith that Christ himself meets with the assembled church; advocates the importance of the epiclesis (prayer for the Holy Spirit) and the sursum corda in Reformed liturgy; ponders the mystery of our union with Christ; and reflects on prayer, preaching and the Lord’s Supper. One chapter is devoted to the history of classical Reformed liturgies, adding a discussion of baptism. The chapter on preaching is the longest by far — not surprising considering that the author is a homiletician — and he cites many well-known American authorities.
Here and there throughout his book, Immink compares what he calls “classic” Reformed liturgy (Calvin, yes, but mostly the 1578 Dutch liturgy), contrasting it with “Protestant ecumenical” liturgy (meaning specifically Reformed ecumenical as exemplified by most of the liturgies in the Dienstboek), and contrasting it also with Roman Catholic liturgical thought. He adds similar comparisons from various periods of Dutch Reformed history, particularly from the 19th century.
Although most Reformed churches, including the PC(USA), regard Calvin as their theological godfather, Immink reminds us that Calvin appeared “somewhat late on the ecclesial scene.” Zwingli had already set a liturgical tone, and it remains true today in our own church that, however much we honor Calvin in theory, when it comes to practice, Zwingli is in charge.
There is much in this book to provoke discussion. Immink points to the classical Reformed Lord’s Supper as focused on the atonement, leading to forms likely to be penitential, introspective and didactic. Consequently, in the 19th century, some Dutch churches communed on Good Friday only, while others (particularly those given over to the Enlightenment) abandoned the sacrament entirely. He points to personal faith as key in Protestantism, acknowledging that such a focus leads to subjectivity and “extreme individualization.” Operationally, he is certainly right; but did the Reformers really rest everything on personal faith? Or was it about grace? (Remember predestination?) Immink’s contrasts between Protestant and Catholic seem to me to be drawn too sharply; but when the accent falls on grace first, as I think it does, theoretically, for both traditions, the differences are considerably diminished.
This book has a number of gems worth quoting, were there space, as well as much to debate.
RONALD P. BYARS is professor emeritus at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia.