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Ron Man on Biblical Foundations of Worship

For more than 25 years, Ron Man has been teaching on the biblical foundations of worship. He gathers up that learning in his book “Let Us Draw Near”, a testimony to the power of scripture to guide pastors and worshipers in our calling to be worshipers of God.

See all episodes in Season 5

Episode Transcript:

Ron Man 00:00:04

Because we have that confidence, because we have that assurance, because we have that access through Christ, the invitation and command, even, is “Let us draw near.” It's a climactic point in the book of Hebrews, the climactic summary, really, of the gospel and the benefits of the gospel: the access we have to the presence of God.  

Kristen Verhulst 00:00:30

Welcome to season five of Public Worship and the Christian Life, a podcast produced by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. This season highlights the new Worship and Witness book series by CICW and published through Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf & Stock. The Worship and Witness series seeks to foster a rich interdisciplinary conversation on the theology and practice of public worship, a conversation that will be integrative and expansive. CICW staff member Noel Snyder, also one of the series editors, and Kristen Verhulst talk with the authors of the first seven books in this series. We are pleased you’ve joined us in this conversation, and we look forward to sharing this learning with you. 

Noel Snyder 00:01:24

Well, let me give a very warm welcome to all of our listeners. My name is Noel Snyder, and I'm a program manager here at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. I'm so pleased to be able to welcome to our podcast today Ron Man. Ron is the director of Worship Resources International, and he also serves as missionary-in-residence at First Evangelical Church, Memphis, Tennessee. He has taught widely, internationally, in forty countries over the last twenty-five years, and he has authored now two books. His first book on worship was called Proclamation and Praise: Hebrews 2:12 and the Christology of Worship. And the reason for our conversation today is that Ron has recently published a new book, which is titled Let Us Draw Near: Biblical Foundations of Worship. That book is in the Cascade series called Worship and Witness, of which I serve as one of the editors. Ron, it is so good to have you on the podcast today. Welcome. 

Ron Man 00:02:37

Great to be with you. Thank you, Noel. 

Noel Snyder 00:02:38

So I thought it would be great if we could just get started with having you tell us a little bit about where this new book Let Us Draw Near—tell us where it came from. How did you get the idea for it, and what were some of your major goals in writing it? 

Ron Man 00:02:54

It's really a compilation or a crystallization of the teaching I've been doing over the last twenty-five years, and I've long wanted to get it as sort of a legacy book and something to leave behind and something to enrich, hopefully, the church. And the global pandemic, when I couldn't travel and teach, actually gave me the opportunity to sit down and get it put down, finally, so I'm excited to finally have that done. It's been a dream for a long time to get this material down. The writing went fairly easily just because I've been teaching this material for so long. So I'm excited to have it now put in book form.

The title, Let Us Draw Near, of course, comes from Hebrews 10:22, really at the climactic point of the letter of Hebrews. The writer says that we have confidence to enter into the presence of God through the blood of Jesus Christ, the way he’s opened for us through the veil. And so the writer says, because we have that confidence, because we have that assurance, because we have that access through Christ, the invitation and command, even, is “Let us draw near.” It's a climactic point in the book of Hebrews, a climactic summary, really, of the gospel and the benefits of the gospel, the access we have into the presence of God through Christ. It's a beautiful phrase. 

The artwork on the cover is from a wonderful Christian artist, Kirsten Malcolm Berry. It's a representation of the point in the gospels where at the death of Jesus, the veil is torn in two from top to bottom, again indicating that Christ has opened the way into the Father's presence and invites us, in fact, to draw near. So that's where the whole concept came from.   

Noel Snyder 00:04:50

Yes. And it is a beautiful cover. I'm glad to know a little bit more of the story behind it. As you have had the opportunity now to put this material that you've taught in so many different contexts into print and put it out there as a published work, what are some of the hopes that you have for when people pick the work up and start to read it?

Ron Man 00:05:13

Well, basically, everything I know about worship is poured into this book. . . . There's already been some interest expressed in using it as a textbook for worship survey courses, Bible schools, seminaries; it can also be enriching for interested laymen; it’s directed really for worship pastors and pastors and worshipers just because it dives deeply into what really is at the center of our existence and what we are called and created and redeemed to be as worshipers of God. The Father is seeking worshipers, Jesus said in John 4. So it's just a guide through some of the riches that the scriptures have. In fact, when I have taught overseas, usually a one-week or a two-week intensive course, every now and then a student would say, “Two weeks! What is what is he going to talk about for two weeks about worship?” But then, as this unfolded, to see the lights kind of come on and realize that there's just a lot there in the scriptures to be mined when it comes to the subject of worship. So it's exciting to see the lights come on in that way.

Also what I have found [in]  most places I've gone, teaching courses in churches or schools, I find hearts for worship already. I think God has been, as I talk about in the book, over the last forty years God has been causing a reformation of worship around the world in many different groups. And normally I go into contexts where I find people's hearts for worship already. That's something you can't teach. But when I add this biblical material, this biblical depth to it, to see how they soak that up because it just resonates with the hearts for worship that they already have. 

Noel Snyder 00:07:01

We've talked a little bit before as you were developing this project and before it was published, and some of those conversations that we've had, you've described this amount of international teaching that you've been able to do and how this material has found that sort of cross-cultural appeal and that international appeal. I'm wondering if you have any thoughts about why this material has such international, cross-cultural appeal?  

Ron Man 00:07:31

Because I've taught in so many different places, and, unlike some of my colleagues in the world of worship and missions and ethnodoxology, I'm not on the field long term to speak into cultural adaptations of worship; I'm just in and out, so my disclaimer is always when I go and begin to teach in a particular context is that I have not come here to tell you exactly how to do worship in your culture, because I'm not from your culture. What I can share with you are biblical principles of worship, which, because they are biblical, by definition transcend culture. So that's sort of my little niche; that's what I'm able to offer. They have to do the hard work of actually applying, then, those principles in their own contexts. But because I stick to that in my teaching and in the book of being deliberately transdenominational, nonsectarian, transcultural in terms of the principles, so it can apply and so hopefully it can foster, especially today when there's still debates and and disagreements sometimes about worship practices and whatnot—this seeks to lay a foundation that hopefully can be accepted across the board and that we can build upon, the biblical foundations that don't change, don't vary from place to place or time to time or denomination to denomination. The way they’re lived out, applied, fleshed out in the actual worship practices of different churches and denominations will differ, but I think the New Testament allows for that freedom as well. But at the same time, there is this biblical bedrock, this foundation that I seek to lay out in the book and draw out of the scriptures upon which many groups, most groups, all groups, even, should be able to build their worship practice. 

Noel Snyder 00:09:27

Yes, thank you. And you've said already now, that when you teach this, and you say this is going to be a two-week course, and some students at the initial outset of the course think, “Now what in the world is he going to talk about for two weeks?” And then all of a sudden, as you start to lay out this biblical material about worship, then you see all the riches that are there in scripture. I'm wondering if any stories stick out to you that sort of help to illustrate some of the “aha” moments that some of your students have had as you've taught the riches of what the scriptural witness is related to worship.  

Ron Man 00:10:08

I remember teaching once at Singapore Bible College, and the professor invited me and told me later that one of the students commented to her that “He just opened the scriptures and showed us, and there it was.” I thought, “Beautiful! That's all I'm doing.” Because it's there. That's a beautiful thing. Also, when I teach—the subject of my first book that you mentioned, Noel, and it plays a prominent part in this book as well, is the concept of Jesus as really the ultimate worship leader, the one who leads us into the Father's presence in worship, and explaining that especially to worship leaders. I remember being in Bangladesh last November and just saying, “You are not worship leaders. Jesus is the one.” A human worship leader, a worship set, worship, even, doesn't lead people into the Father's presence. Jesus Christ leads people into the Father’s presence. So I say we need a different name, maybe “worship facilitator” or something, because Jesus is the one true worship leader. But again, it's an “aha” moment because it's a liberating moment for worship leaders not trying to bear on their shoulders what we're not meant to bear: the need to lead people into God's presence, that only Jesus can, and we need to depend on him and follow him and go with him to enjoy that access with the Father that we have through Christ. So truly a liberating moment and understanding for worship leaders: I give my best, I do my preparation with practice and whatnot, but ultimately I'm dependent upon Jesus to take my frail offerings of worship and to perfect them and offer them to the Father as part of his own perfect offering, and depending on him to do that as only he can do. Again, that's why Hebrews 10 says we can come with confidence and assurance into the Father's presence. We don't need to worry about “Was my worship good enough?” Because when we come in Christ and with Christ and through Christ, our worship is always good enough. It's not a work, something we do to gain acceptance from the Father, but it's a grateful response of our lives and hearts because of what he's freely given us in the Lord Jesus Christ. So we come freely and without that worry, that fear of not being accepted, but we come gratefully, joyfully, with confidence and assurance into the presence of the Father, knowing that he always is delighted in what his Son brings to present before him. 

Noel Snyder 00:13:14

It sounds, as you're talking, and from the titles of both of your books, that Hebrews, the book of Hebrews and the picture of the heavenly worship, the Christology of worship, that that has been an important scriptural text for you, a scriptural sort of home base. Would you say that that's true? 

Ron Man 00:13:34

Yeah, absolutely. In fact, the beginning of the book, when I'm laying foundations of worship, the first and ultimate foundation I lay is this biblical pattern of revelation and response, which I begin with and then weave that all through the text, because it's all through the scriptures that worship is always a response to God because he has first revealed himself, because he has first taken the initiative to show us himself, to provide salvation for us, to come to us. And unlike other religions, where [it’s] what I need to give to God or do for God so that he'll be merciful to me, the opposite is true with biblical Christianity, of course: that God takes the initiative, reaches out to us, and reveals himself—and reveals himself gracious to us, so that worship is always a response, a grateful response. So I lay that foundation, and there's a whole section at the very beginning of the book with the down and up arrows that represent that revelation/response paradigm and show many biblical examples, many examples through the scriptures of that. 

Then when we get to Hebrews and what we've been saying about the role of Christ and whatnot, what we find out is that, in a wonderful way, the Lord Jesus Christ himself in his ministry today is the ultimate fulfillment of the biblical pattern of revelation and response. Because as God and man, he represents God to us, and he represents us before the Father. So he is in the middle of both the downward aspect of revelation and the upward aspect of our response back to God. This principle, which we begin with and trace through the scriptures, we find in an incredibly beautiful way that Jesus Christ himself is the ultimate fulfillment of that biblical pattern of revelation and response, as God and man, as the one who speaks to us of the Father. That's what Hebrews 2:12 says, where Jesus says to the Father, “I will proclaim your name to my brethren” —revelation—and “In the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise”—response. So he’s in the midst of both of those things. So pastors, beware: the sermon is terribly important as a vehicle of God's revelation to us, speaking to us through his Word, but the rest—the public praise, the corporate praise, the singing and other aspects of the corporate worship of God's people—is not negligible. It's not secondary. Jesus thinks it's so important that, as Hebrews 2:12 declares, he is in the midst of that as well, singing the Father's praise on our behalf, in our midst, taking us with him. So revealing the Father to us through the Word and through the preaching, yes, but also leading us in our very full responses of praise to the Father, so Jesus fulfilling that basic biblical pattern in just a beautiful and powerful way.  

Noel Snyder 00:16:55

That is such a powerful image, and I can tell as you talk about it, how much it has really captured your own imagination. When I think about the book as a whole and trying to engage the whole of scripture through the lens of what it teaches about worship in these biblical principles for worship, on the one hand it just really sounds like a very ambitious project to try. I wonder, as you've taught this over the years, as you now have put it into book form, are there any places that you have been challenged as a scholar, as a teacher, to deepen your own understanding, your own study, your own practice of of worship as you have now put this into book form?

Ron Man 00:17:44

One of the emphases growing out of the initial chapter on revelation and response is the importance of completing that cycle in our own practice of worship. At my church, before I became missionary-in-residence, I was also the worship pastor for twenty-two years, and that's one distinctive of the book. A lot of books on worship are written by theologians [or] academics and not practitioners, and I've had the privilege of doing both sides of the coin there. But in that foundational chapter, the need of connecting revelation and response, of completing the cycle, as John Stott powerfully said, there should be no theology without doxology, and no doxology without theology. And that means in our corporate worship practices, one obvious application of this truth is the importance of the Word of God as the vehicle of God's revelation to us, God speaking to us through his scriptures, and the importance of and the centrality of the scriptures in our corporate worship. I was convicted of that myself a few years ago in my own worship planning and leading, that worship was much more than just singing and the need to build in a strong guide to scriptures. So there's so we're hearing from God and not just doing all the talking. I’ve visited many churches where first of all word of scripture I heard was when the pastor got up. But that does violence to the biblical pattern of revelation and response because in a very, very real sense we have nothing to say to him, to the Father, until he has first spoken to us. So representing that in our corporate worship, we listen to him as he wants to speak to us through his Word, and then as we respond with our prayers and our songs and so forth. So really being convicted in my own ministry of worship planning and leading of the importance, the centrality of including the scriptures. 

Noel Snyder 00:19:58

I've heard you now talk about some of your real core convictions, foundational beliefs that really animate your own practice, your own understanding of how worship is approached in Scripture. And now you've talked about the centrality of Scripture in worship. I'm wondering, as you think about the biblical foundations of worship, the biblical principles that you lay out in the book, what is one thing that you wish more pastors and worship leaders understood? 

Ron Man 00:20:33

Well, in the book, when I deal with issues of worship and culture and how to be biblically faithful and at the same time culturally relevant and whatnot, one of the important principles that I lay out—I have an illustration of a bridge which I use to help us conceptualize this—is that the towers of a bridge representing for us the biblical framework which must always guide us in our worship practices. But then in this illustration of a suspension bridge, realizing that in a bridge like that, a lot of the weight is borne by the cable that is strung between the two towers, the suspension cable, and unlike the towers, which are to be firm and steady and driven deeply into the ground, the cable is not firm and steady. Because of changes of temperature and winds and so forth, that has to have built-in flexibility. And the illustration serves us by giving us the towers, representing our biblical guidelines, our biblical framework, which must always control our practices. But it's the flexible cable representing for us the flexibility, the latitude which the New Testament seems to allow, because it actually does not give us very much detail at all about what our worship practices should look like. And so there are a lot of principles guiding us, but you’ve got a lot of flexibility. 

One thing I try to walk the students through is the critical consideration to carefully distinguish between what is actually biblical and therefore nonnegotiable in our worship practices and what is just a cultural adaptation or application and therefore has freedom to change and is negotiable. One illustration I always start with my students is to ask them in their churches how often they celebrate communion. Some, of course, will do it weekly; many if not most will do it monthly; a few groups do it quarterly or whatnot. So I'm emphasizing, “Which is right?” I ask the students. The point is that there's no one right frequency to celebrate in the Lord's Supper, because the Bible never says, the New Testament never says this is how often you do it. So it's not a right-or-wrong question. It's a difference, but not a right-or-wrong issue. What would be wrong is for a church to decide, well, we're not going to do the Lord's Supper anymore; it's old fashioned. Because the Bible clearly states that we're to remember the Lord's death around the table in communion. And we can apply this to so many of our worship practices, whether it comes to instruments or styles or posture or lighting or so many of the things we do. John Piper even says almost everything we do in worship is a cultural decision we make. But details are not spelled out. So many of these issues there’s a need to carefully distinguish between what is actually commanded in scripture and what is left open. If there’s a command in scripture [to] do the Lord's Supper, we must do it. Scripture doesn't say how often to do it. That's negotiable. That's flexible for each congregation's leadership to decide this is what's going to work best in our context. So the overarching principle is to carefully distinguish between what the Bible actually says and what it leaves open. Because most of our worship debates and disagreements come from people trying to make normative issues which aren't explicitly spelled out in scripture, which they try to say this is the one right way to do it, or this is what God wants, this is what honors God or whatnot, when it’s things that the Bible does not actually address. Most of our worship problems would go away if we just amped on the nonnegotiable things and gave grace to different groups to make application of those in their practices, in their own contexts.  

Noel Snyder 00:24:56

Amen to that. It's been so good to talk to you today, Ron, and thank you so much for giving this time to me and to our listeners. Are there any final words that you would like to share with listeners?  

Ron Man 00:25:10

Just a couple things about the distinctiveness of the book, because of course there are other studies out there, some fine studies. So just laying this foundation of revelation and response at the beginning and tracing it through the scriptures and culminating, climaxing in the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. Another aspect is some chapters on the relationship of missions and worship, because that's been my heartbeat and where I've been involved and whatnot. That doesn't show up in a lot of studies of this sort, the relationship of missions and worship. And talking about this new field called ethnodoxology, which is a study of how peoples around the world, all the different ways that they worship the true and living God. So that's a distinctive. I think there's more treatment of the New Testament material than you find in some other studies, some of which have been done by fine Old Testament scholars. But I dive more deeply into the New Testament, especially the book of Hebrews, as you've mentioned, [there’s] a whole chapter on that; worship in Revelation; there's a whole chapter on worship in Jesus Christ, as we've been discussing. The role of the Holy Spirit in worship gets a chapter for itself also. So really wanting to dig into the New Testament and some of the riches there. At the end I also have a chapter that crystallizes, brings together the things that we've been looking at inductively through the book and draws together twelve controlling principles, biblical principles of worship, a summary chapter that tries to pull it all together. And then just one other aspect that some reviewers have observed is: I use a lot of quotations from other authors, not because I don't have anything to say, but they add a lot of richness and depth, I think, by just marshaling some of these rich resources that are out there and others who have spoken to these issues. So I try to bring that in as well, and I think it strengthens the book.  

Noel Snyder 00:27:15

I definitely appreciate that about reading the manuscript of the book is the idea of—I almost felt like I was being drawn into a conversation among the scriptural writers, but also then among other worship scholars and different contextual applications and the way that theologically we can understand and define worship. All of those things are present and really done well in the book, and it does feel like you're bringing us into a very vital and important conversation. And I really look forward to the fruit that this book I'm sure will bear as people start to read it and to discuss it.  

Ron Man 00:28:00

We should mention perhaps that the book is out now. It's available, and through the end of the year you can order it through the publisher's website, which is, and if you use the discount code CONF40, if you use that code you can get the book for 40 percent off, which is a great savings and you can do that through the end of the year. And as I've said to some people, it's a great stocking stuffer for those with very large stockings, because it is a six-hundred-page mammoth work, but hopefully a legacy and an enrichment for the body of Christ. 

Noel Snyder 00:28:47

Yes. Thank you so much. And yes, for our listeners, head on over to the Wipf & Stock site and pick up a 40-percent-off copy of the book with that code CONF40. Ron, thank you so much for your time today. 

Ron Man 00:29:06

You're welcome. It's great to discuss these things with you.