Cultural Encounters: A Journal For The Theology Of Culture Volume 11 Number 1 (Winter 2015) - Page 131

VOLUME 11 NUMBER 1 2015 Liturgy as a Way of Life: Embodying the Arts in Christian Worship By Bruce Ellis Benson. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013. 160 pp. $17.99 paper. In certain liturgical settings—for example, in many African American churches—the pattern of call and response permeates the doxological experience. Following the call that is issued by the preacher or the choir, the congregation often responds with exclamations that both repeat that call and improvise on it. Bruce Ellis Benson believes not only that this pattern of call and response is essential to our experience of worship, but that it also forms the structure of our lives. In Liturgy as a Way of Life: Embodying the Arts in Christian Worship, he reflects upon the connection between worship, art, and human life to present a brief yet compelling study of the role of improvisation in the Christian faith. According to Benson, we are called to live in a manner that echoes our liturgical experience by responding faithfully to God’s call in all aspects of our lives. Following in the tradition of philosophers such as Nicholas Wolterstorff, Benson rejects the Romantic notion of the autonomous artist as a lone genius, and he eschews the dominant category of creativity. Instead, drawing upon his experiences as both a philosopher and a musician, he turns to the concept of improvisation as a category that grows out of the communal worship experience and can be applied to both the specific context of the church’s liturgical life and the broader question of human life. In a more limited sense, Benson explores the artistic dimensions of different liturgical elements, such as the reading of the Word, preaching, reciting the creed, offering the prayers of the people, and celebrating the Eucharist. In his view, even a “loaf of bread and a glass of wine are art objects” (153). Moreover, he affirms that being an artist is, in a sense, a vocational calling given only to certain people. With that in mind, he points to several examples of churches across different traditions that are explicitly engaged in supporting the arts, including Saint Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco, Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, Saint Gregory the Great Church in Chicago, Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago, and Saddleback Church in California and abroad. For Benson, however, the call to live liturgically extends far beyond the gathering of the community of faith on Sunday morning. Indeed, he views all of human life as a process of improvisation in which people—guided by the DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.11630/1550-4891.11.01.127 127