Re-Forming the Liturgy

Past, Present, and Future

Reddit icon
e-mail icon
Twitter icon
Facebook icon
Google icon
LinkedIn icon
Paul Galbreath
  • Eugene, OR: 
    Wipf & Stock
    , April
     174 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Re-Forming the Liturgy: Past, Present and Future by Paul Galbreath is a homage and challenge to the Reformed tradition from and for which the author has been writing for the duration of his academic career. The book is well written, accessible, and engaging, and will appeal to a wide range of readers, including researchers, students of liturgy and worship, pastors, and punters in the pews.

The volume gathers Galbreath’s engagement with liturgical theology for over fifteen years and must have taken much thought to seamlessly craft the sections following a sort of a three-step movement. Readers will experience movement, journeying through liturgical lessons of the past (part 1), present experiences (part 2) and earth as guide for the future (part 3). So how and what does Galbreath’s three parts constructed movement of his work in re-forming liturgical theology contribute to renewal?

One of Galbreath’s working premises is that learning from the past will help the Reformed community identify patterns and insights for its own faithful embodiment of the liturgical treasures in their practice of faith and faithfulness today.  Mining the past, Galbreath focuses on the Collect in the Reformed Church within a larger Reformed liturgical narrative; Calvin’s deployment of the Law as an enlarged vision of a shared baptismal life and discipleship for a lifelong journey; and the historical development of the season of easter in making a case for reimagining ways the variegated Reformed locations can reclaim easter celebration as a key shaper of faith.

Regarding the present, Galbreath delves into the role preaching in growing biblical literacy and nurturing a sacramental imagination. He also explores Reformed sacramental models for daily living and delving into the words and actions in Reformed sacramental practices. Refreshing insights abound here. Mindful of current ecclesiological tensions and crises, Galbreath insists on the Reformed tradition holding fast to the centrality of word and sacrament, while open to new possibilities on ways the gospel makes claims on our lives. His offering of options includes a theological and philosophical framework drawing on the insights of Ludwig Wittgenstein, Paul Ricoeur, Hans Frei, and Søren Kierkegaard. The key question for Galbreath is: “how can liturgy avoid wrong turns? Where do we need to put up signposts” (84) to help participants embody the claims of the gospel, the liturgy seeks to enact, on their lives?

About the future, the main concern is the connection between liturgical theology and practice and the urgent challenges before us. What or who would profit from coherent, ecclesially faithful, poetically crafted liturgy, and rehearsed practices, while much is falling apart around us? While identifying white supremacy, racism, and inequities between and within nations as urgent matters, Galbreath highlights the need for an ecological focus in Reformed liturgical theology and practice. His call is for an “ecumenical appropriation of sacramentality” drawing on incarnational language to help the Reformed community to rediscover/reclaim “a vision of the earth as a place of encounter with the divine” (97). Galbreath argues for “connecting Christian discipleship with earth care” (98) as “new liturgical resources that draw on images of the richness of the earth can reinvigorate worship” (98).

While Galbreath’s work is situated within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) and American landscape his offering is for the whole Reformed family with overtures to the world church Reformed family. At times his examples unconsciously point to the diverse nature of the “reformed” family outside of the PCUSA though “world church” is more local than we tend to give attention to. Galbreath does challenge Reformed communities to revisit “the theological presuppositions” (130) that result in Reformed Christians viewing themselves outside of or apart from the world around them. This is where Galbreath works needs to be pushed further: interrogating the production and reproduction of knowing and being in reformed liturgical theology and practice. The epistemic theological mode remains in much of liturgical renewal. Exorcizing liturgical renewal of whiteness, the overarching systemic framework holding renewal captive, is as urgent as ever.

I very much appreciate Galbreath’s dedication of the volume to his granddaughter (Taluli). Perhaps Galbreath has been contemplating what it means to be a good ancestor. Roman Krznaric, speaking about his book The Good Ancestor (Penguin Random House, 2020), contends that humankind has colonized the future as if no one is and will be there. Urging a radical shift from a “good Samaritan” aspiration to becoming a “good ancestor,” Krznaric asks: what are we leaving as legacies to the future generations? Naming the robbing of future generations as a colonial habit, Krznaric calls for a “House of the Future” (instead of House of Lords). What would a liturgical house of the future look like? What legacies is Reformed theology of worship leaving for future generations? What permission we are giving or freedom we are leaving for the next generation to go their own way? Can re-forming liturgy avoid colonizing God and the future, so that the whole of creation can freely breathe again?

About the Reviewer(s): 

Michael N. Jagessar is an independent scholar.

Date of Review: 
July 19, 2021
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Paul Galbreath is professor of theology at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Charlotte, NC. He is an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). His previous books include Leading from the Table (2008); Leading through the Water (2011); and Leading into the World (2014).




Reading Religion welcomes comments from AAR members, and you may leave a comment below by logging in with your AAR Member ID and password. Please read our policy on commenting.