Book Review of “At the Origins of Christian Worship” by Larry W. Hurtado

My review of Larry Hurtado’s At the Origins of Christian Worship: The Context and Character of Earliest Christian Devotion can be found on the book’s Amazon page…and also below:

Hurtado Gets Personal

Larry Hurtado’s three great contributions (at least in terms of books) to an accurate historical understanding of when Jesus first came to be treated as godlike (which was, practically speaking, in the earlier part of 30-50 C.E.) are How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God?: Historical Questions about Earliest Devotion to Jesus (2005), Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (2003), and One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism(1988, 1998). Those books are all longer than this one, and more academic than this one. In this book, Hurtado lets down his hair and speaks a little more personally, especially about modern Christian worship in the fourth and final chapter. He never ceases to give footnotes throughout the book, and he never ceases to speak in his cautious circumspect manner – but he does use exclamation points more often, and his personal views do finally make the page. As if to punctuate the point, he dedicated the other books I mentioned to his scholarly colleagues while he dedicated this one to his wife.

The first chapter is an interesting and helpful portrait of just how religious Roman-era “pagan” cities were. The second chapter juxtaposes a portrait of the earliest Christian gatherings and how they were similar to, and yet very different from, the many other religious gatherings of that time. In the third chapter Hurtado focuses on the six specific ways Jesus was incorporated into Jewish monotheistic synagogue rituals. Thus the first three chapters are “typical Hurtado” – that is, history (“just the facts, m’am”). The final chapter is Hurtado’s take on how this history should inform modern-day worship by Christians.

If you’re like me and think worship is a matter of lifestyle and not liturgy, you won’t be every interested in the last chapter. I was very glad to read it, however, for one important reason. In it, Hurtado professes his belief that God is a trinity. This is noteworthy because in his other books he is very clear that there is no evidence that the authors of the Bible were consciously Trinitarians. In fact, if anything, he says the New Testament writers were “binitarian.” (By the way, he has even altered that terminology, stating on his blog last year that he now proposes the term “dyadic,” as he is wanting to use a term that carries the least “baggage.”) Thus Hurtado writes his first three chapters of the book in his usual role of historian, but this last chapter he writes as a theologian. Yet in so writing that last chapter, he proves what an intellectually honest historian he is. And so the fourth and final chapter made me appreciate all the other work of this able historian all the more. I strongly recommend him to you, though his other books I mentioned are more worthy of your attention than this one simply because they are meatier.

As for theologians, the only one we really need is Jesus.

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