Brief Book Review: Authentic Liturgy: Minds in Tune with Voices

Authentic Liturgy: Minds in Tune with Voices
By Nathaniel Marx

Who should read this? Everyone who is wrestling with the question of “authentic” worship and what “authenticity” means, whether your liturgical tradition is Latin Mass or Vatican II Catholic or Evangelical or Mainline Protestant. 

Why should you read this? Marx helps us locate the conversation about authentic worship in a larger historical/theological perspective, showing us, first, that this is not a new conversation and, second, demonstrating how a historical theological perspective enriches our contemporary understanding. 

What’s the main point? Liturgical reform and the authentic worship it seeks is only achieved when the exterior renewal of rites is accompanied by interior renewal of understanding and devotion and when there is a correspondence between the two, when hearts and minds are “attuned” with the ritual activity of bodies and voices. 

Why does it matter? Marx explicitly challenges the prevalent notion that “authenticity” (liturgical or otherwise) is simply a matter of personal sincerity and helps us constructively reframe the conversation about authenticity.

What intrigued me the most? Marx sets out a distinction between genealogical and performative authenticity—perhaps simply described as a distinction between historical continuity and intellectual/emotional engagement. He creates a persuasive argument for the necessity of both for a truer or more adequate liturgical reform.

Kudos. While the way in which Marx has shaped the book clearly leads us to his conclusion about the necessity of genealogical and performative authenticity and of attunement of the inward and outward aspects of worship if we seek a “fully authentic” liturgy, his historical survey also helps us see more clearly the conceptual genealogy and performance of “authenticity” in the history of the church’s theological, spiritual, and liturgical work. As a Protestant reader, I was especially appreciative of his attention to the historical discussion of these questions in early Protestantism and the consequences in contemporary American evangelical worship. 

Suggestions. Perhaps missing from his discussion is a consideration of how his proposal for attunement can help address the North American religious context in which individuals describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious”. It is not a great leap to these categories given his attention to genealogical and performative authenticity; his proposal provides one way to reframe some of this contemporary discussion (at least among Protestants). 

Implications. The breadth of Marx’s historical survey, from scripture and the church fathers to engagement with some contemporary discussions of Protestant liturgical reforms, set alongside conversation with contemporary social historians, makes for a rich conversation about the continuing work of liturgical reform as well as the development of more contextualized liturgical theologies. As such, Marx’s book could provide the foundation for an edited collection in which a broader range of liturgical scholars might take up his proposal, noting where and how their own liturgical traditions have settled for or resisted genealogical or performative modes of authenticity, and then exploring the consequences for Christian worship when this happens.

Nathaniel Marx, Authentic Liturgy: Minds in Tune with Voices, Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2020, 266 pages.

REVIEWER: Ron Anderson
E. Byron (Ron) Anderson is the Ernest and Bernice Styberg Professor of Worship
at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Evanston, Illinois,
and currently president of Societas Liturgica.

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