In one of Ross’s most effective chapters, she argues that low-church evangelical liturgy has taken many of its cues from the Gospel of John, while more high-church traditions have tended to look toward the synoptics. She cites John’s emphasis on personal faith, de-emphasis of high offices, and prioritization of Christology as ways in which this particular gospel has deeply influenced low-church liturgical practices. Ross’s goal here, she tells us, is not to establish which reading or which liturgical practice ought to be favored. She seeks instead to highlight that the breadth of scripture suggests that a breadth of interpretations can be welcomed and affirmed by the Christian church. Ross writes, “Nonsacramental Christianity is one faithful way of embodying the shared confession of faith. My hope is that the discipline of liturgical studies is wide enough to embrace ”˜both-and’ without mandating ”˜either-or.’”
Yet for all the book’s strengths, it is one thing to demonstrate that a system of thought or group of practices are coherent; it is quite another to demonstrate that they are good. While any fair-minded high-church reader of Ross’s work should be able to finish this book with a greater understanding of evangelical liturgical practices, I am not sure that he will come away from this book feeling more sympathetic to low-church evangelicalism. It is possible, in fact, that greater theological clarity might bring about greater discomfort, as some high-church readers may see their worst fears being confirmed in these elucidating pages, particularly by phrases like “nonsacramental Christianity.” Furthermore, those already suspicious of the excesses of Finney and Whitefield are unlikely to be persuaded otherwise by Ross’s discussion of their role in the formation of evangelical liturgical practices.
Still, it is better to have an informed conversation than an uninformed one.