The God We Worship:
An Exploration of Liturgical Theology

Nicholas Wolterstorff


In The God We Worship, Nicholas Wolterstorff takes a ground-up approach to liturgical theology, examining the oft-hidden implications of traditional elements of liturgy. Given that “no liturgy has ever been composed from scratch,” Wolterstorff argues that the assumptions taken into worship are key to perceiving the real depths of historical Christianity’s understanding of God.

Across the liturgies of the Orthodox, Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, and Reformed churches, Wolterstorff highlights theologically neglected elements of God, such as an implicit liturgical understanding of God as listener. An exploration of liturgy is not only compelling, Wolterstorff says, but crucial for reconciling differences between the God studied by theologians and the God worshiped by churchgoers on Sunday.


Nicholas Wolterstorff

Nicholas Wolterstorff (PhD Harvard University) is Noah Porter Professor Emeritus of Philosophical Theology at Yale University.  He is the author of many books, including Reason Within the Bounds of Religion (Eerdmans, 1988), Justice: Rights and Wrongs (Princeton University Press, 2008), and most recently, United in Love: Reflections on Justice, Art, and Liturgy (Wipf and Stock, 2021).


"In his usual graceful way Wolterstorff leads the reader to see what is implicit in Christian liturgy, and to find there a God who listens and hears, who is vulnerable to being wronged and resisted. . . . A major contribution to liturgical theology."

William Dyrness, Dean Emeritus and Senior Professor of Theology and Culture, Fuller Theological Seminary

"Offers a thought-provoking vision of God as an empathetic listener, a vision implicit in so much of what the church does in public worship, but relatively underdeveloped in the church's long history of formal theological reflection. . . . This is the rare kind of book that can simultaneously challenge common assumptions about theological method, make bold theological claims about the character of God, correct readings of significant theologians in the history of the church, and inspire a deeper liturgical spirituality of wonder, expectation, and hope."

John D. Witvliet, Director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and Professor of Worship, Theology, and Congregational and MInistry Studies, Calvin University

"For many years, Nicholas Wolterstorff has helped us penetrate the character of worship, combining the acuity of a philosopher and the wisdom of a lifelong practitioner. Now he brings all this to a head in a superbly written study. . . . Those familiar with Wolterstorff will not be disappointed; newcomers will be greatly stimulated and refreshed. All will be made to think at the deepest levels about this supremely important question: Just who is the God Christians worship?"

Jeremy Begbie, The McDonald Agape Director of Duke Initiatives in Theology and the Arts and The Thomas A. Langford Distinguished Research Professor of Theology, Duke University

"Nicholas Wolterstorff here gives us a true liturgical theology — not a theology about liturgy but, rather, the explicit and implicit theology in the actions and order of worship. The ripple effects are profound, implicating understandings of God, persons, time, prayer, lament, and much more. There is little doubt that this book will be a landmark in the terrain of liturgical theology."

Leanne Van Dyk, Western Theological Seminary

"A good many books on liturgical theology discuss everything under the sun other than actual liturgies themselves. In this timely study Wolterstorff brings his sharp philosophical and theological mind to bear on specific liturgical texts and explores how the church, in enacting the liturgy, hands on its implicit understanding of God. This work will be a crucial text for any serious study of liturgical theology."

Bryan Spinks, Bishop F. Percy Goddard Professor Emeritus of Liturgical Studies and Pastoral Theology, Yale Divinity School

Nicholas Wolterstorff writes on Christian worship with enormous expertise. . . . This book is a flood of light. It has all the Wolterstorff marks, including brilliant clarity and powerful illumination of his subject.

Cornelius Plantinga Jr., Senior Research Fellow at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and President Emeritus, Calvin Theological Seminary

Book Reviews

In this book, Nicholas Wolterstorff seeks to answer the question ‘who is the God Christians worship?’ through a selective examination of Christian liturgies. The central aim of his ‘project is to uncover the fundamental presuppositions of the Christian liturgy’ by making theologically explicit what it is implicit in what the church does in public worship. In proper Wolterstorffian fashion, he asks big questions and provides substantial answers via robust analytical argumentation that, in hindsight, seems simple and obvious. It is not for this reason an unsophisticated or unhelpful analysis.

Kevin M. Antlitz

Religion & Theology 24, no 3 (2017): 599-602.

Given Wolterstorff’s conversational delivery, The God We Worship may well be received as an invitation to philosophers, theologians and liturgical theologians of every confessional tradition or non-tradition – an invitation to become interlocutors, yes, with Wolterstorff, but even more with one another, and ultimately with the God we worship.

Sue A. Rozeboom

International Journal of Systematic Theology 18, no 4 (2016): 486-488.

Overall, this book is significant for its method – redefining liturgical theology as the exposition and analysis of the theology that is explicit or implicit in the liturgy – and for the light it sheds on the nature of the God so revealed, as one who listens and so makes Godself vulnerable to human response.

Paul Avis

Ecclesiology 14, no 2 (2018): 250-252.

[We] are being led along a less-trodden path, an exploration of the largely unchartered territory which emerges from true 'liturgical theology' - the explicit and implicit theology present in the words and actions of Christians when they gather to worship. Thus, we are confronted with a compelling and, at times, controversial vision of 'the God we worship' as one who not only hears, listens and speaks to us in the enactment of liturgy, but one who is vulnerable to being wronged and resisted.

Ian Mills

International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church 18, no 4 (2018): 376-379.

This work is a helpful resource for liturgical theologians to assess thentask beyond the implications and applications of lex orandi/lex credendi that have so dominated the field since Schmemann’s seminal work. Wolterstorff opens a potentially fruitful conversation between liturgical, systematic, and historical theologies that might provide insights into their collaboration or even their interdependence... Regardless where the conversation is found, Wolterstorff has given us a start on a productive and helpful—even if idiosyncratic—one.

Todd E. Johnson

Anglican Theological Review 100, no 4 (2018): 862-864.

This work will be of considerable interest to scholars of sacramental and liturgical theology. As a work asking “Who is God?” this would fit in well also with graduate theological study, perhaps as an early text in a sacramental theology course.

Chris Angel

Lutheran Quarterly 30, no 4 (2016): 447-449.