January 27, 2021

Recommendation and Review: Pocket Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship by Brett Scott Provance

2707I used to look at the big Dictionaries of Liturgy and wonder if they were worth all that money. I held onto my dollars and spent years not knowing what a collect was.

You don’t have to live in this kind of humiliation. IVP has published the Pocket Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship by Brett Scott Provance, a wonderfully comprehensive resource that won’t cost you a semester’s tuition and will provide you with all the liturgical information you need to actually know what your Anglican and Lutheran friends are talking about when they say “rubric.”

Just this morning I brought the book with me to breakfast, where my friend Joe asked me what the Ave Maria actually was. Right there in the Pocket Dictionary was a fine article with the lyrics and a complete explanation. Perfect. And that is the case with over 600 terms, persons and pieces of liturgical history.

The Dictionary is balanced between Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Orthodox and Protestant/Evangelical traditions. Some of the articles are quite substantial. It’s a superb resource for the IM audience and I highly recommend it for you or as a gift for that person you know who is seeking to get out of their own liturgical box into the broader, deeper, more ancient church.

I’m glad IVP gave me this book to review, because now I’m one of three Baptists who can identify a baldachino.


  1. Nice recommendation. Thanks. I bet amazon is going to get a lot of hits on this today! (starting with me…)

  2. IMonk,

    But can our lutheran, catholic, anglican, and orthodox friends define and recongnize a mourners bench? anxious seat? or what those small little white plastic piggy bank churches are doing on the table up front?

    and can they debate the pro’s and con’s of the Scoffield vs. Thompson Chain Reference bible, give a historical accounting of both, and their proper place in the eschatological debates in evangelicalism? hmmm? can they?

    seriously though, you probably could with a little effort do a sort of tongue in cheeck version for evangelicalism, it would be fun

    • You jest, but I’m not certain that this is such a bad idea.

      Protestantism has a history. And a tradition. Close to 500 years’ worth. (More if you agree with the Trail of Blood theory). I don’t agree with much of that tradition, but it should certainly be respected, and non-Protestants (or non-evangelicals) who don’t understand that tradition can’t intelligently discuss it.

      Protestants tend to have an inferiority complex about their faith. (One of my pet peeves is how hard it is to find someone who will actually claim to be Protestant). I think those feelings of inferiority have kept Protestants from defining their faith, and explaining its nuances to outsiders.

      Stuff like debates about Bible translations or the role of eschatology hold important places in Protestant tradition. Explaining and understanding them is important.

      • Hi,
        I’m simply asking a question here about your statement:

        “Protestants tend to have an inferiority complex about their faith. (One of my pet peeves is how hard it is to find someone who will actually claim to be Protestant).”

        I find that an astounding statement and one far away from anything I’ve ever experienced. Maybe this isn’t on topic enough, but I thought I’d ask what you base that statement on. My question isn’t whether this is right or wrong—just that I’ve never heard anyone say anything remotely like this and wonder if this is somehow based on experience or what? Perhaps this is more true of liberal Protestants, but then they are probably simply ashamed to associate themselves with “fundamentalists.” I would say every conservative evangelical Protestant I’ve ever known has known why they are Protestant and are proud to say why.
        Thanks for any feedback you might have.

        • Growing up Baptist (SBC), I was consistently told that “Baptists aren’t Protestants, we were before the Protestants,” or some variant of that.

          Time spent earning an undergraduate degree at Moody Bible Institute likewise brought similar arguments.

          I was Lutheran (LCMS) much of my adult life. A similar song in the LCMS, something to the effect of , “We’re too catholic to be Protestant,” etc.

          I wrote this in the summer of 2008:

          “The first thing — probably the biggest and for some, an almost defining thing — is not being Protestant.

          Not that they’re Roman Catholic. Or Eastern. Or Coptic. Or whatever. The signboard on their church reads “Presbyterian,” or “United Methodist,” or “Lutheran,” or “Two-Seed-in-the-Spirit Predestinarian Baptist.” Or whatever.

          So you would think they were Protestant. But if you engage theologically oriented Protestants for more than 15 minutes, you will come up with some variant of this:

          “Oh, we’re like the original, early, primitive church, before it became corrupted.” (Sometimes they leave out the “like.”)

          “Purifying the church from the springs of its primitive life, and raising it besides into a new and higher form,” was the way Phillip Schaff (1877) put it. But Protestants never want to claim that they are doing anything different from what St. Paul or St. Priscilla would have done. That would open them to the whinings from Rome that their’s is a new church, not the primitive church.”

          I can’t argue with someone’s experience, but I’ve heard Protestants declaiming their Protestantism so often it’s become a cliche in my mind. And the ones who seemed most quick to claim this were sometimes the most conservative members of their tradition. I agree that it’s strange. I don’t quite understand it.

          • I am Protestant and proud! I think we should bring the term back because it is far more useful than “evangelical” which I think is meaningless now.

          • Richard Hershberger says

            I have been Lutheran all my life. The idea of a Lutheran, especially a theologically oriented Lutheran, disclaiming the category of being “Protestant” is entirely outside my experience. I have been told by Evangelicals that Lutherans aren’t really Protestant. My understanding is that the idea is that we are too much like the Catholics. I tend to break out in giggles at the notion.

            As for why one doesn’t see “Protestant” on church signs, this is because “Protestant” doesn’t give as much useful information as “Lutheran” or “Methodist” or “Four Square Gospel” or what have you.

            A member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America might add a discussion of how “Evangelical” doesn’t mean the same thing in this context as it does elsewhere, but that is a different discussion.

    • As a Catholic, I had no idea I was (officially) an amillenarian, until I dipped a toe into the waters of the blogosphere and saw all these references to pre- and post-millenarianism, not to mention dispensationalism, flying around.

      After I finished going “Huh?” in slack-jawed wonder, I went “Do *we* have a position on this?” and that’s how I know we Roman Catholics are amillenarians, which I never would have discovered for myself if not for all you wonderful American Protestants! 😉

      Seriously, a Guide for the Perplexed like that would be no harm at all. There are so many references (joking aside) to things like millenarianism which are obviously(?) hot topics on your side of the Atlantic, but which never raise so much as a whisper over here. A version explaining what a Chain Reference Bible is, for example, wouldn’t hurt one bit.

      • Ah Martha,

        All joking aside, the Thompson Chain Reference bible is a classic in the study bible traditions. All the topics are numbered, and in the back of the bible you can look up a topic and listed under that topic you will find all the verses where that topic is addressed. It has tons of maps/charts etc. Even one that has all the deaths of the apostles listed, much of which is based on Tradition probably well known to Catholics.

        For example, and I’m sure these numbers aren’t right, but say I’m reading a verse on the gifts of the Spirit . I would look in the column beside it and it would say “Spirit -Gifts of 245” I then turn to the back to 245 and there are all the other verses listed that deal with that topic.

        But, and you will like this, the Reference bible one uses also says a lot about their end times theology. For instance, no self-respecting amillinial will carry a Scoffield, neither will a Pre-miller carry a Thompson.

        In some places where I grew up your Thompson had to be real leather and black if you were a real man, or if you were a woman you could place it in a tacky and lacy handmade bible cover. 🙂

        • “My hope is built on nothing less
          Than Scofield notes and Scripture Press.”

          Doesn’t apply to me, but I’ve certainly been in circles where that’s true!!

        • Austin, when I was spending time many years ago with a non-denominational, charismatic evangelical group, I used the Thompson chain reference Bible. I still have it. Very useful item. (I had to look again what Martha said we Catholics are in terms of the millenial thing. I just can’t keep that straight!)

      • Martha, I keep forgetting what all those millenarianism and dispensationalism things are. And I didn’t know about them either, until spending time on the non-Catholic blogs. Remind me again what what we Catholic amillenarians believe please. Or I can just check online, I guess. I won’t remember anyway! I guess it’s not a “big deal” for me or I would remember it. I want to be with Jesus. That’s what I know.

        • JoanieD, I get all my theology out of Dante’s “Divine Comedy”, and since he has not only pagans but fictional characters* in heaven, I’m a very shaky guide to what we officially believe 🙂

          (*That is, Ripheus the Trojan, a character from Virgil’s “Aeneid”, is in the sixth sphere, that of Jupiter, the heaven of the just).

  3. And now, thanks to dictionary.com this Catholic knows what baldachino means too!

    (It sounds like a cappuccino without hair. Just the way I like it. 😉 )

  4. Yeah, where I come from they call them cryin’ benches and I visited an AG service once where it seemed like a certain point in the service signaled the penitent phase and most everyone was down front cryin’ (you can tell if they are serious about this, if they have lots of boxes of kleenex around). Well it was odd for me coming from a Baptist/Anglican (family history, go figure) background, of course normal and proper for them.
    Michael, I went through an ancient liturgy stage and I found it quite unsatisfying, I was never comfortable with all of the yarns the various traditions told about the origins of their practices. Sort of like when you read the more hagiographic early christian writings and you can sense that there is something not quite right about them.
    So I had to come to grips with the fact that however much the practices in question “point to Jesus” they were still human inventions, and religious in the basic sense (fleshly man reaching up toward God).
    So rather than getting up to your eyebrows in the musty, old liturgies, why not try another ancient practice and seek the presence of God.
    9 out of 10 Desert Fathers recommended it, and some of them even seem to have known what they were talking about.
    It is only in His Spirit that anything and everything makes any sense anyway.
    So don’t settle for second best, go to the source.


    • Nathan,

      What are your thoughts on the elaborate directions that God gave the Hebrews on building the Ark of the Covenant, and all the elaborate settings, etc.?

      Are they also man made?

      • Anna;
        Actually this is another facet of my point, Moses heard God and followed His direction to the last detail.
        The problem is one of origins, that which is directed by the Spirit of God is from the Spirit, like the Ark of the Covenant. It is in this material world, but it’s origins were with God. That which originates in the mind of man is fleshly.

        When God directs the building of something like that, He has in mind a specific purpose for it. i.e. Noah’s Ark, for the saving of mankind’s righteous remnant, the Ark of the Covenant, and the tent of meeting, for a meeting place between God and man, Solomon’s temple, ditto.

        These things are given to man by God, and are built as the result of man’s response to God’s initiative. I know that many groups like to canonize the efforts of their founders, (more hagiography) but none of the writers of liturgy can realistically claim a “burning bush” kind of provenance. The answer I have often been given when I ask about the origins of a particular liturgical practice is “tradition”, that is, our father’s did this and so shall we.
        I am rather burnt out on the traditions of men, I find liturgy to be ostentatious and tedious, but I am much more interested in the initiative of God, or as it is often put the moving of God. This is something which has most often through history been experienced by individuals, individuals who laid aside everything and humbly listened to Him. The Bible is chock full of examples, check ’em out.


        • Nathan, but in the case of Jesus who told his disciples, “Do this in memory of me” as he blessed the cup and bread at the last supper saying it was his body and blood…that WOULD be a case of God telling men what to do and the reason why that particular act is a part of the liturgy of the mass. Correct?

          Many (if not most) of the other parts of the liturgy in the mass are straight out of scripture which is also God-given, correct? The Lord’s prayer, psalms, letters to the churches (epistles), Gospel readings. So those things would be given by God to human beings who then offer them back to God. Something like that.

          • JoanieD;
            One of the persistent themes for the Old Testament prophets was how the people would observe all of the appointed feasts and solemn gatherings, but their hearts were far from God. Just carrying out a ritual, even one whose words were lifted directly from the Bible, carries little weight in God’s sight if the participants hearts are dark and cold.
            We live in a time when people are running around trying to find the right group, trying to say the right words, trying to follow the right leaders. Humans have a history of settling for non-genuine things, particularly in the realm of religion. But as long as we are comfortable with the words being said and the claims of the leaders we join forces with them.
            To make myself perfectly clear, I am speaking of the way that people trust in their “church”, their leaders, even in their form of worship. This is putting the cart before the horse, there is only one who is trustworthy and that is Jesus, and there is only one church, those who love Him, and walk with Him. If we are not communing with the Lord in our hearts it does not matter who we meet with or what words we recite.

            The Lord never said take communion with grape juice and crackers, He never said wear golden or white robes, He never told us to regard the minister as being on a higher level than us. He never even said only use matzo and wine (the traditional passover elements). The deal is He gave us a fantastic gift, communion with Him in the Spirit, and here we are wandering about in shadow land mumbling the same words every time we come together. The familiar is comfortable to the flesh.

            Communion with God is what happens in the heart. If Jesus is in your heart, as He said He would be if you invite Him in, then the right words and the right elements have little bearing on the case. Using just the right words and the perfect actions only makes sense if you are not hearing Him and you are religiously striving to preserve the last things which He did in His earthly ministry. Yet He is not still in that tomb and He is perfectly capable of speaking to you in whatever situation you find yourself in. Communion with Him is an ongoing living thing and freezing it on paper is like taking a snapshot of a baby and saying, thirty years on, that this is what this fellow looks like.
            So using the missal (I think that’s what it is called) or the book of common prayer (what I’m familiar with) or the order of service of any number of others, has become a case of people clinging to what they think is a memorial of the Lord’s Supper without digging deeper.
            Nevertheless we are free in Christ, so you are free to use your group’s service or not, He did not prescribe a group or form, He simply gave Himself for us, and to us.
            Life in Christ is so much more. Communion with Him is so much more.
            Go deeper with Him.

          • Nathan said, “Nevertheless we are free in Christ, so you are free to use your group’s service or not, He did not prescribe a group or form, He simply gave Himself for us, and to us. Life in Christ is so much more. Communion with Him is so much more.
            Go deeper with Him.”

            Oh, yes, Nathan, don’t worry, I have “gone deeper” with Jesus. You have no idea how deep. We really have no idea how deep any of us have gone with Jesus. Only God knows and that is where it should remain.

          • Nathan, I realize my last reply to you was too brief. I am not able to attend church or Mass very often at all due to my family situation. If that was the only time I could encounter God, I would be in big trouble! But no, due to the Holy Spirit, God is closer to us than our very breath. But, due to being so busy with our daily lives, we forget that. It takes prayer to remind us how close God is to us. Jesus told us to pray privately and God would reward us. Matthew 6:6: “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (NIV) I am so happy that this is true.

  5. I think we’ve bought around 20 books in the past 3 months, all from your reviews…..guess my hubby will want to add this one to the list too!

  6. And I thought I was doing well because I knew the difference between a chalice and a ciborium 🙂

  7. iMonk says- You don’t have to live in this kind of humiliation. IVP has published the Pocket Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship by Brett Scott Provance, a wonderfully comprehensive resource that won’t cost you a semester’s tuition and will provide you with all the liturgical information you need to actually know what your Anglican and Lutheran friends are talking about when they say “rubric.”

    *Snickers* I found this phrase very amusing. Heck, I could use this. Even as a cradle-Lutheran, I still get confused by Pastors throwing about fancy words like “rubric”. Things like chasuble, thurifer, and Ad Orientem, I get. But a rubric- my mind is boggled! 😉

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