November 24, 2020

Recommendation: Beyond Smells and Bells by Mark Galli

Mark Galli: Beyond Smells and Bells: The Wonder and Power of Christian Liturgy

Well….just go buy this book. I know you plan on buying some other book about things you already know, but you need this book, because it’s absolutely a 512 foot home run on the subject of liturgy in worship, and you know how we feel about liturgy around here. Liturgy needs some love these days, and Mark Galli’s Beyond Smells and Bells is the most helpful popular treatment of the subject for evangelical you can find on the shelves anywhere.

The problem is that when I said “liturgy” many of you immediately thought “ugh. dull,” and of course that’s the reason you need this book. It’s actually the reason you need to carry this book with you and read it to people across the table and in the next cubicle. It’s simply essential reading to restore our confidence that liturgy is relevant and powerful in an evangelical wasteland.

Here’s an evangelical- and editor of Christianity Today- who is passionate about the value of liturgy, and has written 14 outstanding essays (in less than 120 pages) giving you all the reasons any worship leader or thoughtful Christian needs to look at this neglected and misunderstood subject again.

This isn’t the calm and steady teaching of Robert Webber, though any evangelical appreciating liturgy and the Christian year has a great debt to Webber. Galli is more excited, more convinced and more enthused with the value of recovering what he calls the “wonder and power” of Christian liturgy. These essays “sell” liturgy in a way that’s been long needed.

This is a book that reorients our thoughts on worship, connects liturgy to the deepest places in Christian experience and helps us discover the liturgical answer to chaos, emptiness and disorder in our lives and communities. Liturgy isn’t essential, but it’s a medicine evangelicals would be wise to

Galli believes that liturgy does things; it’s active and vital, and it’s just the medicine so much of evangelicalism is longing for. From the Christian year to the reorienting of worship space and the encounter with God in liturgy, all the basics are here, presented in a way that merits reconsideration, debate and conversation.

The book contains some helpful resources on comparative liturgies and the Christian year. It is short, well-written and full of provocative material on this vital subject. There won’t be a better popular book on liturgy produced any time soon.

Some of you, like me, may have been reading Mark Galli’s blog this year and enjoying excerpts from these essays. I’ve been more than a little excited about what Galli was saying about liturgy. I truly felt he had been living in my head the last 20 years. Many of you will encouraged by what Galli has to say, while others will be challenged for the first time to rethink your ideas about liturgy.

I bought it with my own money, and no one asked me to review it. I highly recommend Beyond Smells and Bells.


  1. Michael, you sold me. I’m buying the book. I’m a pastor in a church that is about as anti-liturgical as you can be, as you can tell, just by me being on your blog alone, there’s a hunger for something more.

    Brian Jones

  2. Ahhh… liturgy!

    The essential ballast in our churchianity balloons.

    Without it we’d undoubtably would have floated 17 miles past heaven by now.

    Thanks for the recommendation, I.M.

    And thanks to you Mark Galli for a much needed book.

    I’ll get it soon.(the book that is)

    – Steve

  3. This looks nice…thanks for recommending it

  4. Would it be fair to say that the closest to liturgy some so-called evangelical churches come is having people pray the “sinner’s prayer?”

    The book sounds great, thanks for recommending it. You read good books! Have you ever reviewed a book by Len Sweet?

  5. As an evangelical who is close to converting to Eastern Orthodoxy, I would recommend “For the Life of the World” by Alexander Schmemann for a very powerful & moving view of the liturgy that comes from a tradition that has been doing basically the same liturgy for almost 2000 years.

  6. To Carl,

    Read The Orthodox Liturgy by Hugh Wybrew as well, which shows, like all Liturgies, the Orthodox have not been doing the same liturgy for the past two-thousand years, but actually a particular rite, the Byzantine Rite, that developed in the East, as opposed to the Latin Rite, Celtic Rite, Syrian Rite, etc. As an Eastern Orthodox Christian myself, I believe it is deceiving to act as if the eastern Liturgy has not changed at all since the days when Christians worshiped in the Jerusalem Temple, or in Justin Martyr and Iganatius’ time in houses and catacombs, not the elaborate and ornate cathedrals of the Byzantine Empire.

    Schmemann’s book is a wonderful meditation on the significance of the eastern Liturgy in the context of the various forms of Christian worship (as a matter of fact Thomas Merton recommended it very highly).

    What is special, important and significant about the Orthodox liturgy is not its ancient roots (although, it has been the same for practically 1000 years) but its theological tilt. Its eschatalogical focus, the universal and msytical aspect of the service, and the Orthodox view of the Eucharist and community. These are important. This is why Schmemann’s book should be read by all Christians, not to convert them, but to inform them, encourage them and cause them to re-think their particular form of worship. Just like the West inspired someone like Schmemann to do the same with the Orthodox Liturgy (see Introduction to Liturgical Theology by Schmemann on this)

    And now, Michael I apologize for digressing, I felt the previous comment was neccessary before moving on. I do not mean to hijack the thread, but to correct a fellow brother from misrepresenting the Orthodox faith.

    Now, as a former Pentecostal, I have found Liturgical services the most refreshing things I have ever experienced. Especially the feeling of community of sharing Communion every week, the beautiful Icons, and the chanting and singing as a community (the entire service in Orthodoxy). The chanting of Scripture reinforces the biblical identity of the community and the utter saturation of the service in Scriptural images and themes, the many Psalms included, and theological imagery give such a powerful awareness of the Gospel and the presence of the Holy Spirit, and the Icons especially give a feeling of continuity with our brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep in the Lord.

    I am so excited to see Evangelicals (rather than flocking to Rome or Constantinople) re-evaluate worship within their particular context, although if they feel conversion is neccessary, that is okay too. This discussion is healthy for the Church, and it should not be to show one tradition is more right than another, or to convert one to another tradition but rather to humbly see the critiques others have, in order to worship God in spirit and in truth, in all the rich vastness of human experience. Thanks for the recommendation!

    P.S. I recommend Schmemann’s book as well, and Michael, since you like Merton, and he loved it, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it as well. Also John Zizioulas’ book Being as Communion should be on any pastor or theologian’s book shelf, which shows the relevance of the Trinity in the makeup of Christian community and eucharistic theology.


  7. Sounds like an excellent book it will be going on my Amazon wish list in the hope that when I have money I can buy it!

  8. Most liturgical worship constructions are a shadow of the law. Days and weeks and seasons and robes and candles and incense and icons translate the inward worship to a reliance on the external instead of Spirit and truth. The evangelical shift represents, as was noted here, a growing dissatisfaction with the stagnant “style” of modern evangelicalism. (regardless how exciting they claim to be) It is understandable within the cyclical nature of such things.

    So while many Roman Catholic churches have incorporated some evangelical elements, the evangelicals move toward liturgical elements. God’s grace is active in both, however the “style” of the liturgical worship summons images of the law and its Temple worship. The one important and utterly Biblical issue that the liturgy brings forth and that evangelicalism has lost is the Lord’s Supper.

    Of course I espouse the emblematic view of communion, however, I believe it is a grievous sin against New Testament worship to relegate its observance to less than weekly and to make it a hurried and well organized part of a Sunday morning “service”. Communion must have a prominent place in the worship service and even those who ascribe it as nothing more than a memorial must never treat it as anything less than a sacred memorial of the Person and work of the Christ.

    Those of us who cannot agree with the liturgical view of worship must render ourselves corrected by God’s Spirit when we see how most of the liturgical services hold in great esteem the memorial supper given by the One whose body and blood are to be worshipped indeed and approached in brokenness and faith.

    To have a worship gathering that has fundraising, announcements, and other western accoutrements but without the New Testament “Passover” meal cannot be accurately called New Testament. In that we should all agree.

  9. My interest is officially piqued.

    But why 512?

  10. Mr Frueh,

    From what I’m reading of your last comment, you think that the resurgence of liturgy in church is a result of a natural ‘pendulum swing’ for Evangelicals back to legalism. ‘It is understandable within the cyclical nature of such things.’…

    Could you elaborate on why you think the pendulum swings at all. If the churches that broke from liturgy are on a trajectory away from ‘reliance on the … Spirit and truth’, what factors made them revert?

    I grew up in Pentecostal Holiness, but Liturgy is finding a larger and larger place in my family’s worship. Parts of your comment have been what I traditionally heard in my childhood years, with the highlights being that Liturgical churches are ‘not full of the Spirit’, ‘Spiritually dead’, ‘legalistic’. Not that you were as uncharitable as this, but there is a critique here to be weighed.

    I would say this: In both variants worst forms (Evangelicalism, Liturgy) there is a separate but equal temptation to turn their strengths into legalism and law. Pentecostal Holiness may not have had ‘robes and candles and incense’, but we definitely had long hair (for the ladies), no make-up, no rock and roll, and an unhealthy disdain for those that did. Conversely, I’ve heard several former members of liturgical style churches reveal that their church was completely dead…that they just repeated the words with no power.

    Is this just a case of the grass being greener on the other side? Or, is this a real swing a away from the ditches of the entertainment driven church, the rock star church, and the ‘Whose on board with my vision’ dictatorships?


  11. Rick Frueh,

    Several hundred million Bible believing and Christ exalting Anglicans and Lutherans in Africa will be interested to know they are legalists, etc.



  12. “As an Eastern Orthodox Christian myself, I believe it is deceiving to act as if the eastern Liturgy has not changed at all since the days when Christians worshiped in the Jerusalem Temple”.

    He didn’t say it didn’t change “at all”, but rather that it was “basically the same”, which is not an unreasonable claim.

  13. Volume = truth? (see Luther’s “Unless you can convince me by Scripture” as a reference)

    The reverse would be several scores of millions of western evangelicals would be interested to know they are deficient in their worship style. Both sentences without Biblical substance. But I did throw in with the Communion view, that should at least make me little palatable, even to several hundred million believers? 🙂

    BTW MS – they are only legalists if they require that style of worship or suggest that God only receives worship through their external helps. I never said legalists which implies more than a style derived from some OT shadows. And it is altogether possible and probable that many liturgical believers worship in a deeper and more focused way than the other forms, so I did not mean to imply otherwise as far as people’s hearts are concerned.

    I still suggest a Mosaic shadow in the liturgy and some books I have read from those who practice liturgy actually embrace that connection.

  14. In the past,I have been very anti-liturgy, formalism, what have you, wanting to be unencumbered to be “led by the Spirit” in worship. What changed that was my interaction with wonderful, loving Lutherans. While I lived in the West Bank with all hell breaking loose during the first Palestinian uprising, not knowing what each day would bring, I received tremendous peace and encouragement from the rhythm of liturgy and the church year. Worshiping and praying with the connectedness to the whole and ancient church is a blessing.

  15. As I really don’t need any convincing about the need for liturgy, I probably won’t be getting this book any time soon. I actually can’t stand “protestant-style” worship any more. It’s either, “sit, stand, sing, get talked at” or “sit, stand, clap/dance/sing, get talked at.” There’s no movement, there’s no sense of the mystical communion with the saints above and below around the heavenly throne. It drives me nuts!

    Having vented, would you say this book would be good for laity? Folks around here need some worship education and Webber will go over their heads (sad as that may be).

  16. That is a good testimony, Ivy. So millions of non liturgical evangelicals have come from a liturgical past and give testimony to a deeper worship experience than ever before. And the same testimony, as in Ivy’s comment, transverses the other way. What are we to make of this?

    Perhaps God is multi-layered and worship is predominantly heart oriented and less structure oriented. Maybe? I have worshiped in both, and I still contend Communion should by a core element of any worship gathering.

  17. You’re correct, I was speaking of the subject not the book. Again, I was rejecting the term legalism which you referenced.


  18. Guy:

    Thanks for the clarification (I’m still learning!). But I would agree with Chris in that the liturgy we use is that of St. John Chrysostom (from the 4th or 5th century) which, I believe, is based on that of St. James.

    To All, as others have said here, may we all learn to worship in Spirit & Truth!

  19. Hi Michael,

    Thanks for the recommendation. I’ll order a copy today.

    You might also be interested in Simon Chan’s “Liturgical Theology”. Simon is the professor of Systematic Theology at Trinity Theological College, Singapore and is a senior leader in the Assembly of God in that country.

    From a review:

    “Chapter one is entitled The Ontology of the Church. In my opinion, this chapter is worth the price of the book. Here Chan asks, “Is the Church to be seen as an instrument to accomplish God’s purpose in creation, or is it the expression of God’s ultimate purpose itself?” How Chan answers this sets the trajectory for the rest of the book.

    His answer is B — the Church is the expression of God’s ultimate purpose itself. From this he goes on to argue that the Church has an ontology — it has its own being. It is the body of Christ. Body of Christ is not just a metaphor for sociological relationships within the the Church, body of Christ is a description of the Church’s nature. Through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, the Church is brought into union with the risen and ascended Christ who is perpetually offering himself — and the Church with him — to the Father. The Church is folded into the life of the Triune God.

    Modern evangelicals (and here Chan includes charismatics and Pentecostals), have an instrumental view of the Church. The Church does not have an ontology, only individual Christians have an ontology. The Church is no more than an instrumental arrangement to achieve other ends — typically converting people and growing disciples. For Chan, although conversion and discipleship are indispensable realities, this approach to Church is inadequate. It misreads both the New Testament and the tradition of the Church.

    In subsequent chapters, Chan will build the case for liturgy of the Church on this foundational insight.”

    Trust me, as a “recovering Pentecostal” myself, it’s well worth the read.


  20. Pastor M, the most liturgical part of the service in my church is the offering. On my worse days, I internally grumble that we’re more respectful in the presence of the Lord Mammon than the Lord Christ.

  21. Carl,

    You’re welcome. Also, I re-read my message, and I apologize if I sounded somewhat pompous, that was certainly not the message I was trying to convey. That’s why I use happy faces, to get across my tone, which was in all brotherly love. 🙂

    I am still learning too, a far way to go. But please do get Wybrew’s book, it’s great.


    I understand the dangers of a liturgical style of worship. I come from a perceived “spirit-filled” worship background, a charismatic Pentecostal church, with roaring guitars, light shows and smoke machines (’s not to deny that the Lord is there present among the people and moving, but from what I experienced it was a shallow well and did not quench the thirst I had.

    After being in a liturgical church for over two years now, I cannot imagine being divorced from the pattern of corporate fasting, prayer and worship. This does not exclude my personal prayer life, fasting and worship. I still have “spontaneous” prayers, and fast in addition to the Church calendar. But how much more enriching to be part of a tradition with such deep roots, praying with millions of other believers around the world at the same time.

    In response to the claim that Temple worship was legalistic. That is silly. Not only did Our Lord worship as a Jew, so did his brother James, and all of the other early Jewish Christians. Paul’s churches scattered across the Mediterranean still maintained a liturgical style of worship. What you said is the old, disproven anti-liturgical exegesis of the NT, imposing the “Catholic/Protestant” debate on Scripture. Evangelical/Anti-Liturgy apologetics need to be updated, because Church History, Tradition and scholarship (even the Bible) is not on your side (See Geza Vermes and E.P. Sanders on the issue of the NT).

    This is NOT to say that an EO or RC High-Church style liturgy necessarily needs to be adopted. A refreshed Lutheran or Anglican liturgy would be just as good. But I believe vigorously that Communion should be the focus of any worship. Calvin, Luther, and the early Church Fathers all affirmed the presence of the Lord at communion, Zwingli’s “memorial” conception of the Eucharist needs to be safely put away in the dust bins of history. It is detrimental to the life of the community of believers. N.T. Wright has written a fantastic little book on the Lord’s Supper I highly recommend.