Fall 2006 · Vol. 35 No. 2 · pp. 324–25 

Book Review

The Sense of the Call: A Sabbath Way of Life for Those Who Serve God, the Church, and the World

Marva J. Dawn. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006. 315 pages.

Reviewed by Jonah C. Kliewer

Marva Dawn is a major figure addressing the changing worship culture in the evangelical church. Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down: A Theology of Worship for This Urgent Time (Eerdmans, 1995), and A Royal “Waste” of Time: The Splendor of Worshiping God and Being Church for the World (Eerdmans, 1999), both directed to worship leaders and church musicians, show her deep concern and clear judgment for the future of the worshipping church. She is a practicing musician but primarily a theologian working in Scripture and Christian ethics with an emphasis on cultural analysis and character formation. She is an author and educator with Christians Equipped for Ministry in Vancouver, Washington, and a Teaching Fellow in Spiritual Theology at Regent College (Vancouver, British Columbia). Two other of Dawn’s many books are worth noting here: Keeping the Sabbath Wholly (Eerdmans, 1989), and Powers, Weakness, and the Tabernacling of God (Eerdmans, 2001).

In The Sense of the Call, Dawn does not address worship wars but concentrates on the problem of discouragement, hopelessness, and lack of energy in service which is experienced by so many Christian ministers, priests, deacons, and church leaders. The theme running through the book is the call to celebrate “the Sabbath.” Major headings Resting and Ceasing lead one to sense that withdrawal from work stress is greatly needed, but two remaining headings—Feasting and Embracing—suggest a reordering of priorities leading to new ways to approach one’s work. Preceding the disciplines and blessings of the Sabbath, Dawn reviews the call of God for service. She traces the many Scriptures which confirm the call and also the Scriptures which center on the triune God who empowers those he calls.

The Sabbath in Dawn’s explanation is a way for our physical and spiritual beings to find renewal within the community of believers. This is not a one-day affair but a way of life bringing balance to the life of each servant. Attention is given to the many Scriptures which describe the path. There is one theme which emerges over and over, so that one is convinced that Dawn herself seeks this with great desire, and that is greater intimacy with the divine Trinity.

Dawn uses personal experiences to illustrate and make a point. Her own spiritual pilgrimage has been accompanied by daunting physical challenges to which she refers, sometimes in a whimsical way but always to clarify that challenges to one’s health or physical environment need not be barriers to spiritual formation. Her insights are supplemented and illustrated very liberally by the writings of others: from Augustine to John Howard Yoder, from Gregory of Nyssa to Dorothy Sayers, and from Wendell Berry to the Book of Common Prayer. Frequent reference to the writings of Eugene H. Peterson seems noteworthy. It is noted also that Dawn speaks to all servants in Christendom and embraces helpful resources from Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Protestantism.

Jonah C. Kliewer
Professor Emeritus of Music
Tabor College, Hillsboro, Kansas