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A History of Contemporary Praise & Worship

Understanding the Ideas That Reshaped the Protestant Church

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New forms of worship have transformed the face of the American church over the past fifty years. Drawing on a wide range of primary sources, including interviews with dozens of important stakeholders and key players, this volume by two worship experts offers the first comprehensive history of Contemporary Praise & Worship. The authors provide insight into where this phenomenon began and how it reshaped the Protestant church. They also emphasize the span of denominational, regional, and ethnic expressions of contemporary worship, taking into account the liturgical dynamics involved it its emergence and the dynamics that led to its growth. The authors show that Contemporary Praise & Worship came about through theological reflection on the Bible, not merely as the result of cultural impulses.

This book will be of interest to professors and students of worship, worship pastors, leaders of contemporary worship services, liturgical scholars, and church and cultural historians.


Introduction: A Historical Overview
Part 1: The History of Praise & Worship
1. The Headwater of Praise & Worship, 1946-65
2. Deepening the Channel for Praise & Worship, 1965-85
3. Increasing Currents in Praise & Worship, 1965-85
4. A Swollen River, Surging and Sweeping, 1985-95
Part 2: The History of Contemporary Worship
5. Subterranean Stirrings, Pre-1965
6. The First Wave of Contemporary Worship, 1965-85
7. The Second Wave of Contemporary Worship, 1985-Mid-1990s
Part 3: The Confluence of Praise & Worship and Contemporary Worship
8. The New Liturgical Normal, Late 1990s


"The story of Contemporary Praise & Worship is fascinating and complex, and Ruth and Lim follow its twists and turns with historical precision, theological sophistication, and wondrous clarity. This book is a remarkable achievement. It will remain the standard work of reference on evangelical and Pentecostal worship for years to come."

Melanie C. Ross, associate professor of liturgical studies, Yale Divinity School

"What a remarkably rich and thought-provoking account of the people and the convictions that have directly or indirectly shaped the worship practices of millions of Christians in several quite different traditions. Those who remember the people or events described here may well be astonished to see the contours of the larger story in which they played a part. This is a book that will help us slow down and listen attentively, a crucial task for anyone who is called to discern the nature of vital, faithful worship practices in the years to come, including Christians from traditions that seem at first not to be influenced by the worlds described here."

John Witvliet, director and professor, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Calvin University

"I have had the wonderful privilege of personally experiencing and participating in the birth of Contemporary Praise & Worship. My heart wept as I read Ruth and Lim's masterful and comprehensive capture of our worship 'heritage.' But, as precious as our heritage is, this book is much more than a historical narration of praise and worship. The authors identify significant principles and pitfalls of contemporary worship expression. This book overflows with the richness of our intimate relationship with God through times, seasons, and different emphases of an encounter with God. This book needs to be in every church leader's library and is a must-read for everyone who desires to be grounded in our heritage of praise and worship!"

Howard Rachinski, founder, Christian Copyright Licensing International, Inc.

"Ruth and Lim's A History of Contemporary Praise & Worship is a landmark volume. With remarkable breadth and analytical depth, this book provides the most comprehensive account to date of the liturgical forms that reshaped the landscape of Christian worship during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. This book will become required reading for courses in liturgy and worship, church history, and church music."

Monique M. Ingalls, associate professor of church music, Center for Christian Music Studies, Baylor University

"Lester Ruth and Lim Swee Hong's A History of Contemporary Praise & Worship is a long overdue and much needed historical documentation of one of the world's most important Great Awakenings to ever impact the church. While the church was trying to understand all the cultural underpinnings of the Jesus Movement itself, the Holy Spirit was ushering into the body of Christ and into local assemblies around the globe opportunity to create a worship experience that was rich, deep, and extraordinarily personal. The authors explain how the movement transcended denominational preference, practice, and policy. Ruth and Lim demonstrate how God superintended new paradigms and pathways for worship and, along the way, placed gifted people in positions of meaningful communication to proclaim his wonders and purposes. This is an excellent, much needed, dynamic, and insightful resource. It is an honest look at one of the most important and critical times in church history. I enthusiastically endorse its study by any serious student of worship."

Vernon M. Whaley, Associate Vice President of Program Development: Music and Worship, Trevecca Nazarene University

"Modern worship is often maligned and misunderstood. But caricatures and criticisms abound without a proper distinction between the many iterations and impulses that make up the movement. Ruth and Lim have meticulously studied original sources and interviewed primary actors, documenting the complexity and the significance of two main root systems of Contemporary Praise & Worship. From their work detailing the theology, the people, and the practices that belong to each, we gain nothing short of a history of the modern church in North America told through the lens of one of the church's most critical callings: to worship Jesus. No study or critique of the church and its worship today should begin without this book."

Glenn Packiam, author of Worship and the World to Come

"If you would like to know more about people in history who, like Mary of Bethany, 'wasted' themselves on loving and seeking Jesus (Mark 14:3-9), then I encourage you to read Ruth and Lim's new book. It is a serious yet practical study that shares about people who sought a deep relationship with God."

Mike Bickle, director, International House of Prayer of Kansas City

The Authors

  1. Lester Ruth

    Lester Ruth

    Lester Ruth (PhD, University of Notre Dame) is research professor of Christian worship at Duke Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina. He is a historian of Christian worship with a particular interest in the history of Contemporary Praise & Worship.

    Continue reading about Lester Ruth

  2. Lim Swee Hong

    Lim Swee Hong

    Lim Swee Hong (PhD, Drew University) is Deer Park Associate Professor of Sacred Music at Emmanuel College of Victoria University, University of Toronto, in Toronto, Ontario. He has taught in the United States, Canada, and in his native Singapore and often...

    Continue reading about Lim Swee Hong


Christianity Today 2023 Book Award Finalist (History & Biography)

"[A] sweeping account of Protestant praise and worship music since the 1940s."

Matt Reynolds,

Christianity Today

"Ruth and Lim provide a thorough accounting of how we got where we are, paying particular attention to the theological, biblical, and cultural ideas that drove the changes in church worship. The authors have carefully documented the journey from organs and hymnals to guitars and video screens. This book is essential reading for anyone wondering about that journey, or the journey that lies ahead."

Geoff Dresser,

Faith Today

"[This book] offers scholars and practitioners alike a much-needed history of both contemporary worship and praise and worship music, parallel movements that redefined how communities worshiped throughout the 20th century. . . . Overall, this book serves as a robust liturgical history for worship planners, engaged congregants, scholars, and so many more. It helps to make known key figures who had largely been forgotten and explains theologies of worship that remain a mystery to many. . . . I am grateful for a resource that explains with diligence and respect the nuances of this movement. This book is sure to give all who read it a deep appreciation for the Spirit led, scripturally based, and musically rich history of contemporary praise and worship."

Anneli Loepp Thiessen,


"A History of Contemporary Praise & Worship was both revelatory and helpful. It showed the depth of theological thought and evangelistic pragmatism underlying Praise & Worship and Contemporary Worship, respectively. It helped me understand the reasons behind the ways we now worship. It is an invaluable study that belongs in the library of every pastor and worship leader."

George P. Wood,

Influence Magazine