Review and Reflection on “The Holy No: Worship as a Subversive Act” by Adam Hearlson

Pastor Matthew Best
17 min readMay 25

I honestly can’t believe I haven’t come across this book before I did. It was published in 2018 and I loved it. I love thinking about the idea that worship is a subversive act because it opens our hearts and minds to better seeing what God is offering is far different than what our society, culture, and the world offers as good news. Worship is subversive, but in so many churches in America, you probably wouldn’t know it. That right there, is one of the best reasons to read this book.

Hearlson sets us up well in the Introduction: “To speak the Holy No is to refuse to be complicit in the oppression and violence of the ruling power…NO stokes the creative process of subversion. The Holy No is also a courageous YES to the future that God has promised…The courage to say NO comes from the abiding hope that the coming future will be better than the broken present.” (Pg. 5). Can you feel the good news coming off of this in just a few sentences? There is hope for so much. It’s the message that the best is yet to come, not that the best is somewhere in the past to be recreated. The best of what God has and is about is coming to us and we are invited to participate in what God is up to.

And why is the Holy No so needed? Hearlson lays it all out for us — “We live in times where the Holy No is desperately needed. Where the church is conscripted to justify the violence of the government, our worship practices need to be shaped by the Holy No. Where our churches preserve and hand down visions of exclusivity, judgement, and shame, our worship practices ought to reflect a different vision of God’s coming future. Where our churches become entranced by triumphalism or mired in pessimism, our worship practices ought to call us back to a world full of both lament and celebration. Our worship is our response to the world and God’s place in it. Worship is the church’s primary creative medium where it enacts and rehearses the promises of God that are already being fulfilled. The church has the impressive faith to believe that such worship might actually change things, or, even better, is the change God is sowing in the world.” (Pg. 6). Preach it Adam! Preach it! If this doesn’t give you hope, I have to wonder why and ask this simple question — is how we experience the world today really what the Kingdom of God is about? And if not, then why wouldn’t we want what we experience to change to be more in alignment with God’s kingdom? To those who are…

Pastor Matthew Best

My name is Matthew Best. I’m an ELCA (Lutheran) pastor who attempts to translate church and churchy stuff into everyday language.