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Thursday
Nov082012

9 Things That Christian Worship Should Be


Summarized from the Prologue to The Worship Sourcebook:*

1. Christian worship should be biblical.

  • worship includes prominent readings of Scripture
  • worship presents & depicts God's being, character, & actions consistent with how Scripture does
  • worship obeys explicit biblical commands about worship
  • worship heeds scriptural warnings about false/improper worship
  • worship focuses primary attention where the Bible does--on Jesus

2. Christian worship should be dialogic.

  • God speaks through the Spirit, and we respond in a variety of ways
  • worship is initiated by God
  • worship balances attentive listening and honest speech

Click to read more ...

Saturday
Sep152012

How the Doxology Shapes Us

One drop of water on a rock has little effect, but a steady dripping will eventually wear a hole into seemingly impenetrable stone. Singing the Doxology every week is like getting a steady drip of life-giving Trinitarian water over hardened hearts.

James K. A. Smith, in Desiring the Kingdom, reminds us that the very form and rituals of worship have a shaping effect on us.  We don't just become more godly by learning the theology of the songs and imbibing the propositional content of the sermon.  Our desires and habits, as we move along the path of the liturgy, are shaped to more subconsciously and instinctively move along the direction of that path.   For instance, I have been in a context where I have experienced the same weekly liturgy of Confession, Assurance, and Repentance for over ten years now.  I now find that I have new instincts and desires when I slip into sin.  With nearly Pavlovian certainty, my heart drops into its knees, I acknowledge it before God, I preach the good news to my heart of God's assurance of my pardon through Christ, and I find greater strength to turn and re-commit myself to God's service.  Repeated liturgy makes you love it and live it every day of the week.  There are many things that we could point out about the shaping effect of the Doxology.  I will mention three.  

First, the Doxology shapes us into whole worshipers.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him, all creatures here below;

The first line gives us the "why" of worship (because of what He does).  But next is the "who."  First, "all creatures" are summoned to God's praise, and suddenly our minds are blown about the fact that worship is not merely a human activity.  It is an activity of all creation.  Before the fall, somehow all creation was more attuned to the worship of God, and there was a sense of solidarity between human beings and creation in the act of worship.  "Praise Him, all creatures here below" is a summons toward fall-reversal, saying to the earth, "Return, and worship the One who made you."  

When we realize this, singing this weekly shapes us into a people dissatisfied with a hyper distinction between sacred and secular.  We become a people who grate against our society's bifurcation of our private, personal religion and our public self.  God's demand for worship has equal authority in our schools, homes, and workplaces as it does in the sanctuary.  Our worship is whole, because the summons isn't "Praise Him, all Christians here below."  We become a people who are passionate about the reclamation and return of all of the earth's worship to its rightful Owner and Object.

Second, the Doxology blows open the supernatural nature of worship.

When we begin worship, I will often start by reminding congregants that today's worship attendance numbers are larger than they appear.  If the folks tallying our worship count were really being honest, every week, they'd write "myriads upon myriads."  Revelation 4-5 reminds us that when we enter into gathered worship on earth, we step into the already moving stream of the perpetual worship of heaven--the elders, the heavenly beings, the white-robed martyrs, the saints that have gone before.  In the Doxology, we sing:

Praise Him above, ye heavenly host.

The Doxology does not allow us to tally worship attendance based on who is seen physically in the room.  We are forced outward and upward.  The Doxology shapes us into heavenly worshipers.  The antiphonal, back-and-forth calls bounce from heaven to earth: "Hey angels, praise Him!" "No, you earthlings, you praise Him."  It's an inspiring vision that is not without effect.  The Doxology tunes us in to heavenly worshipers, shattering our culture's implicit naturalism.  We're no longer allowed to be a people who can stomach the notion that all we see is all there is.  We are a people who have been places you cannot see and touch, but are nevertheless just as real as our terra firma (or perhaps, as John Jefferson Davis would argue in Worship and the Reality of God, even more real).

Third, the Doxology makes us a Trinitarian people.

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Is the Trinity just an esoteric theological construct, or does it have existential import?  In other words, what good is it to us in our day to day lives that our God is one, yet three?  To tease out just one implication, it reminds us that because God exists in interdependent community, so should we.  The Doxology challenges our American rugged individualism. It shapes us into a people who crave community and authentic relationship, because such desires reflect the heart of our great Triune God.  The Doxology beats "Lone Ranger Christianity" out of us.  Each week we sing it, our individualistic selves receive another blow that reminds us, "You are not enough."  The Doxology makes us more instinctively Trinitarian, and therefore instinctively communal.  This, in turn, helps us to deal with sin and to grow in Christ.  Authentic community just does that.

So how can we worship leaders allow this shaping to take greater effect?  If we lead and sing the Doxology weekly, we can pause for twenty seconds before we sing it and share one insight like some of what's above.  We can perhaps send out a "value added" email to our congregation during the week about what the Doxology does to us.  And we can certainly minister the Doxology to folks in our one-on-one meetings and pastoring.  Things like these help make the implicit shaping turn into more explicit formation.   Who knew that so much could be packed into four lines?

Monday
Sep102012

Worship is Not Escape From But Entrance Into Reality

I was struck recently by this statement by Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann:

Our entrance into the presence of Christ is an entrance into a fourth dimension which allows us to see the ultimate reality of life.  It is not an escape from the world, rather it is the arrival at a vantage point from which we can see more deeply into the reality of the world.*

(Cue Beastie Boys.)  This is very similar to what John Jefferson Davis was trying to point out in Worship and the Reality of God.**  Sometimes we don't realize how beholden we are to naturalism when we think about "reality."  We fail to grasp that our culture hands us an implicit taxonomy of "real-ness."  

Worship as a 4D Experience

Even if we don't mean to we tend to think that things are more real if we can experience them with our five senses.  Modern science has given us this grid.  Think about this question for a moment: What's more real, the memory about what you had for breakfast, or the chair you're sitting on?  I'm not interested in debating the answer to that question, but I am willing to say that 99% of us have a nearly instinctive reaction to answer the latter over the former, simply because it's physical and able to be apprehended with our five senses.  So we tend to have in our psyche a favoritism toward the physical and material in our concepts of what is real.

This has a big effect on how we view our relationship with God, in general, and how we experience worship, in particular.  Think about it.  Under the naturalistic scheme, no wonder we are able to relegate "spirituality" into a compartmentalized, relativistic activity.  Suddenly, the "immortal, invisible God only wise" is moved out of the center (in our minds, not in reality, mind you) of what defines "reality."  Both Schmemann and Davis call us back to viewing reality on a spectrum, with God as the "heaviest," most weighty reality, against Whom and through Whom all other less weightier realities are defined.  If this is true, then our most clarifying and crystalizing experience of reality would be our experience of God Himself.  This, in turn, ups the ante in terms of worship vis-à-vis reality.

Just like we'd say that three-dimensional animation appears to be more realistic than two-dimensional animation, so we can say that corporate worship, because God chooses to manifest Himself more deeply and more fully there, is a truer and deeper experience of reality than the rest of life.  3D is pretty cool, but Schmemann challenges us to view worship as dipping our toes in the shorebreak of the vast ocean of 4D reality. 

Application

My philosopher-friends will want to press the metaphysics all of this, but I simply want to funnel this all down into some points of application.

First, if this is what worship truly is, then why do we take attendance so flippantly?  In the outdoorsy culture of Colorado, where I live and breathe, a sizeable amount of committed Christians view "regular" worship attendance as once or twice a month.  In major football towns I often hear the same statistic.  But if the deepest, most fulfilling reality is present in our experience of God in worship, suddenly our "skipping church" for these lesser things makes no sense.  

Second, if this is what worship truly is, then why do we sometimes take our worship planning so playfully?  Whew.  I'll just let this question sit and let the inferences flood the soul on their own.

Third, this helps us understand in part why we are so easily distracted in worship.  People have often rightly pointed out that our ADD culture of quick-cut moving images, screened technologies, perpetual interruptions, and multitudinous simultaneous communications causes us to be easily distracted and unable to attend for more than twenty or thirty minutes.  This has aided our level of distraction in worship.  But have we ever thought about the fact that some of us may have a subconscious instinct to avoid the intensity and weightiness of the deep, rich reality of God in worship?  Our distractibility is at least in part due to our limited capacity in handling the gravity of Reality.  The presence, brilliance, and intensity of God is so much, that it becomes far easier to look at our phone, to suck on a mint, to count bricks or ceiling joists, or to judge, critique, and analyze the preacher and the music.  If we didn't succumb to these distractions, we would experience more of the discomfort of being immersed in the presence of the I AM, the Definition and Epitomy of Real.  That's just scary.

The Looming Question

Whenever we discuss high and lofty things like this, a very practical question comes up: If this is what happens in worship, why don't I experience this?  Why, more often, is worship a drag, a chore, dissatisfying?  There are several answers to this line of questioning.

  • We are broken, dull-headed, stiff-necked sinners.  The presence of sin (not yet fully eradicated until our glorification) numbs our senses toward Reality.  And then, when you put us all in a room together, we stack the odds even more against us!
  • Preparing to encounter God is very much like training a muscle.  You can't just jump on a bench and expect to press 225 lbs.  Its weight would crush you.  Experiencing the reality of God in worship requires patient, steady, faithful "worship workouts."  It requires burning off the "fat" of our judgmentalism of the pastors and worship leaders.  It requires breaking through the plateaus of our emotional and physical barriers and restraints.  It requires retraining our spiritual muscles to move with the best economy of motion and greatest involvement of all the muscle groups.  This all doesn't happen overnight.
  • Our experience of God in worship is directly proportional to our apprehension of the gospel.  Because the Christian life isn't just about starting with but progressively going deeper into the gospel, our growth in the faith, mortification of sin, and resulting experience of God is predicated upon how deeply the good news about Christ's work has penetrated our souls.  The more fully we get this, the greater our experience of God will be in worship.

If we get all this, worship forms us in such a way that we are able, as Schmemann says, to "see more deeply into the reality of the world."  In other words, the rest of life begins to make greater and greater sense.  Everything fits into place.  Truly experiencing God has that effect.

*Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World (Crestwood: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1973), 27.
**John Jefferson Davis, Worship and the Reality of God: An Evangelical Theology of Real Presence (Downers Grove: IVP, 2010), esp. Chapter 2. 

 

(And, yes, I pulled a Tullian Tchividjian and used an album cover to, in a distantly third-hand way, point to the topic of this post. :) )

 

Sunday
Jan152012

Do Some of Our Historic Images of Jesus Hinder Our Ability to See God as Joyful?

If you don't think that art has the ability to shape the spirituality and worship of the Church, hopefully this little exercise will shift your perspective.  What's your reaction to the statement, "God is an intensely joyful God"?  Or, perhaps more starkly, "God is Joy."

My Pentecostal brothers and sisters have no problem with joy in worship.  Modern worship capitalizes on it.  But what about the more traditional-liturgical traditions?  Is there a sense of joy in our worship?  Many of my somber, cerebral, liturgy-loving friends would say, “Of course! It’s just internal, reverential joy.”  Okay, sure.  If I’m honest with myself, though (I won’t speak for others), when I’m experiencing the richest joy there is, I would have a terribly hard time containing it within a “reverential” shell.  It would probably burst forth.  I might smile.  Perhaps I’d even shout.  Perhaps I’d even dance.  Come to think of it, are reverence and joy at such odds that to express one would be diametrically opposed to expressing the other?

Even if my more high church brothers and sisters aren’t responding to these little jabs, perhaps we might see how our historic Christological art has affected our thinking and worship of God, and specifically the Second Person of the Trinity.

John Jefferson Davis, in his fabulous work, Worship and the Reality of God,1 points out that evangelical worship could stand to rehearse more often one of God’s most inspiring attributes—joy. (By the way, since when have we seen "Joy" as one of the sections of communicable attributes of God in systematic theology texts?)  Davis briefly proofs his claim through showing the richness of joy in God and in early church worship (Acts 2:46-47; Lk 10:21; Jn 15:11; Jn 1:1-3; Prov 8:30-31; Zeph 3:17; Lk 15:5ff; Rev 19:6-7). He then reminds his readers of God’s joy through what may be a shocking statement: “heaven is a happy place; God the Father and God the Son have smiling faces.”2  And, in a footnote, Davis points out something quite profound about ecclesiastical art in both the Western and Eastern Christian traditions:

The images of God in the church and in the Christian’s imagination can have powerful impacts for good or for ill in personal piety and worship.  The crucifix in Roman Catholic churches, portraying a dead and suffering Christ, and the icons of ‘Christ Pantocrator’ in Orthodox churches, portraying a powerful but very somber Jesus, do indeed portray profound biblical truths—but not the whole truth; the joyfulness of the inner life of the Trinity is missing in these images.3

Let it sink in.  When you scan in your mind the depictions of Jesus you’ve seen in paintings, sculptures, and film, what is the prevailing mood?  Now scan your theology (what you believe about God) and your resulting spirituality (the habits through which you personally relate to God).  What do you see?  Is God a highly joyful God in your mind?  Do you relate to God in public and private worship in ways that others would describe as a relationship "full of joy"?  Perhaps a discussion about how art over history has shaped this is a bit chicken-and-egg.  Did art shape our spirituality, or did the ways we thought of God seep into our art?  It's probably some of both, a symbiotic relationship.  But, nevertheless, here we are.

Perhaps I can’t appeal to your intellect.  Maybe you remain unconvinced that you need to see God as more joyful and that this could have a dramatic impact on your individual and corporate worship.  So I’ll try appealing to your hunger.  Don’t you want, deep down inside, to believe God is intensely joyful?  Don’t you yearn to know and love a God who is pulsating delight—delight in Himself, delight in His creation, and delight in you?  I sure do. 

Artists: it looks like we have some work to do.  We have an opportunity to fill a significant gap that could have a shaping impact on Christ's church going forward.  We need more songs, more paintings, more sculptures, more film, more drama, and more dance that give us a balancing picture of God’s eternal joy!

 

********** 

1John Jefferson Davis, Worship and the Reality of God: An Evangelical Theology of Real Presence (Downers Grove: IVP, 2010).
2Davis, Worship, 58.
3Davis, Worship, 58, n. 48.
Thursday
Jan052012

Worship Reading Goals for 2012 

Worship leaders should be worship readers, so here’s my ambitious list for 2012 (off the heels of what I have read in 2011).  These are the books I want to focus on in the field of worship, but they won’t be the only things I read.  In fact, I want to take seriously C. S. Lewis’s admonishment to read one old book for every new one.  These are all relatively new books, and though I won’t read as many old books, I hope to read a few (Bradshaw, below, will open me up to some primary source material that will take me into the old stuff).  I also hope to read one or two works of classic literature and am open to recommendations.  Literature always stirs my soul and imagination and often helps me think about well-worn issues in new ways.

 

John Jefferson Davis, Worship and the Reality of God: An Evangelical Theology of Real Presence (2010)

I’ve actually read this one already, but I plan on revisiting it, outlining it, and imparting its wisdom to others.  In fact, our Worship, Music, & Arts team at Cherry Creek will be discussing it at our retreat this January.

 

Simon Chan, Liturgical Theology (2009)

I’m about half way through this book already, so it will likely be my first finish in 2012.  It is blowing my face off.  Its dialogue is so different from what evangelicals typically talk about, and it really lifts up a high view of gathered, corporate worship.  It is also heavily footnoted (which I love) and is therefore opening me up to a host of resources, especially to choice worship-thinkers outside of the evangelical tradition.

 

Jean-Jacques von Allmen, Worship: Its Theology and Practice (1965)

Both Davis and Chan (above) have cited this resource enough times that I feel it’s important enough to dig up.  It’s from a Reformed perspective, but it takes some surprising turns, I believe, such that it wouldn’t sound like the standard fare from Reformed worship writers (not that they’re bad!).

 

Edward Kilmartin, Christian Liturgy: Theology and Practice (1988)

A Roman Catholic liturgiologist who will especially inform me in the area of Worship and the Trinity.  Chan references this book a fair amount.

 

Paul Bradshaw, The Search for the Origins of Christian Worship: Sources and Methods for the Study of Early Liturgy (2002)

I’m looking forward to this book being a resource of primary material regarding early Christian worship and its roots in Jewish synagogue worship.

 

Hilaire Belloc, “On Song,” from On Everything (1910)

I honestly can’t remember why I’ve flagged this essay to read, except that something else I read referenced it and compelled me to check it out.  Free download from Google Books.

 

Paul Westermeyer, Te Deum: The Church and Music (1998)

This one won’t be read from cover to cover but will be referenced heavily, especially as it pertains to traditional worship music and liturgy.  Bruce Benedict at Cardiphonia turned me on to this resource.

 

John Williamson Nevin, The Mystical Presence: A Vindication of the Reformed or Calvinistic Doctrine of the Holy Eucharist (1846)

I’m interested in understanding my Presbyterian/Reformed tradition better when it comes to the theology of the Lord’s Supper, and many have said that Nevin’s work is seminal.

 

Honorable mention (or, books on my radar that may either gain or lose traction on the journey to making the 2012 list): 

Robert W. Jenson, Systematic Theology, vol. 2, The Works of God (2001)

Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World (1997)

Alexander Schmemann, Introduction to Liturgical Theology (1966)

**********

Worship leaders & thinkers: What are you reading?  What will you read?  What has recently impacted your view, practice, and leadership of worship?  I'm very curious.

Sunday
Jan012012

My Favorite Worship Reads from 2011

The beginning of 2011, for me, was largely about getting a recording out the door.  Halfway through, I picked up a few books, and I’ll mention the ones that had the most impact in the area of worship, music, & arts.  I'll post my anticipated reads for 2012 later this week.

**If you're a pastor, worship leader, or worship thinker, I'd love to know what books, articles, or other works influenced you this past year.  Please share!**

 

John Jefferson Davis, Worship and the Reality of God: An Evangelical Theology of Real Presence (2010)

This one lit a fire under me, and I’ve been challenging others I know to read it.  Its central thesis: evangelical worship needs to recover a sense that God is truly present among us in a unique way when we gather for worship.  It not only diagnoses the historical and theological reasons why evangelical worship lacks a sense of God’s real presence, it proposes very helpful solutions to the problem.  It is my number-one recommendation to my readership.  If you can only read one book on worship this year, read this one.

Click to read more ...

Sunday
Dec042011

Worship and the Physical Body: The Earthen Vessels Symposium - Part 2

This is Part 2 of a blog symposium with Matt Anderson on his book Earthen Vessels.

[GO TO PART 1]

How We Analyze Disembodied Forms of Worship

This section puts Anderson at odds with much of the cutting edge thinking about online church, video feeds of preachers, and disembodied Christian “communities.”  I agree with his analysis (ultimately, that the aforementioned realities are inadequate, even wrong, and betray an inadequate biblical anthropology) and will only add a few things.  Anderson pokes at something very significant at the get-go when he talks about the “altar call” and the dominance of the act of evangelism in shaping evangelical worship.13  We can burrow down deeper, here.  Evangelical worship today has been shaped by the realities of the American frontier. 

Click to read more ...

Sunday
Dec042011

Worship and the Physical Body: The Earthen Vessels Symposium - Part 1

I have the privilege of contributing to a blog symposium, along with several other authors and bloggers, on Matt Anderson’s terrific book, Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to Our Faith.1  Matt is a fellow Biola-grad, lover of Christ’s Church, and blogaholic over at Mere Orthodoxy and Evangel.  Even as I interact with the book, be sure to check Mere-O in a few days from this post to see Matt’s interaction with me.

The final chapter of the book, “The Body and the Church,” instead of focusing on ecclesiology (the study of the church), in general, zeroes in on doxology (the study of worship) in particular.  To structure the dialogue, let me first attempt to summarize the chapter in a thesis statement, along with his subsequent supporting arguments.  Anderson’s chief point is that the physical body matters to corporate worship.

Click to read more ...