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Entries in reformed worship (6)

Thursday
Dec082016

On Worship's Boundaries

Just yesterday, Reformed Worship put up a post of mine on worship's boundaries. Next year is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, and I've been thinking a lot about the pastors, thinkers, and theologians who ministered in the wake of Luther's posting of the 95 theses.

One real "aha" moment of my reading of Luther for doctoral work came in the idea that Luther's articulation of simul iustus et peccator (simultaneously justified and sinful) isn't merely a statement about the human condition, but a statement about eschatology. In other words, it's a statement about the cosmic reality in which we find ourselves. We find ourselves in an overlapping of ages, a "simul" of worlds--the Old World, which is passing away; and the New World, which is breaking in by the power of the Spirit through Christ.

A lot of our errors in worship--a lot of our over extended emphases--can be categorized as attempting to break through the boundaries set by either reverting back into purely "Old World" thinking (forgetting that Christ has come and inaugurated a Kingdom) or pressing too victoriously into "New World" realities (forgetting that the Old World, while passing away, is still here).

Luther's lesser known work, Only the Decalogue is Eternal, is mind-blowing. He is so vivid, so clear, in how he articulates the human experience of this overlapping of worlds.

So...go checkout my post, "Luther and the Eschatological Boundaries of Worship," over at Reformed Worship. Happy Advent.

Tuesday
Jul262016

Killing Worship Through Over-Explanation

Reformed Worship just released a new post of mine, entitled, "How Over-Explaining Worship Kills Worship." In that post I entertain some important pastoral reflections on the nature of leading worship that educates and informs without throwing a wrench into worship's gears. Hopefully you'll find it helpful! Here's a little quote: "Worship isn’t a time for parsing doxological technicalities just like driving isn’t a time to take apart your engine." Go read the post!

Monday
Jul272015

Why the Reformed Need to Look to Our Own Roots for the Seeds of Anti-Liturgical Worship

The history of the Reformed tradition of Christianity is beautiful and bizarre. When I was an outsider looking in (I didn’t grow up in the Reformed tradition), I thought the tradition's historical map was a lot more straight-lined than it was. I did not realize that within a generation or two after John Calvin, Martin Bucer, Heinrich Bullinger, and Thomas Cranmer (I consider all these names, in varying ways, influencers in the Reformed reformation), there would be such a divergence of expressions of Reformed Christianity.

A Broad Landscape

When it comes to worship, the landscape is broader many people think. Certain Reformed thinkers will sometimes claim that a specific expression (e.g. Psalms-only singing, highly liturgical, practicing weekly Communion, more low/free church expression) is the one true way of Reformed worship. I think this perspective lacks both generosity and honesty. Perhaps there’s still more of Calvin’s understanding of the Bible to unlock when it comes to worship, but the truth is that Calvin (the beachhead of the Reformed reformation) was either purposefully ambiguous or irretrievably silent on some issues. And it’s my perspective (not all will agree) that this ambiguity in Calvin is why we’ve got so many tributaries of worship practices streaming from sixteenth century Geneva.

The "Heart" in Puritan Christianity

One of those tributaries is the Puritan stream, whose headwaters sprung from England but certainly spilled over the Atlantic into the emerging United States. Some evangelicals don’t realize just how much Puritanism runs through our veins, whether we’re Reformed or not.

One of the Puritan distinctives was a strong spirituality of the heart. In reaction to what they perceived to be the heartless religious ritualism of the established church, they strove to shake off all unnecessary pomp and circumstance. Simplicity and sincerity, for them, were marks of true worship--heart-borne and heartfelt. When these sensibilities commingled with the newness and looseness of the American frontier's westward religious expansion, we can see the seeds being sown for evangelicalism’s deep-seated suspicion of formalized liturgy and ritual in worship. This all comes together in worship historian Paul Westermeyer’s summation:

Heart religion, the part of the Puritan strain that did not want religion mediated by set forms, and the American frontier with no structured church life all pointed toward a future that would presumably avoid the marks of the church’s history, liturgy, and music.*

"Aha"

When I read this, I had an “aha” moment about my own Reformed tradition. For those of us in the Reformed tradition who value historic liturgy, we can sometimes get little cranky about other traditions that write it off or don’t take it very seriously. But the reality is, whether we appreciate it or not, we have our own tradition to thank (or blame). And, we need to be honest that at least some impulses of Calvin himself were the very seedlings that sprouted an anti-liturgical branch in the Reformed tree. Calvin was, after all, a theologian of the heart very much in the spirit of Augustine. You read in his Institutes an ongoing concern for empty religious practices that not only lack heart but almost deceive the practitioner as a kind of heart-substitute. You hear this, for instance, in his explanation of the cautions and joys of singing (Institutes 3.20.31).

The fact of the matter is that any liturgy (either the formal or the informal kind) will always carry in its DNA a kind of entropy. That means, left unchecked, our rituals will have the latent potential to downgrade into heartlessness because we are people who are always fighting the flesh. The Puritan strain of my Reformed heritage reminds me of this, and it also gives me a greater appreciation for and understanding of my fellow brothers and sisters who look at me funny when I get all excited talking about liturgy.

I am also reminded that liturgy must always be injected with heart and meaning by its liturgical leaders. Yes, even a rote liturgy has the power to shape, as James K. A. Smith has proven (even going through the motions is still formative), but do we really want to get there? Do we really want to get to a place where liturgy’s detractors observe so very little heart in liturgical practice that they feel forced to jettison the project altogether? The challenge of our Puritan forefathers and mothers stands before us.

*Paul Westermeyer, Te Deum: (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1998), 245.
Tuesday
May052015

In Search of the Emotionally Persuasive Liturgy

Over at Reformed Worship, I wouldn't want you to miss an important post of mine that posits some very current questions I am asking. Once again, my investigation of Thomas Cranmer has proven a helpful launchpad into current worship issues and reflections. 

The questions I'm seeking Cranmer's help in answering actually have a lot to do with yesterday's post on my journey in listening better to the charismatic tradition. Maybe to encourage you to go check out the post, here are the four provocative questions I'm asking at the end:

  • What is it about charismatic worship that so captures the heart of the average person?
  • What is it about the ‘musical rhetoric’ of our brothers and sisters from these traditions that ‘works’ so well in persuading people?
  • What anthropological understandings and assumptions stand behind the emotional intuitions of charismatic worship leaders and songwriters?
  • Could it be that Pentecostal and charismatic (especially musical) techniques of persuasionare worth exploring and understanding, just as rhetorical techniques were mastered and marshaled by Cranmer in his day and age?

As weird as it sounds, something tells me that Cranmer, if he could understood our context today, would have supported the "emotional work" of the charismatic tradition and would have sought to ask similar questions along the way of trying to lead a new Reformation in worship. Please go read the post. I welcome feedback and insights. 

Thursday
Mar122015

Two Posts Not To Miss

So, I've been doing a lot more guest-posting, especially over at LIBERATE, but you'll also see me writing articles a few other places, like Reformed Worship and Doxology & Theology. For those that follow my blog, I wanted to make sure you didn't miss these articles.


A Review of Dan Siedell's
Who's Afraid of Modern Art

"Hearing Art Tell Me Who I Am"

First, and most importantly, I want to commend to my readership an unparalelled book that weaves together art and theology like nothing I've ever read. It exposes how the art world, like all of our other "worlds," is a place where human beings struggle for self-justification, identity, and meaning. It asks probing questions about the way Christians in particular have thought of modern art, and it does all of this through a thoroughly strong Reformational lens that I buy hook, line, and sinker. So, if you might be on the fence about obtaining the book, please go read my post and be convinced!

 


The Story Behind Our Title Track

"Why the Church Should Sing About Prostitution, Slavery, and Addiction"

Our modern confession hymn, "Come And Make Us Free," serves as the thematic crown jewel of our new album by that title. This song is full of many scriptural allusions and was written through the process of an honest, personal journey. It dives into the theology of sin, particularly as the Scriptures expose sin as prostitution/adultery, slavery, and addiction. 

Thursday
Feb262015

Why Studying Cranmer Can Be Valuable for Worship Leaders Today

Periodically, I will be blogging over at Reformed Worship, a broad and thoughtful home for deep reflection and great resources. My first submission is a plea for folks in our Reformed tradition (and beyond) to take seriously the investigation of Thomas Cranmer, sixteenth century English Archbishop and architect of the Book of Common Prayer.

In the article, I discuss why we're tempted to overlook him as one of the Reformation's best worship thinkers and why he should be considered as someone who was laboring within the Reformed tradition (theologically, he's been unfortunately pegged all over the map). Then I offer takeaways for how his work as a "missional liturgist" (someone who thought about how to contextualize historic Christian worship for the people his day and age) can inform our practice. Go check it out!