Tuesday, September 5, 2006

"People want Bible. They want the truth. They want to be challenged."

Pastor Paul Manuel has already posted a fine article about Worship in these pages. It deserves serious reflection and discussion. Some aspects of what he said reminded me of a Robert Webber interview [Worship: Awesome or Just Plain Awful?], published in The Covenant Companion, from which I excerpt the following:
Covenant Companion: How do we regain a sense of awe in worship?

Robert Webber: We have really dumbed-down our worship, and I am trying to suggest in my work that maybe we don'’t understand either transcendence or immanence. We have replaced transcendence with boredom, and we have replaced immanence with familiarity, and as a result we don't have either transcendence or immanence in much of our worship experience.

Recovering a sense of awe is a long journey and I think that we have to put our heads together and start thinking theologically - —the theologians and the practitioners need to engage in deconstructing the modernist ways of doing worship and recovering the sense of mystery.

There aren't any tricks. I can't give you three little things to do to recover awe. I am just simply saying that as a collective body of people we need to reflect on this question and perhaps God will break through and give us some wisdom.

CC: What do you mean when you say we have replaced transcendence with boredom?

RW: It'’s almost as though we feel that if our worship is hard to get a hold of, if it is intellectual, if it is rote, if it is ritual, that somehow it will produce a sense of otherness.... the otherness should not be a kind of intellectual boredom that is produced by many of our traditional churches.

Transcendence and immanence are not separate - —they are two sides of the same coin. If you look at all the instances in the Bible where God encountered people - God encounters Moses in the burning bush; God encounters us in the incarnation; God encounters us at the baptism; God encounters us at the transfiguration - — there is always a visible and tangible sign. The bush. The holy of holies, the transfiguration of Jesus at the mount of transfiguration. The water of baptism. We need to think about ways in which immanence and transcendence are brought together around sign and symbol.

CC: In one of your online columns, you write about romantic narcissism-about worship music that focuses on having a romantic relationship with God. How do you differentiate between being God's friends, as Jesus called us, and this kind of "Jesus is my boyfriend" worship?

RW: Friendship is one thing. Romanticism is another. Narcissism, which has been very prevalent within our culture, is the love of self. And the New Age movement has extended the love of self to a kind of romantic spirituality of self, because the self is considered to be God.

So the overtones of New Age spirituality have spilled over into a kind of romantic Christianity, where many of our worship choruses are saying things that are really inappropriate: "I want more of you," "I need you," "Put your arms around me," "Hold me tight," "Kiss me." These phrases are actually found in our worship choruses.

I think that romanticism removes the relationship of God from one of grace to a relationship with God that is sentimental romanticism. It makes us expect some kind of feeling as the basis for our relationship with God and undermines the gospel.

CC: The songs you are talking about could be classified as love songs to Jesus.
RW: I just wrote an article on this for Worship Leader magazine. Some of the music, if you take the word "God" out of it - and some of the songs don't even have the word "God" in them - I could sing it as a love song to my wife. That seems to me to be pretty far away from what the gospel of God's grace is all about.
Romanticism really is a new kind of legalism. Because it says, if you don't have this kind of romantic relationship with God, and you are not "falling in love all over again" - that's another one of the phrases - then you don't have a good relationship with God. So a relationship with God becomes something that I have to create, that I have to generate. [....]
CC: What has led us to the point where there is so much romanticism in worship music?
RW: I see four phases of music in the contemporary scene. In the early days of the Jesus movement, it was a biblical phase. A lot of good stuff came out at that time. Then we got into the narcissistic, the me-oriented, phase. It is about what I do: "I magnify you," "I praise you," "I exalt you," "I worship you," "I enthrone you." It just goes on and on and on about what I can do for you God, aren't you so lucky today.
And then it shifts to the romantic, first writing songs about what we can do for God, then songs about having a romantic relationship with God.
CC: What about a hymn like, "My Jesus I Love Thee," which focuses on what God has done for us?
RW: That's a wonderful hymn. Obviously our love for God is appropriate. But it's not a romantic, sentimental kind of love. It is a love of obedience, a love of faithfulness, a love of covenant. [....] I failed to mention that I see a fourth stage - which as a stage is going backwards, kind of ancient-future. For example, Michael W. Smith's "Agnus Dei" is a wonderful song. Or Chris Tomlin's "Oh the Wonderful Cross." That is great stuff. [....]
CC: In one of your columns you talked about hearing a sermon from a guest speaker, which had no illustrations, just straight Bible exposition, and that people flocked to talk with him after. It was as if those people were spiritually parched, you said.
RW: I am not saying a person should not have any illustrations, for there were people who felt the sermon was a little dry. But for someone like myself I really enjoyed it because I get so sick of hearing all of the stories.
Most of the times on Sundays we have pabulum - —stories and entertainment and all that kind of stuff. It seems to me that there is less and less embracing of the pabulum. In this case, when somebody comes in and their preaching is not entertaining - it'’s very thoughtful and engaging - —people just rushed to the front to talk to him.
We are entering a time when people are tired of the seeker sermons, tired of the motivational sermons, just sick of it. People want Bible. They want the truth. They want to be challenged.

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