I’m in the middle of a writing retreat, working on a book for Crossway tentatively entitled Worship Matters. Catchy title, I know. Lord willing, it will be published some time in early 2007.
I’m working on a chapter related to worship and the Word. One of the quotes I ran across is from a book entitled Worship At The Next Level: Insight From The Contemporary Voices, edited by Tim A. Dearborn and Scott Coil. Chapter 10 is called “New Approaches to Worship” by Mike Riddell, Mark Pierson, Cathy Kirkpatrick. Here’s the quote:
Worship preparation is primarily about providing a context rather than a content. The context being an environment in which heart, soul, mind, and strength have opportunity to respond to God. This is not to deny content (although the gospel is primarily about a relationship rather than propositions), but to emphasize that the content can be understood in a variety of ways according to the context it’s placed in. (p. 138)
I also read these words in a recent interview with a worship leader:
“You can have a collection of spiritual language and have it still not ring true. I’d rather sing something that feels true than just a collection of the proper words and notes.”
Without questioning their motives, or claiming that I fully understand what they wanted to communicate, these comments seem to share a common assumption. They imply that truth is more about what we experience and feel than what we understand and believe.
If our worship of God isn’t primarily about content, then who or what decides who we worship, how we worship, and what we do when we worship? Does worship have to do mostly with what I’m feeling? Certainly the Gospel is about a relationship, but that relationship is defined by truths that are concrete, unchanging, and eternal, truths that God in his mercy has revealed to us in his Word.
I share a deep and profound relationship with Julie, my wife. However, that relationship is also defined by specific “propositional” truths (we’re married, we have six children, we live in the same home in Gaithersburg, Maryland) that can be written down, communicated, and understood by others. Relationships certainly involve more than propositional truths. But they don’t involve less.
It’s also true (there’s that word again…) that the meaning of content can change based on its context. But we should use that information to make sure that our contexts of worship support rather than deny or distract from the content we’re seeking to communicate. The answer isn’t simply to throw our hands up in the air and surrender to the authority of context. Perhaps a better way to phrase it would be to say that worship preparation involves providing a context that serves the content. It seems that in our attempt to make what we do relevant and affecting, we often choose words that minimize the essential nature of the truths we’re proclaiming in worship.
Finally, there’s the issue of singing something that “feels” true rather than a collection of “proper words.” I imagine this individual is seeking to draw a distinction between singing from the heart with new forms vs. singing out of duty with old forms. I’m not sure. In any case, it could have been worded more carefully. I can’t count the times I’ve “felt” something was true and it turned out to be absolutely false. Reminds me of the times I’ve told Julie I was absolutely certain I knew how to get to our destination…
Rather than seeking to sing what “feels” true, I should work hard at being affected by what IS true. I want to have strong feelings for the truth, but my feelings will never tell me what truth actually IS.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the quotes or my comments.