Monday, February 18, 2008

Can we worship Jesus too much?

Continuing my reflections on the ideas I encountered in workshops I attended at the Calvin Symposium on Worship, I want to return to the workshop led by Lester Ruth, The Most Used Contemporary Worship Songs: Their View of God and of our Love for God (the out line and even audio of the presentation itself can be accessed online at the Calvin Institute's website, here).

In discussing his analysis of 15 years worth of CCLI's "Top 25" most reported (most used by churches) worship songs, I mentioned earlier that one of the most intriguing aspects of Ruth's research was the finding that Jesus was by far the most commonly mentioned or addressed person of the Trinity. The focus of Ruth's study was to analyze the content of these songs through the lens of Trinitarian theology, and his observations painted a picture of American Protestant Christian spirituality (at least from 1989 - 2004) that is by and large Christocentric, and not too concerned with robust or nuanced Trinitarian language.

I reflected positively on this in my previous post, stating that I thought it an encouraging sign that the Christian church in America seemed to be united by a central focus on Christ in the worship songs we have the most in common across denominations and associations.

Now, however, I would like to ask a question with a more cautionary tone that I see raised by this research. And that question is: Can we worship Jesus too much?

That sounds like a silly question at first, like asking "can I love my mother too much?" Of course not! Jesus is very deserving of all the worship we have too offer.

But the deeper question behind that question is what happens to us and our worship of God when our expressions of worship (of which one could argue songs have become the most formative) are narrowed to only speaking of Jesus to the neglect of our Triune God in a general sense, or of God the Father/Creator and God the Holy Spirit in the specific sense? Is it possible for there to be negative long-term affects on our theology and even the practice of our Christian faith as individuals and church communities because of too much "Jesus only" language in our shared worship experiences?

One obvious affect is the development and nurturing of a more personal, individual, intimacy-focused, "me and you Jesus" spirituality that is reflected by much of early CCM and Praise and Worship music, and which is being reacted to pretty strongly by younger generations of Christians (e.g. the emerging church). As Ruth put it in his outline, "the[se] songs do not explore how the character and relationships of the Trinity might shape Christian relationship." An emphasis on the individual Christian's relationship with Jesus, which I think is good at heart, has (I hope inadvertently) deprived our churches of worship expressions that help to form an awareness and appreciation for the inter-relational quality of God's nature, and has contributed to a diminished understanding of the ways we relate to God not only as individuals but as a community, a people called to a common purpose by a common Grace.

There are other considerations that contribute to this affect as well, the relative use of singular ("I") vs. plural ("we") pronouns in congregational singing, for example, but I hope these other questions from Ruth's Trinitarian perspective have gotten you thinking.

I suppose the question in the end isn't "are we worshiping Jesus too much?" so much as "are we not worshiping God in God's fullness enough?" Are we missing out on something? The Church in the past has said lex orandi lex credendi, that what we express to God in prayer, song, liturgy, etc. both reveals and shapes what we believe. It is always a good thing for us as Christians to take a careful look at how our credendi and our orandi--our faith and our expressions of it--relate to one another.

How do you think you/we are doing?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Sing a new song... or several!

As I sit on my couch this evening, after lots of fun and sweet fellowship at our "Italian Carnivale" Fat Tuesday celebration at church, and now watching the "Super Tuesday" results coming in on TV... I'm just glad to have made it home through the snow to be able to relax at home with my wife and get a little blogging in.

As always, one of the highlights of attending the Calvin Symposium on Worship is the rich breadth of music that is sung throughout all the various worship services. And what's even better is having good songs to bring home to my church that I think will be meaningful for us to sing together.

I was blessed to be asked this year by my good friend Ron Rienstra (whose last name blogger's spell-check wants me to respell as "chinstrap" ... hmmm) to participate in an Alt. Vespers service on Friday evening with a wonderful team of people, all of whom I feel very honored to have gotten to know. The service was a deeply enriching experience, and I hope to reflect more about it later, for now I want to focus on the new songs I learned while taking part.

The corporate songs used in the service had been newly composed for this symposium worship experience by Doug Gay, a pastor and practical theology professor from Scotland. Inspired by specific verses from Hebrews 10 that grounded the Vespers service, these songs are immediately accessible, simple yet theologically profound, and sing like they're old favorites. With Doug's permission I've created lead sheets for these songs which can be downloaded as PDF files here:

Into the Holy (Hebrews 10:19-22)
Wash Me Clean (Hebrews 10:22)
Hope This Hope (Hebrews 10:23-25)

We sang "Into the Holy" at First Pres. last Sunday as we shared in the Lord's Supper, and it resonated with deep meaningfulness as we sang words like "Jesus, our sacrament, making a way for us..."

Another highlight for me during the Symposium was meeting Greg Scheer, attending his workshop (which I have reflected on earlier) and being introduced to his music. I particularly enjoyed the song, "One Thing" (based on Psalm 27:4), which we will be singing this Sunday in the Chapel service, in connection with our Italian guest, the Rev. Gianni Genre's sermon - "The Kingdom of God: Seek to be Found."

I look forward to these songs becoming staples in our church's repetoire, and if you're reading this as a pastor or musician from another church, I hope they can become meaningful expressions of worship for your congregations as well.