Cultural Encounters, Summer 2007
Advent Blog Starts Today

Rob Warner on Charismatic Worship

Rob Warner (lecturer in Sociology of Religion and Practical Theology, University of Wales, Lampeter) has just had his doctoral dissertation (from KCL under Andrew Walker) published by Paternoster: Reinventing English Evangelicalism 1966-2001: A Theological and Sociological Study. I'll post a review later, but I think this description of charismatic worship is unfortunately and sadly right:

This kind of contemporary song [he's referring to songs by Martin Smith, Paul Oakley and others] promotes a universal ecstatic spirituality that promises a sustainedly passionate devotion to Christ, with the expectations that every believer will speak truth to all mankind and that whole towns are presently filled with joy and compelled by the Gospel. Neither the New Testament nor church history gives credence to such expectations. Given the current condition of the church in Western Europe such songs indulge a wilful disregard for reality. They represent a heavy cocktail of the promise of an altered state of consciousness through exuberant singing - the charismatic equivalent of clubbing - combined with the exaggerated hopes of entrepreneurial evangelicals, persisting in denial faced with the failure of inflated promises.

The SH annual songbook has made a considerable contribution to the rapid reconfiguration of evangelical worship and has facilitated the emergence of new songwriters. It has also commodified music in worship, providing disposable worship songs with an imminent sell-by-date. Contemporaneity has been secured, while eccentricities of spirituality and exaggerated claims of present day success have been promoted. Here is a Mephistophelean pact with modernity: the hidden price tags are a ruptured tradition, a heightened potential for a theologia gloriae unfettered to a theologia crucis, a growing biblical illiteracy, a replacement of parousia hope with expectations of imminent success, and a quasi-gnostic, ecstatic and escapist spirituality (pp.84-85).

Rob writes as an insider to the evangelical movement, having been on the leadership of Spring Harvest and a Baptist minister in Wimbledon.  The book and this quotation reflects some disillusionment with popular evangelical charismania.



My goodness. I can testify that this doesn't only happens in England alone. Similar phenomena across many places in East Asia these years. Looking forward to your review, Andy.


I wonder if this could really be consider "true" charismatic worship? I don't disagree that what Warner is describing is a problem but I might disagree as to if it could be considered charismatic worship - perhaps I am looking at this from a more analytical angle - I pastor an AG church and nothing like that goes on - I personally believe true "Spirit filled" worship will exault Christ and edify the body - not drive them to estatic craziness. But I suppose I should grant that this kind of silliness goes on in what are characterized as charismatic churches.


I haven't got the book yet, but this is quite an amazing quote from Rob Warner, someone I respect greatly. But, I have to say, I'm not sure I agree with him.

I'm firstly not convinced that his generalisation of contemporary worship songs is accurate, and his sweeping condemnation is not backed up with a quantitive analysis (eg a review of the Spring Harvest songbooks or the most popular songs from CCLI from the years in question). So it lacks academic rigour. I've been a charismatic evangelical since the early 1980s and Warner's description is not something I recognise to any significant extent.

For example, the song I associate most with Martin Smith (one of the composers that Andy thinks Warner is referring to) is "Lord, You Have My Heart", a simple and gentle song of commitment and devotion, not the false triumphalism of which Warner speaks.

Secondly, of course, the question arises as to exactly what worship should be like. For example, does it matter that worship songs are disposable? One could argue that writing music that helps people to worship here and now is more important than trying to attempting to create works of art that will endure for centuries. Similarly, what should the role of "tradition" in today's church be?

Warner doesn't seem to provide any justification for his criticisms nor does he present his preferred model (backed up from the bible) for worship. He points the finger but doesn't show a better way.

I am not saying that there isn't any dross in the contemporary church (including worship-related dross). However, on the whole, are things really this bad?

andy goodliff

I think Warner's book will bring murmurs of both agreement and disagreement.

I for one find his statements largely accurate, of course there are always a few exceptions. Warner is writing from a sociological and theological approach. He doesn't show a better way because the book arises from a PhD and is record of his observations. It will be interesting to see where his subsequent work will go.


Andy, I accept your point about the PhD. But that makes the lack of academic quality (which may just be my perception) ever harder to understand. How can anyone make such claims in the context of a doctrate without being able to substantiate them?


Wow! Small world... i was searching for details on Lampeter's churches, came across this page of your blog, then thought, hang on, wasn't Andy Goodliff at KCL and part of the CU when i was?? Perhaps you're a different Andy Goodliff, but seems a small world if not. Looks like you have some good things on here - i noticed the mention of Colin Gunton on the left, a man whom i was privileged to sit in a lecture with numerous times!

Keep up the good work. You might like to consider entering when this years entries open in May time... it's been running since 2007!

God bless

The comments to this entry are closed.