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.

L Gregory Jones on Myers-Briggs

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator combines the techniques of the therapist and the manger, purporting to be a neutral tool that identifies my "personality type" within manageable categories that can be used to differentiate those with whom I am compatible from those with whom I am not. Even more, bureaucratic structures in churches are increasingly mandating that such inventories become a primary means of determining whether someone is or is not fit for leadership in the Church. Thomas Long aptly reveals the dangers of the Myers-Briggs in a short piece entitled "Myers-Briggs and Other Modern Astrologies." He writes,

In short, the MBTI profiles read like horoscopes from Camelot. Taken too seriously, they can be perilously close to fortune cookies for the human potential movement. In contrast, running through the Christian theological tradition is a view of humanity that is far more complex, at once far more sober about human failings, far more truly hopeful about the human prospect, and far more infused with mystery, featuring a landscape of exhilarating peaks of communion with the holy and also valleys of tragic denial of our humanity. (Theology Today 49/3 [1993])

The Myers-Briggs is not simply a neutral technique for evaluating personality types and managing people; rather, it is an instrument predicated both on modernity's bifurcation of ends and means and on its construction of the self as an enduring, discrete entity that is impervious to cultural, moral, and theological shapes.

L. Gregory Jones, Embodying Forgiveness: A Theological Analysis, Eerdmans, 1995, 40-41.

Scripture is ... something to be sung

'Scripture is, in its essence, something to be sung, which means to be read in the mode of praise by the church. Robert Jenson concurs:

The first and foremost doctrine de scriptura is therefore not a proposition about scripture at all. It is rather liturgical and devotional instruction: Let the Scripture be sung, at every opportunity and with care for its actual address to hearers even if these are only the singer. The churches most faithful to Scripture are not those that legislate the most honorific propositions about Scripture but those that most often and thoughtfully sing and listen to it.

Such singing cannot be confined to the collective worship of the church; but if it is truly sung, it is embodied in the continuing praise of the church as it scatters to its daily pursuits throughout the week'

(Brian Brock, Singing the Ethos of God, Eerdmans, 2007, 273-274)

I'm in the processing of reading this very good book. Review will follow at some point in near future.

Holy Friends

Holy friends are those people who challenge the sins we have come to love-they know us well enough to see the sins that mark our lives. It isn't difficult to find people who will talk with us about sins we already hate. But the sins that we love we tend to hide from others and even from ourselves. This is why we need other people to hold us accountable.

L. Gregory Jones, dean and professor of theology, in his "Faith Matters" column "Friends" in the June 27, 2006, issue of The Christian Century

fighting in the dark

From Face to Face: a Narrative Essay in the Theology of Suffering by Frances Young (1990):

It is not true that Christians are better people. My husband is one of the best people I know. Nor is it true that faith gives you the edge in coping with the problems of life. It may delude you into never facing reality, into false hopes, into a sentimental and unrealistic optimism about things. Or it may compound your problems by setting up a sharp dichotomy between an accepted idea of what the world is like and the awful reality you actually have to face. My experience has proved that religion is no escapism. It led me deeper and deeper into the agonies over the state of the world. It raised questions and difficulties which the non-believer never had to face. For many years I felt it would be so much easier just to give up on this Christian nonsense, the absurdity of claiming that this rotten world was created a by a good loving God, the illusion that with enough faith and goodwill everything will somehow be put right and the kingdom of God arrive. But somehow I could not live with that way out. There was something in me that resisted it as an easy option; there was an imperative in me to find again the world of meaning which has once energised my life, to find there was not a blank wall or a black hole, but God. I lived with a dreadful sense of loss. My doubts sapped my energy, deepened my distress, my sense of tragedy, my hopelessness. I was deeply depressed by the experience of living in a God-less world. Yet I could not just drift into a fantasy world and pretend everything was all right after all. The challenges were inescapable. I had to go on wrestling, fighting in the dark.

no other valid way

'... the discipline of Christian theology is pursued through discipleship and in no other valid way; there can be no valid 'un-applied' theology; Christian theology , properly understood, is inseparable from Christian discipleship and spirituality.'

                     John Colwell, Promise and Presence, 2005, 1

the most remarkable thing about the Church

If, as Hauerwas maintains, the principal social ethical activity of the Church is to be the Church, then the most significant witness of St Elizabeth's is to gather together on a Sunday. Given the fragilty of institutions in the community, the regular and frequent voluntary gathering of people who have no blood relationship, finanical gain, or common pastime, and no particular economic or racial identity, is the most remarkable thing about the Church. The assembly comes about through geographical location, a shared commitment to the Christian tradition, and a common identity which one member describes as 'a bunch of misfits who somehow fit together'. As Hauerwas himself says, 'The church, as a society of the liberated, is thus the necessary paradigm that can offer us imaginative possibilities of social relations other not thought possible.'
    The 'imaginative possibilities of social relations' at St Elizabeth's are perhaps most in evidence in the interaction of adults and children. Several factors contribute to making St Elizabeth's unusual in this respect. Children outnumber adults at a Sunday morning service by about four to one. Not a single one of these children brings a parent with them. The church has adults, and the church has children - but the church has no nuclear families ... Thus all who come are prepared to interact with whoever walks through the door. The building is modern and flexible, with no fixed seating and a comfortable floor. These four factors have made it possible to develop a particular style of worship in which children and adults together explore God's word and mystery. for example, at Epiphany adults and older children discussed in groups where was the darkness, where was the manger, and how we could be the star in relation to Iraq, Ethiopia, and a street near the church respectively, while the younger children cut out shapes representing darknesses, mangers and stars. A shared enquiry and shared discovery helps the adults break out of comfortable modes of thought, and offers the children adults who listen to them and take their questioning journey of discipleship seriously. This is not a 'family service', for there are no families: it is the body of Christ in communal discernment 1.By learning to be friends with people very different from themselves, old and young learn more about what it means to be friends with God.

1. Of course there are occasions when the children and adults worship separately. But on these occasions it is the adults, not the children, who leave the main worship space and go into a smaller room, later to return and report on what they have discovered in their 'group'.

(Sam Wells, 'No Abiding Inner City: A New Deal for the Church' in Faithfulness and Fortitude: In Conversation with the Theological Ethics of Stanley Hauerwas, 2000, 117-137, (eds.) M. Thiessen Nation and S. Wells, T & T Clark, Edinburgh) 

The Open Church

What would it be like if Christian congregations and communities were no longer to regard themselves only as "the communities of saints," or the "congregation of the faithful," but as such a "community of friends"? Then they would have to overcome the much-lamented disconnectedness among churchgoers, and make it possible for a person to feel at home in their community. Then they would have to break through their unconscious and sometimes, unfortunately, also very deliberate exclusivity with respect to the "evil world" and "unbelievers," and be ready for friendship with the friendless.

(The Open Church, Jurgen Moltmann, 1978, SCM, p.62)

Wake up you lazy blighters!

From Archbishop Sentamu's Maundy Thursday Sermon:

Children are always challenging and for ever bringing me down to earth.

In Birmingham I visited a school preparing for its OFSTED inspection, just before Holy Week. The children knew very well the events of Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday. We got to the Garden of Gesthemane and I asked, “What did Jesus say to his three disciples who were sleeping?”

A ten-year old piped up and said, “Wake up you lazy blighters! Judas is here: he’s been paid to get me nicked! Don’t forget what I told you. I said to you, “This is my body, this is my blood. Stick to bread and wine; don’t touch my Easter Eggs. I will be back on Sunday!”