This is part of a 30 day series on the K-LOVE Challenge. Find out more here.
My friend Nelson is a musician, a worship leader, and a smartypants. A few weeks ago we were talking about music in worship and he brought up something really interesting.
He said that Methodists have generally thought of music as facilitating the teaching role of the church. We "sing our doctrine." In fact, when I took United Methodist Doctrine this past summer, we actually read hymns for the class, which I thought was pretty cool. If you take a glance at Charles Wesley's hymnody, for example, you find some pretty extensive theological work going. John and Charles Wesley were particularly big fans of hymns about communion. One could hear or read John's sermon on "Constant Communion"; or, one could just sing Charles' hymn "Come, Sinners, to the Gospel Feast" and get much of the same doctrinal content, only in song.
What Nelson pointed out to me, though, is that much contemporary worship music arises out of more charismatic churches or movements. And the emphasis among those groups is on the creation of an experience of worship rather than in the teaching function of music. If most contemporary worship musics seems a bit simplistic, that's because it's designed to be easy to get into, to sing along. To really get caught up in it. To get energized by that soaring, repetitive chorus, rather than to be intellectually examining every word of ever song.
Nelson added something else. He said that, in his worship class at seminary, people were asked to define what worship meant to them. And almost everyone spoke in terms of experience rather than teaching. Now, remember: this is a seminary crowd. So these are folks who are likely to be thinking carefully and theologically about worship. Yet when they define worship for themselves, they think in terms of experience.
I was thinking about this conversation recently, while listening to K-LOVE. I don't even remember which song it was, it could have been any of several. But it talked about Jesus paying our debt.
And I had this weird dual consciousness moment, where one part of me reacted to the fact that I have critiques of that theological claim (see Monday's post).
But the other part of me thought, "Wow. I just got out of debt (I'm talking concrete, financial debt) because of a series of surprising events and the generosity of others. It's an incredibly freeing feeling. It's like this thing that has been haunting the back of all of my thoughts is suddenly gone. I feel free and grateful and I feel inspired to be more generous and a better steward of my resources. My debt got paid."
And it's that feeling, that experience, more so than a systematic explanation of atonement, that I think the K-LOVE artists are singing about and the K-LOVE listeners are grooving too.
Now, I still think that we need to bring our brains to worship, and that people planning worship need to have an eye on a diversity of theological viewpoints, cultural perspectives, and ways of engaging. But to discount the experiential power of praise choruses--which, interestingly, aren't that different in structure from the Taize choruses that are often favorites in more progressive church circles--is missing out on something powerful about worship. Or in the words of the Renovatus Community: "We will embrace the liturgy and the primal shout."
There are, of course, other ways besides praise choruses to create space for cathartic and transformative experiences of worship. I think of the crumbling bread of communion, the firm pressure on my head as someone anoints me with oil. And I think we need to be careful to not be too Cartesian--intellectual engagement is also experience, and can also be transformative. But I do think this conversation with Nelson, and my experience with debt, will make me a bit slower to judge what I see as overly simplistic theology in worship.
Because while there is a time for critical articulation of faith, there is also a time to be--in the words of that great singer of doctrine, Charles Wesley--"lost in wonder, love, and praise."
Now playing on klove.com: "Need You Now (How Many Times)" by Plumb