Monday, June 02, 2008

Worship Choruses

In his book Losing Our Virtue, David Wells makes some interesting comments about contemporary worship choruses. He argues that these choruses, being the hymnody of postmodern spirituality, are essentially parasitic. “It lives off the truth of classical spirituality but frequently leaves that truth unstated as something to be assumed, whereas in the hymnody of classical spirituality the truth itself is celebrated. The one rejoices in what the other hides. That seems to be the most obvious conclusion to be drawn from the fact that the large majority of praise songs I analyzed, 58.9 percent, offer no doctrinal grounding or explanation for the praise; in the classical hymnody examined it was hard to find hymns that were not predicated upon and did not develop some aspect of doctrine. But that is not all. Not only is the praise in this postmodern spirituality often shorn of theological scaffolding, but what it facilitates is deeply privatized worship. One indication of this is that the Church, the collective people of God, features in only 1.2 percent of the songs; what dominates overwhelmingly is the private, individualized, and interior sense of God. By contrast, 21.6 percent of the classical hymns were explicitly about the Church. The texture of the songs in the postmodern spirituality, furthermore, is more therapeutic than moral…. The themes of sin, penitence, the longing for holiness appear in only 3.6 percent. And, as one might expect, while the holiness of God appears in 4.3 percent, his love, coupled with romantic imagery about loving him, ran through 10.4 percent of the songs, in comparison to about 1 percent in the classical hymnody. The though of loving God, and occasionally of being in love with God, that characterizes postmodern hymnody has replaced the emphasis on consecration and commitment that was so characteristic of classic hymnody.
At this point the essentially mystical nature of postmodern piety becomes obvious, even though it is a mysticism that is filtered through modern, psychological assumptions. This is evident, first, in the way that this kind of spirituality believes in direct access to reality. The experiencing self is admitted, as it were, into the innermost places of God directly, without any wait. The result of this assumption is that personal intuition about the purposes of God, how his will is being realized in one’s personal life, tends to blur into divine revelation and become indistinguishable from it. Second, the God so approached is often beyond rational categories. Third, grace in this form of Christian life is often understood as a power that brings psychological wholeness rather than as God’s favor by which we are constituted as his in Christ. And worship is less about ascribing praise to God for who he is than it is celebrating what we know of him from within our own experience.”

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1 comment:

Patrick said...

An interesting study.

A lot of people would agree that the most essential doctrines of the Christian faith are not only ignored, but often taken out from the confessions of some Christian groups and the very substance of what is left of a sacramental consciousness is lost, while the forms remain somewhat intact---but one question:

Isn´t Christian worship supposed to be intrinsically therapuetic, with the Church functioning as our spiritual hospital? I have frequently heard the problem with modern worship diagnosed as a lack of mysticism. A worship that forgets that the purpose of prayer is to heal our souls and bring us into psychological wholeness. For example, the words of Greek scholar Fr. John Romanides, ¨Having faith in Christ without undergoing healing in Christ is not faith at all...If Judaism and its successor, Christianity, had appeared in the twentieth century
for the first time, they would most likely have been characterized not as religions but as medical sciences related to psychiatry.¨

Perhaps the author should then distinguish between worship that seeks access to God´s energies through purification and holiness on the one hand--traditional piety---and one which believes direct access to God´s essence is possible and no struggle is needed. This latter misconception could then be shown to be a result of a postmodern soteriology which says when one is saved that´s it, no more struggle is needed, as well as the post-schism Roman Catholic idea that God´s energies and essence are really the same thing.

In short, the problem with modern worship then seems no so wrong in its ends but rather in the presuppositions about God which distort the path towards union with God, since, ever since the time of St. Gregory Palamas, the Church has held sacred the idea of the mystical encounter with the Divine.

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