Friday, February 27, 2009

Perspectives on Christian Worship: 5 Views - Review Part 3

Today's post will examine Dan Wilt's essay on contemporary worship. Dan Wilt is director of the Institute of Contemporary Worship Studies at St. Stephen's University in St. Stephen, New Brunswick.

Dan Wilt’s essay was not very persuasive. Early on he admits he’s not a “liturgiologist, theologian, or historian.” (p. 149) His approach is as a “studied practitioner of contemporary worship expressions and as a writer of contemporary worship music.” (p. 149). For that reason his essay is almost exclusively on the role and benefit of contemporary music in worship. He does spend time on the interaction of church and culture. This leads him to show that “contemporary worship is one of the means through which the church leads the way in culture.” (p. 166) He gives the three major practical skills for a contemporary worship leader: 1) the skill of song selection, 2) band development and 3) worship leadership. In response to those who charge that contemporary worship is too emotional Wilt says the traditional view of God is “anemic” and “more Neoplatonic than biblical.” (p. 183). He says the church has been strong in “celebrating great minds and communicators” but “less adept at celebrating great hearts and artists. It is fine for great thinkers to be our heroes. Yet it is vital that great feelers be our heroes as well.” (emphasis his, p. 185) The criticisms in the response essays, while accurate in many places, could have been avoided had Wilt not so confined himself to simply music. Quill acknowledges Wilt when he says the contemporary songs are sung to God rather than about God. But he points out liturgical language not only speaks to God and about God but also God speaks to us. Quill says those at home with revivalist or Arminian theology will find the appeal of Wilt’s essay where you have a “highly emotional worship designed to move people to ‘give their hearts to Jesus’ and to ‘choose God now.’” (p. 205) Quill finally observes that the “constant demand to give God all our praise, heart, and love is a burden than condemns us. Freedom comes not from sermon and song that demand us to do more, but from the living proclamation of Christ’s unconditional love, acceptance, and pardon.” (p. 208) Lawrence and Dever start off strong with “It was our understanding that the church gathered around Christ, not His anthems; that it was the Holy Spirit that fanned into flame redemptive activity, not music; and that the immanence of God was an attribute of the Godhead rather than a function of melody and verse.” (p. 211) The also target Wilt’s admission that “’some contemporary worship songs could as easily be sung to one’s spouse as to God.’ In our circles, this is known as the ‘Jesus is my boyfriend’ song, and it is not exactly a compliment.” (p. 214) Kimball rounds off the criticism with wishing he had heard more than just about music. “I would have liked to hear how preaching, prayer, other artistic expressions play into a worship gathering.” (p. 216) On this point I couldn’t agree more. Wilt’s essay was more an argument for contemporary music than contemporary worship unless we reduce worship to singing which Wilt clearly does not believe.

1 comment:

Dan Wilt said...

Thank you for your review. My focus on music was directed by my mandate for writing, and the diversity of contemporary worship "service" practice precludes any comprehensive definition of it.

I focused on the most provocative point of contemporary worship expression, the music and the service's connection with culture, and offered a "celebration of the liturgical tool" that is music - much like Quill does with liturgy.

It is a misreading by the other authors when they suggest my "true believer" stance is anything other than an attempt to make a case for an oft berated approach to worship through music.