Sorted Out

2 comments Written on September 13th, 2013     
Filed under: Bible, Core Values, Ethics, Formation, Leadership, Order of Worship, Songwriting, Style of Worship, The Psalms
psalmsToday’s post is written by Geoff Twigg, Adjunct Professor at North Park University in Chicago. Geoff is a pastor, singer/songwriter, worship leader and ministry consultant, and serves the ECC as a member of the denomination’s Commission on Worship.

A headline drew my attention this week.

N. T. Wright, Bishop and Biblical Scholar, has recently published a book called The Case for the Psalms: Why They Are Essential” (HarperOne). In a ‘Christianity Today’ interview with Andrew Byers, provocatively entitled “N.T.Wright wants to save the best worship songs”, he tells us that the Psalms are an important resource. He says they contain a deeper and broader consideration and expression of ideas than most of the contemporary repertoire, and we should use them more.

Well, you won’t get much of an argument from me about that topic. In general, I like what he’s saying in the interview, and I’m tempted to put the book on my reading list. We all like to read books that reinforce our opinions, don’t we?

However, what really caught my eye was the answer to a question about halfway through the article – Byers was asking how the Psalms can form or transform us, and Wright’s answer goes like this:

“Within the Jewish and Christian traditions, you get your worldview sorted out by worship. The Psalms are provided to guide that worship. When we continually pray and sing the Psalms, our worldview will actually reconfigure according to their values, theology, and modes of expression.”

I think there are some interesting points being made in this answer, and I wanted to draw your attention to them. But I’ll take them in reverse order, if you don’t mind.

So, at the end, he’s saying that if we rehearse, repeat and remember the Psalms, they’ll change our thinking to more closely resemble the values implicit in the Psalmist’s mind. This idea assumes that you will take the terminology and vocabulary of the Psalms, “continually pray and sing” them, and that process will change your values. I expect that’s right, but I’m not sure how many people will want to do that. Do you really want to end up sounding like a Psalmist? It seems to be counter-intuitive for a church that’s striving to sound like the world in which we live. I may want my values changed, but I’m not sure about adopting the language to get me there.

The second point he makes, just before that, is slightly more palatable to us. “The Psalms are provided to guide that worship” says we can and should use the values, expression, breadth and depth of theology of the Psalms in planning how deep and wide is the expression in our acts of worship. Don’t know about you, but I’m totally on board with that, and for years I’ve been teaching songwriters that we have too narrow a range of expression, too small a focus and an emotional range that’s way too restricted. It’s a superb idea to.use the Psalms to guide and broaden our palette.
So what’s the first point? The one that really struck me and sticks with me even as I write?

“Within the Jewish and Christian traditions, you get your worldview sorted out by worship.”

That’s potentially true, wonderfully true, and there’s no more effective weapon in the disciple-maker’s armory in forming the Christian soul. Worship is formative, if we allow it to be. Worship forms character and shapes thinking, if we design it to do so and pursue that aim.

On the other hand, worship can entertain, impress and divert, it can be used to attract a demographic and meet a felt need for a musical style or a dramatic experience. Rather than forming, this is worship that follows the shape of its audience and pleases us by doing what we like. It doesn’t form our worldview, it reinforces the view the world has given us. It doesn’t change us to a biblical pattern, but rather personalizes Jesus and selectively applies the gospel to build our self-esteem. Lord, forgive me for the times when I’ve done that. It may have just been a temptation to please people and ‘go along to get along’, but I know it was wrong.

I want to write, plan and lead worship where our worldview gets ‘sorted out’ by worship. It will do my church good.

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2 comments “Sorted Out”

Good word Geoff!

I would lovingly push you at bit on the on the statement “Worship is formative, if we allow it to be.” I would suggest that worship is always formative – the question is rather what kind of formation is worship bringing out. Are we through worship letting the gospel shape us, or are we through our worship forms trying to reshape the gospel?

Thanks for helping us think deep!

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Great words Geoff. Thanks for calling attention to Wright’s thoughts. I love the idea of intentionally using ideas and vocabulary – letting them be tools in God’s hands in the process of forming and transforming our minds and the worldview they entertain.

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