If the options are:
a) “Worship needs to be more theologically sound!”
b) “Worship needs to be more bodily participative!”
or c) “Worship needs to be more emotionally authentic!”
Then I choose
Kirsten Guidero critiques James K.A. Smith’s push (summarized here) for ’embodied’ forms of worship. Both her and Smith (count me in too) are in pursuit of ways, patterns, habits and yes ‘forms’ of worship that are ‘formational’. Smith’s beef (and it’s delicious!) is that we are always being formed by the embodied practices that we are always practicing – even in ‘cultural liturgies’ like the sports stadium, the shopping mall, the university, etc. Even small or ‘thin’ practices, when habitual, become ‘thick’ shapers of our lives. Smith’s view is that the gospel offers an alternative story to the many stories of culture, and that this gospel story needs to be bodily embodied (that was deliberate) at worship, which it a central way that we are re-formed week by week. Guidero is a ‘liturgical Christian’, and endorses Smith’s main points, but wants to push back against what she sees as an over-emphasis in Smith on the body. She argues that:
if one’s mind is not involved—as far as possible—in one’s liturgical participation, liturgy becomes only an empty shell, similar to the Christian propositions devoid of application that Smith so decries.
It seems clear to me that worship needs to engage the whole person in order for the whole person to be swept up in the gospel’s redemptive subversion of the world and cultures we inhabit. And if human persons engage in a) thoughtful and rational reasoning and believing, b) visible and embodied postures and gestures, and c) passionate and affective feeling and emoting, then worship needs to explore the space of all three; put roughly – mind, body & emotions. I’ll describe them briefly, using titles that are normally used pejoratively, to signal that each emphasis really is negative when divorced from the other two. I also acknowledge stereotypes for each one, which of course always are there for some reason, but also always need to be critiqued.
‘Rationalistic’ worship perhaps finds a stereotype in the ‘new reformed’ movement. Whatever emotions or bodily postures that accompany this stream of worship, the obvious priority is on the rational affirmation of propositions, truths and doctrines.
‘Ritualistic’ worship perhaps finds a stereotype in the ‘liturgical’ tradition. Whatever theologies or emotional states that accompany this stream of worship, the visible priority is on the formational practice of postures, gestures, and historic rites.
‘Emotionalistic’ worship perhaps finds a stereotype in the ‘pentecostal’ tradition. Doctrinal allegiances and visible gestures will be present, but front and centre is a palpable, impossible to ignore focus on an authentic passion and heart for God.
You may have already observed that various combinations of these exist. Some ‘pentecostal’ churches may have a ‘reformed’ vibe for example. But arguably a nice blend of all three may be quite rare. It makes me wonder if lurking behind our worship ‘preferences’ may be the reality that there are parts of us that we are more willing to be transformed than others.
Lord, I am passionate for your holy truth, and I will show it by unashamedly sitting and standing for you in church.
Lord, look on my beautiful liturgy and orthodox creedal confession, but please ignore my heart which is a private matter.
Lord, I have award-winning passion and high hand-lifting, but please don’t make me describe what I’m passionate about with any degree of specificity.
What might an integrated vision of worship look like in practice?
Well… I reckon something like:
- Large amounts of scripture (Bible readings and biblical preaching) and regular usage of affirmations of faith and/or Creeds.
- Delicious moments (within a clear overarching structure) of emotion and intimacy, through such things as singing and prayer.
- A rich ‘sacramental’ practice, most of all Baptism and Eucharist, practiced to link with wider church history and tradition.