It may seem ironic that some of the churches with the most conservative theology have the most culturally-connected "worship." I put "worship" in quote marks, because in some ways -- as planners of church services have a tendency to do -- much of this "worship" borders on pure entertainment. It uses all of the technology and style of the current cultural moment. Worship in many progressive or liberal churches -- those in the old Mainline traditions -- have a tendency to be quite traditional and conservative. The theology might be liberal but the medium is old style and traditional -- with liturgy, hymns and organs instead of guitars, free form worship, praise songs, and preachers in Hawaiian shirts.
So, what might a more culturally engaged, but theologically progressive worship look like? I reposted a piece last week written by my friend Keith Watkins, which launches a series of posts that will engage this question. Keith is deeply rooted in liturgical studies and treasures the ancient patterns. But, he wants to envision what might be if we were to create worship contexts that are true to our liturgical patterns of Word and Table and yet be culturally aware.
In his second post of the series, he takes up an address by Thomas Schattauer, the current president of the North American Academy of Liturgy. In this address, Schattauer lists five perspectives on worship and the ways in which we formulate it:
•Recovery of historic practice toward a distinctive community witnessing to God’s purpose in the world
•Use of cultural materials toward a wider embrace of people (be it the unchurched or particular ethnic groups)
•Attention to the experience of the marginalized toward justice and inclusion of God’s reign
•Focus on relational community toward social belonging and wholeness
•Openness to the movement of God’s Spirit toward personal healing, holiness, and hope
Keith admits that his focus us been on that first perspective, but seeks to broaden it out in search of an alternative way of doing worship in progressive churches. I'm going to repost three key paragraphs so you can see what Keith is trying to do.
My perspectives have been deeply influenced by the first of Schattauer’s impulses: the liturgical movement. Schattauer says that its central interest is “to give the church clearer definition as a community of Christ through the focus on central practices which constitute persons in relation to Christ and to one another, most especially the reading and proclamation of Scripture, baptism, and Eucharist. Moreover, the purpose of this community in Christ constituted in its liturgical assembly is to be understood in relation to God’s purpose in the world.”
As useful as it is, Schattauer’s list gives insufficient attention to another impulse that I encounter with increasing urgency in theological literature and in conversations with church people week after week: the need to restate central Christian doctrines in ways that can be affirmed by people who have dismissed older ways of stating Christian beliefs and who are searching for believable ways of describing their faith. My early theological studies focused upon the continental liberal tradition and for a generation my closest theological colleagues were advocates of process theology. While I have only limited competence as theologian, the mood, perspective, and themes of contemporary liberal theology are important to the way I think about my life as a Christian.
My plan for this series is to propose that the classic union of Word and Table, understood in its simplest and most direct form, is the place to begin our construction of worship that is “something other.” I then will discuss each of its components, in their order as they appear in the classic shape of the service. Along the way, I will take time out to comment on specific challenges—atonement theologies in the eucharist, for example—that are especially challenging to the progressive Christians whom I meet week after week, in churches on Sundays and lots of other places on the other days.
I am deeply interested in where Keith will take this. I have devoted considerable attention to the form that worship takes, in the hope that the worship services I help plan will bring people into the presence of God, so that they might worship God fully, and be empowered and encouraged so as to engage in the mission of God in the world -- bringing wholeness and healing to a deeply fragmented and wounded world. To do this one must think deeply about what one is doing -- bringing theology, culture, and tradition into conversation with each other. Theology provides the fulcrum upon which we balance culture and tradition. It is not an easy task and requires that we attend to those who have wisdom in these matters -- even if we don't follow in every point of contention. I invite you to participate in the discussion here and to continue over to Keith's blog, where you can read the full piece and engage him in conversation.