The Wilderness Journey of Faith

worship is like telling stories around a campfire

scripture is like the “trail mix”

disciplines are like setting up camp

the church is like your wilderness caravan

sin is like being lost and alone in the wilderness

Jesus is like the wilderness Trailblazer

Spirit is like the wilderness Guide

Parent is like the wilderness Native

creation is like a wilderness home

salvation is like a journey in the wilderness following the Spirit on the way of Jesus toward home with the Native

consummation is like being welcomed home to a feast

Smith: The iPhone Liturgy

To become habituated to an iPhone is to implicitly treat the world as “available” to me and at my disposal — to constitute the world as “at hand” for me, to be selected, scaled scanned, tapped, and enjoyed… We perhaps nonetheless unconsciously begin to expect the world to conform to our wishes as our iPhone does. Or I implicitly begin to expect that I am the center of my own environments, and that what surrounds me exists for me.

James K. A. Smith, Imagining the Kingdom, 143.

On Sacraments

communionThroughout its history, the church has often been divided over its praxis of certain sacred actions, with baptism and the Lord’s Supper forming the center of this debate. Pointing to the work of God witnessed in the Incarnation, some have chosen to call these actions “sacraments” and claim that God is present and active in one way or another when these actions are performed in worship. Others reject this claim and have instead chosen to focus on scriptural obedience to the commands of Jesus Christ by referring to these actions as “ordinances.” As a variety of faith communities have formed and re-formed over the centuries, all have sought their place on the praxeological spectrum between sacraments and ordinances. My personal journey has led me through several faith communities occupying a variety of locations on this spectrum. After being a member of Southern Baptist, United Methodist, and conservative, evangelical, non-denominational churches, I have now found my way to yet another branch of the Protestant church family: the Vineyard church. In its statement of faith, the Vineyard church affirms its belief in the two ordinances committed to the church by Jesus Christ in the New Testament: water baptism and the Lord’s Supper.[1] This paper will explore and critique the theological traditions which undergird Vineyard’s belief in these ordinances. It will conclude with a presentation of my own understanding of the sacred actions of baptism and the Lord’s Supper as “sacramental ordinances.”

The Vineyard Church began in the late 1970s on the west coast of the United States and came to be associated with a “Third Wave” of charismatic renewal.[2] John Wimber, who led the movement from 1982 until his death in 1997, drew from his heritage in the Quaker church to focus his mission on empowering “ordinary” believers to do the works of the Spirit.[3] Wimber’s fundamental “desire to give the ministry back to the people” along with his emphasis on personal experiences with the Holy Spirit locate the Vineyard Church comfortably in the anti-liturgical tradition of the Free Church, which gave birth to the Quakers, the Baptists, among others.[4]

According to Robert Webber, a key characteristic of the Free Church tradition was its understanding that God personally communicates saving grace in response to an individual’s choice for salvation, which rejects the notion of baptism as God’s chosen means of communicating saving grace.[5] This was a significant development because it allowed individuals to receive salvation apart from baptismal rites administered by a hierarchical church authority, which had been severely corrupt in the past. This Free Church idea originated in the thought of Ulrich Zwingli, a Swiss Reformer, who “was convinced that faith came through the Holy Spirit alone apart from physical channels or external means.”[6] Subsequent Free Church traditions adopted Zwingli’s Bible-centric approach to worship, which gave value to a direct, “supremely inward” experience in the minds and hearts of individuals.[7] In this kind of worship, there was no place for any physical thing or human tradition which deigned to mediate God’s grace, like bread, wine, or water; individuals were freed to receive the grace of God for themselves.

Within this theological tradition, the sacred actions of the church were defined simply as “ordinances.” In opposition to a sacramental view which understood the communication of God’s grace in or through the sacred actions, ordinances were conceived as “emblems, symbols, or expressions of the grace already imparted through Jesus by the Spirit [emphasis added].”[8] The Vineyard Church’s statement that the ordinances are “available to all believers” highlights their belief in the presence of faith in the individual before an ordinance is ever performed. The term “ordinance” also defines why the church continues to perform its sacred actions: Jesus Christ “ordained” these actions for the church in the New Testament. The ordinances are performed out of obedience to Christ’s command. This dimension is also clearly reflected in the Vineyard Church’s statement. As an ordinance, baptism functions as the believer’s public confession of faith in Jesus Christ and as a symbolic participation in Christ’s death and resurrection.[9] The ordinance of the Lord’s Supper functions as a memorial – a “devotional act” performed by a believing worshipper who “remembers, meditates, thinks upon, and recalls God’s great act of salvation.”[10] The Vineyard Church’s praxis of baptism and the Lord’s Supper directs individual worshipers to “follow biblical commands and to remember what Jesus did on the cross.”[11] In conclusion, the impetus of the ordinances falls on the faith and action of the individual worshiper.

While it is necessary to preserve an individual’s freedom to know God’s grace and be empowered for ministry, this freedom should not form the foundation of the Vineyard Church’s praxis of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These sacred actions invite the church into deeper life with the Triune God who exists as perfect communion. The Parent, Child, and Spirit are not individuals, but persons. The person is inconceivable apart from a mutual relationship with another in which both identities have freely chosen to affirm the absolutely unique otherness they see in each other. The life of the Trinity reveals a kind of freedom that is for another; a freedom that is “identical with love.”[12] The reality of God’s Triune life reveals a way to preserve personal integrity without compromising community through individualism. If the praxis of baptism and the Lord’s Suppers in the Vineyard Church is to be an acceptable act of worship to the Triune God, it cannot be a private, individualistic act. Rather, these acts should be performed as signs which point to all the ways in which God pours out grace through the mutual, reciprocal, loving relationships in the life of a local faith community.

I believe this praxeological shift will require the Vineyard Church to allow for a more sacramental theological understanding of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The current praxis, which places a heavy emphasis on a very individualistic doctrine of salvation, needs to be enriched by a restored doctrine of the Incarnation. In the Incarnation, the church sees that “God wills, indeed, delights in using tangible, earthy means to draw near to his [sic] image bearers.”[13] A healthy understanding of the Incarnation should remove any suspicion held towards the possibility that God’s grace could be received through physical objects like bread, wine, and water. This understanding also reminds the church of God’s communal vision for creation and of their vocation as image-bearers to “keep” the creation in a way that nurtures and protects the ability of all created things to fulfill their God given purposes and come together in mutual, life-giving relationships.

My understanding of the praxis of baptism and the Lord’s Supper leaves room for God to be present and active in the sacred action alongside the faith of the worshiper. The freedom of the worshiper is not impeded by a sacramental theology; the worshiper has no real freedom apart from the freedom they have in God, which is not an individualistic freedom from others, but a simultaneously personal and communal freedom for and with others. This freedom is found only in communion with the Triune God who is experienced in baptism and the Lord’s Supper. While I affirm the Vineyard Church’s belief in the sacred actions as ordinances, I believe these actions are more than exercises in individual piety. I believe that God is especially present and active as the church gathers to celebrate baptism and the Lord’s Supper. God is free to communicate grace through any person and any physical means. The church should be open to receive God’s grace at all times, but especially during these sacred actions. In conclusion then, I believe I hold a moderate position on the sacrament-ordinance spectrum which could be described as a belief in “sacramental ordinances.”

[1] The Vineyard Church USA states in their pamphlet of core values and beliefs: “We believe that Jesus Christ committed two ordinances to the Church: water baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Both are available to all believers.” A hard copy of this statement is attached.

[2] Wonsuk Ma, “A ‘First Waver’ Looks at the ‘Third Wave’: A Pentecostal Reflection on Charles Kraft’s Power Encounter Terminology,” PNEUMA: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies 19, no. 2 (Fall 1997): 189.

[3] Donald E. Miller, “Routinizing Charisma: The Vineyard Christian Fellowship in the Post-Wimber Era,” PNEUMA: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies 25, no. 2 (Fall 2003): 219.

[4] Robert E. Webber, Worship Old and New (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 114.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 112.

[7] Ibid., 112, 114-115.

[8] Amos Yong, “Sacraments and Ordinances,” in Encyclopedia of Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity, ed. Stanley M. Burgess (New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2006), 345.

[9] Ibid., 346.

[10] Webber, 245.

[11] Rev. Larry Ellis, “Baptists (Evangelical Denominations and Independent Baptist Churches),” in The Complete Library of Christian Worship: The Sacred Actions of Christian Worship, ed. Robert Webber, Vol. 6 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1993), 8.

[12] John Zizioulas, “Communion and Otherness,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 38, no. 4 (1994): 358.

[13] Christopher A. Hall, Worshipping with the Church Fathers (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009), loc 140, Kindle edition.

Participating in the Triune Persons: An Oikonomic Critique of Paul Fiddes and Subsistent Relations

What might it mean to participate with the Triune persons of Parent, Child and Spirit? Is there a way to define personhood that encourages this participation? A popular children’s church song came to mind as I explored these questions in the work of Oxford University professor and theologian Paul Fiddes: “Deep and wide, deep and wide. There’s a fountain flowing deep and wide.”[1] This song echoes the words of the Psalmist who sang about a God who was the “fountain of life” with “justice like the great deep” and steadfast love like wide wings of refuge.[2] As a child I was not aware of how these dynamic images of God suggest what Fiddes calls the personal “currents of love” which exist as Trinity. Fiddes develops a Trinitarian theology of personhood in response “to the demands of experience in pastoral care for others” and considers how “participation in this triune God affects both our images of God and our acts.”[3] He reimagines the being of Trinitarian persons in a way that avoids the “language of a spectator” in favor of a language which “only makes sense in terms of our involvement in the network of relationships in which God happens.”[4] However, Fiddes’ notion of divine persons is at serious risk of becoming disconnected from what Roman Catholic theologian Catherine Mowry LaCugna has rightly argued is the critical basis of Trinitarian theology: the oikonomia – the “economy of salvation” in which God self-communicates “in the person of Christ and the activity of the Holy Spirit.”[5] LaCugna offers an alternative conception of Trinitarian personhood in which human persons can participate that is based firmly in oikonomia.

I write as a Euro-American male whose way of imagining God has developed within the highly Westernized, Enlightenment-shaped theological tradition of the Southern Baptist, United Methodist, and, currently, the charismatic Vineyard churches. This paper symbolically represents a return to my theological roots as my understanding of Trinity and personhood continues to be reshaped on my journey of theological education. Therefore, I begin with a brief discussion of “person” within the Western theological tradition before presenting Fiddes’ pastoral doctrine of the Trinity with specific attention given to his conception of Trinitarian persons. I then look to LaCugna to provide an oikonomic warning to Fiddes in addition to a participatory theology of Trinitarian personhood drawn for the persons of Jesus Christ and Holy Spirit. I conclude with a praxeological application concerning the worship praxis at my local congregation and end with a brief credo stating my personal doctrine of Trinity.

Tracing Person in the West: Tertullian and Augustine

The term person was first used in a Trinitarian context in the late 2nd and early 3rd centuries by the African theologian Tertullian. In his polemical writing Against Praxeas, Tertullian defends the unity of God against the Monarchian heresy which claimed that “the Father [sic], the Son [sic], and the Holy Ghost are the very selfsame Person.”[6] Tertullian’s response defends the “mystery of the dispensation,” which he also calls the oikonomia, in which “this one only God has also a Son [sic]… who sent also from heaven from the Father [sic]… the Holy Ghost.”[7]  In order to be faithful to this oikonomia, “which distributes the Unity into a Trinity, placing in their order the three Persons,” Tertullian explains how the Parent, Child, and Spirit are three yet “not in condition, but in degree; not in substance, but in form; not in power, but in aspect; yet of one substance, and of one condition, and of one power.”[8] Without these distinctions of person, Tertullian argues that there would be no real unity in God but only “uniformity, sameness, and redundancy in the Godhead.”[9] He develops a series of analogies “drawn from dynamic operations” like a fountain flowing into a river and then to a stream “to link the persons through relationships of origin that do not separate them.”[10] For Tertullian, person was a term indicating the necessary relational distinction and substantial inseparability of God’s being in accordance with the personal revelation of Parent, Child, and Spirit as God in human history.

In the writing of St. Augustine two centuries after Tertullian, person acquired a more complex philosophical meaning as it was placed within the divine substance, or “the essential nature” of God’s reality.[11] Like Tertullian, Augustine was intent on defending “the Catholic faith that Father [sic], Son [sic], and Holy Spirit are of one substance.”[12] For Augustine, God the Parent, God the Child, and God the Spirit were called persons “not that any diversity of essence [or substance] is to be understood, but so that we may be able to answer by some one word when anyone asks three what or what three things.”[13] However, this “one word” was problematic for Augustine because, for him, person meant a subjective, individual “I” and did not entail relationship.[14] Since “person” could not “express what distinguishes Father [sic], Son [sic], and Spirit… [or] their mutual interrelatedness” in a way that preserved their equality and, hence, their unity, Augustine resituated the term within the Aristotelian category of relatio.[15] This shift allowed him to distinguish “between things that are said of God’s substance and things that are said of God’s relations.”[16] Any language about God existing as three persons referred to God’s distinct relations – the unbegottenness of the Parent, the begottenness of the Child, and the procession of the Spirit – and categorically excluded any argument that the three divine persons implied three separate, divine substances..

For Augustine, personal terms like Parent did not refer to the divine substance, but to the Parent’s relation to the Child within the one substance shared equally among the three persons. He therefore upholds the unity and inseparability of the three persons in the one divine substance by placing personal language in the category of relatio. However, this move made the Trinitarian persons dependent on substance so that “each of the three persons from the vantage point of substance is identical with the others or with the divine substance itself.”[17] While he may have begun with the oikonomic, “salvation-historical view of the Bible,”[18] Augustine developed a Trinitarian theology of persons which no longer safeguarded what Tertullian called the “mystery of the dispensation,” but was rather “a linguistic crutch” for expressing the diversity of interior relations within the divine substance shared by the Parent, Child, and Spirit.[19]

Paul Fiddes’ Pastoral Doctrine of the Trinitarian Participation

 As Paul Fiddes begins constructing his pastoral doctrine of the Trinity, he notes the accomplishment of early church theologians like Tertullian and the Cappadocian Fathers who emphasize how “the ‘distinct identity’ of a person is inseparable from relationship.”[20] He notes how person lost its relational foundation and was transformed into “an otherness which was an aloneness” as person became synonymous with individual subject.[21] According to Fiddes, the result of this shift was not the expected tritheistic understanding of Trinity, i.e. the Parent, Child, and Spirit are separate “gods,” but a return to a Monarchian understanding of Trinity in which “for all practical purposes God is treated as ‘a person’ or one individual being.”[22] This loss of Trinitarian relationality and the subsequent loss of diverse personal identities existing as community is a major concern for Fiddes who is trying to address “the perplexing problem of the relation of the individual to the community.”[23] As unique persons cultivate relations in community, Fiddes’ primary pastoral concern lies in helping others “create a balance between the person and [social roles], between self-integrity and openness to others, between independence and dependence, and between diversity and unity.”[24] These pastoral questions form the impetus for Fiddes’ doctrine of Trinitarian participation in “a personal God who lives in relationships.”[25]

In order to address these pastoral concerns, Fiddes’ insists on a Trinitarian theology that offers more than a strategy for imitating the personal relations of Trinity. He states his point clearly: “It is not enough to plead, ‘God is united and yet lives in relations, so we should be like this too.’”[26] Fiddes is looking for a way to talk about Trinitarian persons which goes beyond imitation because imitation makes the divine persons into objects which can be observed and mastered. He identifies the root of observational language in the “view of the human subject stemming from the Enlightenment, in which observation in the basic paradigm of knowing [and] takes the form of subjecting objects to the control of our consciousness.”[27] Since Trinity is not a human subject, an imitation of God assumes an impossible task: that God can be described “from the standpoint of an external watcher or perceiver”.[28] For Fiddes, a true person cannot be objectified and controlled since the person “inhabits the space of the ‘between’ of communication”; persons are “other.”[29] Therefore, a Trinitarian theology of personhood which calls for imitation is inadequate because it does not consider the full implications of otherness which constitute personal identity.

In order to find a Trinitarian language of personhood that overcomes observation and imitation, Fiddes looks to the notion of persons as subsistent relations developed within the Western theological tradition, specifically in the work of Thomas Aquinas. According to Fiddes, the notion of divine persons as subsistent relations “proposes that relations in God are as real and ‘beingful’ as anything which is created or uncreated, and that their ground of existence is in themselves.”[30] In other words, “there are no persons ‘at each end of a relation’ [because] the persons are simply the relations.”[31]

Fiddes looks to Aquinas’ Trinitarian theology for help because Aquinas “begins his discussion… with the two processions of ‘begetting’ and ‘breathing forth’” and goes on to define persons in a way that is similar to that of the Cappadocian Fathers but not entirely the same: “the critical point is that Aquinas has begun with movements or actions within God rather than subjects who act in various ways.”[32] He finds further support for his participatory language of Trinitarian persons in the work of Augustine. While admitting how Augustine left “the impression that he conceived of God as an absolute individual,” Fiddes explains how  Augustine also wrote about “the actions of our mind’s remembering God, understanding God and loving God” which demonstrates how he “associated the triune persons with our involvement in God.”[33] In Aquinas, Fiddes finds dynamic relations; in Augustine, he highlights the idea of human involvement.

Fiddes takes these two insights along with a “clue” from German Protestant theologian Karl Barth to state his reformulation of Trinitarian persons as subsistent relations on “a different basis from that of one divine essence”: “we may speak of God as… ‘three movements of relationship subsisting in one event.’”[34] According to Fiddes, this revised doctrine of subsistent relations moves beyond “the language of a spectator” into “the language of a participant” because “we cannot observe, even in our mind’s eye, being which is relationship.”[35] Speaking of Trinity as three dynamic relations subsisting in one event, therefore, requires an “epistemology of participation.”[36]

In Fiddes’ understanding of Trinitarian personhood, the personal names of Parent, Child, and Spirit “lead us into movements of divine love, which cannot be reduced to a relationship between a subject and an object.”[37] He identifies how human persons are participating in “three distinct movements of speech, emotion and action which are like relationships ‘from father to son’, ‘from son to father’ and a movement of ‘deepening relations’” as they pray to the Parent, through the Child, and in the Spirit.[38] He emphasizes how these relational metaphors “give us an entrance into engagement in God” and also highlights how “these movements of giving and receiving cannot in themselves be restricted to a particular gender.”[39] What is central to Fiddes’ Trinitarian theology is that the Parent, Child, and Spirit are not objects for human observation, possession, or control, but “currents of love” with “a self-existent reality which embraces us from beyond us.”[40]

Speaking as a pastor, Fiddes hopes that this participatory Trinitarian language will “open up new dimensions of empathy and ‘indwelling’ in our knowledge of our world.”[41] However, if human persons are to participate in Trinity, they must not consider themselves analogous to the Trinitarian persons. This kind of thinking is a return to observational, spectator language. Instead, Fiddes’ revised notion of persons as dynamic subsistent relations suggests that

the closest analogy between the triune God and human existence created in the image of this God is not in persons but in the personal relationships themselves… It is the relations between a mother and the baby in her womb, between children and parents, between wife and husband, and between members of the church community that are analogous to relations in God.[42]

As the Pauline author reminded the church at Corinth that “we walk by faith, not by sight,” human persons cannot “see” this God who exists as event and relations, but, with eyes of faith, they can reach out their hands and learn to “walk” together as persons in community as they are swept up in the relational movements of Parent, Child, and Spirit.[43]

An Oikonomic Critique via Catherine Mowry LaCugna

As Fiddes constructs his revised notion of persons as subsistent relations, he follows Thomas Aquinas’ “strategy of beginning with processions (actions) in God [emphasis added].”[44] This starting point within the being of God is somewhat unexpected given the introductory chapter to Fiddes’ work on Trinity which describes how “the early Christians moved back in thought from the ‘economic’ Trinity to the ‘immanent’ Trinity, from the activity of God in ordering the household (oikonomia) of the world to the being of God within God’s own self.”[45] Why, then, does Fiddes begin his Trinitarian theology with the “immanent” Trinity and not with the “economic” Trinity? Fiddes attempts to answer this question by highlighting the correspondence between the immanent processions and the economic missions of the Trinitarian persons in Aquinas’ theology.[46] However, according to LaCugna’s reading of Aquinas, Fiddes is overestimating the correspondence between theologia, “the eternal being of God,” and oikonomia in Aquinas’ theology.[47] She argues that “the correlation between oikonomia and theologia in Thomas’ theology is weak” and, consequently, it contributed to “the marginalization of the doctrine of the Trinity.”[48] By following Aquinas, who takes up the work of Augustine,[49] Fiddes risks making the classic Western mistake of forgetting the oikonomia, treating “the ‘immanent Trinity’ as a purely intradivine reality,” and arriving at a conception of personhood based on “a fantasy about a God who does not exist.”[50]

This risk becomes most pronounced as Fiddes discusses how “it is not possible to visualise… three movements of being characterised by their relations.”[51] He considers this visual impossibility as a positive development for Trinitarian theology because God “cannot be objectified like other objects in the world.”[52] If human persons cannot envisage Parent, Child and Spirit as active subjects, this should help them overcome the alienating effects of the Enlightenment divide between subject-object relations. Even if Fiddes is correct about this “advantage”, he is dangerously close to throwing the baby, i.e. the Christ child in whom “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,”[53] out with the Enlightenment bath water. Fiddes’ anxiety over the influence of the Enlightenment causes him to make “the image of the invisible God” invisible once again![54] Is there no room for the incarnate person of Jesus Christ as a human subject – the one who “we have heard, [who] we have seen with our eyes, [who] we have looked at and touched with our hands” – in Fiddes’ conception of the Trinitarian persons as three relational movements subsisting in one event?[55] If there is not, Fiddes has committed the grave error of treating oikonomia as merely “a mirror dimly reflecting a hidden realm of intradivine relations” and has failed to realize how “there is neither an economic nor immanent Trinity; there is only the oikonomia that is the concrete realization of the mystery of theologia in time, space, history, and personality.”[56] If Fiddes wants a Trinitarian personhood that invites participation in God, he should look to the work of Tertullian instead of Aquinas and Augustine to rediscover the persons of the Trinity in the oikonomia.

Unlike Fiddes, LaCugna looks to oikonomia and examines the life of Christ to identify three oikonomic characteristics of personhood. The person of Jesus Christ is theonomous, catholic, and perichoretic. Jesus is a theonomous person; his personal identity is not totally self-defined or other-defined but is instead defined in “reference to its origin and destiny in God.”[57] This empowers him to invite others into true, healing, reconciling communion with Trinity because he is “free in himself and from himself to be open to other persons,” especially to those the world had forgotten, ignored, or oppressed.[58] Jesus is a catholic person in two ways. First, his catholicity was expressed as inclusivity as he practiced compassion and solidarity among the outcasts of his day and opposed “human customs, beliefs, institutions, and religious practices when they stood in the way of persons.”[59] Second, Jesus is catholic because, “while he was unique as a human being, he also perfectly exemplified what it means to be human; he expresses the totality of the [human] nature.”[60] This means that all the circumstances of Jesus’ embodiment – his sexuality, suffering, and cultural-historical conditioning – “apply to Jesus as a person” with no separation between divine and human natures.[61] Finally, Jesus is a perichoretic person because he “is the communion of divine and human”; being divine he is fully human and being human he is fully divine.[62] Perichoresis is a term used to describe the mutual interpenetration and co-inherence of the Parent, Child, and Spirit as they exist as one perfect communion. The perichoretic personhood of Jesus reveals the hope of every human person to be divinized, to be “in communion, in right relationship, with every creature and with God.”[63] Unlike Fiddes’ idea of persons as “invisible” relational movements, LaCugna paints a portrait of personhood drawn for oikonomia in which human persons can truly participate through the person and work of the Spirit who “divinizes human beings, making persons theonomous and catholic” which “brings about the true communion of God and creature.”[64]


As I consider how this discussion of Trinitarian personhood can make a difference in my ministry context, I find instructive LaCugna’s suggestion that “theology in the mode of doxology” is the best way to speak truthfully about the God who is revealed as God-for-us.[65] A language of doxology is a language of praise and worship. What difference does LaCugna’s oikonomic portrait of personhood make for the worship praxis of my local congregation? For the past two years, I have been a member of Six:Eight Community Church (6:8) in Ardmore, PA. 6:8 is a member of the Vineyard USA church network and could be characterized as a charismatic, evangelical, free church congregation. As Robert Webber has identified, our worship services tend to be characterized by an emphasis on the inward spiritual experiences of individuals.[66] This characteristic is evidenced at 6:8 by the lyrics of many of the songs we sing. If our worship is to honor the theonomous dimension of personhood, our singing should lead us out of private, individual experiences and invite us into truly personal experiences with the person of the Spirit and each other which create a greater depth of incorporation into the life of Trinity, one another, and our local community. A very large majority of 6:8’s members are young Euro-Americans who are well-educated and occupy a middle-class socioeconomic status. If we are to worship as catholic persons, our worship must be more inclusive of the cultural, racial, and socio-economic diversity represented in our local community. Catholicity also calls us to honor the full embodied nature of human persons which will mean less time devoted strictly to the mind in the form of hearing a sermon. Finally, persons are perichoretic, seeking to join the “to and fro” of communion with Trinity and others through Christ by the power of the Spirit. In order for worship at 6:8 to honor the perichoretic dimension of personhood, more time and space should be given to the prayer ministry where worshippers actively seek Trinity together towards a more complete participation in the healing, comforting, transforming, and empowering relations of the Parent, Child, and Spirit.

[1] Alfred B. Smith, Sidney E. Cox, and William Cowper, Deep and Wide, The Christian Children’s Choir, Big Eye Records, MP3, 2008.

[2] Ps. 36:6,7,9, NRSV.

[3] Paul S. Fiddes, Participating in God: A Pastoral Doctrine of the Trinity (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000), 7.

[4] Fiddes, 37.

[5] Catherine Mowry LaCugna, God for Us: The Trinity and Christian Life (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991), 2.

[6] Tertullian, Against Praxeas in Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 3, eds. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. Peter Holmes (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885) in Kevin Knight ed., “Church Fathers: Against Praxeas (Tertullian),” New Advent, accessed 30 September 2013,

[7] Tertullian

[8] Tertullian

[9] Tarmo Toom, Classical Trinitarian Theology: A Textbook (New York: T&T Clark, 2007), 71.

[10] Gerald O’Collins, S.J., The Tripersonal God: Understanding and Interpreting the Trinity (New York, Paulist Press, 1999), 106.

[11] Toom, 39.

[12] Sarah Heaner Lancaster, “Divine Relations of the Trinity: Augustine’s Answer to Arianism,” Calvin Theological Journal 34, no. 2 (November 1, 1999): 333.

[13] Augustine, On the Trinity: Books 8-15, ed. Gareth B. Matthews, trans. Stephen McKenna (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 4.

[14] Basil Studer, Trinity and Incarnation: The Faith of the Early Church, ed. Andrew Louth, trans. Matthias Westerhoff (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1993), 183.

[15] Studer, 173, 174, 183.

[16] Lancaster, 334.

[17] William G. Rusch, ed., The Trinitarian Controversy (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980), 26.

[18] Studer, 185.

[19] Toom, 150.

[20] Fiddes, 16.

[21] Fiddes, 16.

[22] Fiddes, 17.

[23] Fiddes, 19.

[24] Fiddes, 28.

[25] Fiddes, 28.

[26] Fiddes, 28.

[27] Fiddes, 39.

[28] Fiddes, 29.

[29] Fiddes, 32.

[30] Fiddes, 34.

[31] Fiddes, 34.

[32] Fiddes, 35.

[33] Fiddes, 36.

[34] Fiddes, 36.

[35] Fiddes, 36, 38.

[36] Fiddes, 38.

[37] Fiddes, 44.

[38] Fiddes, 37.

[39] Fiddes, 38, 40.

[40] Fiddes, 40.

[41] Fiddes, 39.

[42] Fiddes, 49, 50.

[43] 2 Cor. 5:7.

[44] Fiddes, 36.

[45] Fiddes, 6.

[46] Fiddes, 35.

[47] LaCugna, God for Us, 223.

[48] LaCugna, 158, 167.

[49] LaCugna, “The Relational  God: Aquinas and Beyond,” Theological Studies 46, no. 4 (December 1, 1985): 650.

[50] LaCugna, God for Us, 228, 230.

[51] Fiddes, 36.

[52] Fiddes, 36, 37.

[53] Col. 2:9.

[54] Col. 1:15.

[55] 1 Jn 1:1.

[56] LaCugna, God for Us, 223.

[57] LaCugna, God for Us, 290.

[58] LaCugna, God for Us, 293.

[59] LaCugna, God for Us, 294.

[60] LaCugna, God for Us, 295.

[61] LaCugna, God for Us, 295.

[62] LaCugna, God for Us, 296.

[63] LaCugna, God for Us, 296.

[64] LaCugna, God for Us, 296.

[65] LaCugna, God for Us, 320.

[66] Robert E. Webber, Worship Old & New, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 115, 117.

Newbigin: Evangelism as Overflow

A community of people that, in the midst of all the pain and sorrow and wickedness of the world, is continually praising God is the first obvious result of living by another story than the one the world lives by… and where there is a praising community, there also will be a caring community with love to spare for others. Such a community is the primary hermeneutic [interpretive] lens of the gospel… a congregation that has at its heart a joyful worship of the living God and a constantly renewed sense of the sheer grace and kindness of God will be a congregation from which true love flows out to neighbors, a love that seeks their good regardless of whether they come to church.

Lesslie Newbigin, “Evangelism in the Context of Secularization,” in The Study of Evangelism: Exploring a Missional Practice of the Church

I must say that I agree. The “other story” we live by as followers of Jesus is the one where God becomes a particular person whose Spirit-anointed life, death and resurrection both inaugurates God’s saving reign over all creation and secures our hope in a future where that reign is made perfect and complete. As we come to know this person Jesus, we come to know God’s gracious, loving welcome. Our response to that welcome is simply to welcome others. A community is formed… a community where hope overflows.

I AM Peace… and Baal is Not

***Click here to download the audio via***

Watch the video first… (war eagle!)


Now, I realize we probably don’t have many Auburn fans in the room this morning, but, after watching that video, I have one question for you: do you think going to an Auburn football game – being in the stands, watching this video on a massive HD display, surrounded by 87k fans screaming in unison, flags, banners, cheerleaders, the band, an eagle circling the stadium, maybe fireworks, smoke machines – is this worship? Would you describe going to the Super Bowl to watch your favorite team compete as an experience that’s similar to what we’re doing here this morning in the “worship service”?

Slide2 How about this? Not trying to make any political statements here, but is attending a presidential inauguration an act of worship? They follow a strict ritual, play music, great speeches from world-renowned leaders are heard, all the most important, powerful people are there, and thousands of others brave the rain and cold just to catch a glimpse. Is this worship?


 How do you know you’re worshiping? Does it depend on the place? If you’re at church, does that mean you’re worshiping? Can we worship at home? So, there’s a place everyone in this room has been before, but you’ve never gone there to “worship.” I’m going to read something now that describes this particular place, but the description intentionally blurs the location. So, as you listen, close your eyes, see the place in your mind’s eye, and try to figure out where you are:

One might say that this religious building has a winding labyrinth for contemplation, alongside of which are innumerable chapels devoted to various saints. As we wander the labyrinth in contemplation, preparing to enter one of the chapels, we’ll be struck by the rich iconography that lines the walls and interior spaces. Unlike the flattened depictions of saints one might find in stained-glass windows, here is an array of three-dimensional icons adorned in garb… As we pause to reflect on some of the icons on the outside of one of the chapels, we are thereby invited to consider what’s happening within the chapel – invited to enter into the act of worship more properly, invited to taste and see. We are greeted by a welcoming acolyte who offers to shepherd us through the experience, but also has the wisdom to allow us to explore on our own terms… after time spent focused and searching in what the faithful call “the racks,” with our newfound holy object in hand, we proceed to the altar, which is the consummation of worship. While acolytes and other worship assistants have helped us navigate our experience, behind the altar is the priest who presides over the consummating transaction… We don’t leave this transformative experience with just good feelings or pious generalities, but rather with something concrete and tangible, with newly minted relics… And so we make our sacrifice, leave our donation, but in return receive something with solidity wrapped in the colors and symbols of the saints and the season. Released by the priest with a benediction, we make our way out of the chapel… to continue contemplation and be invited into another chapel.[1]

Any guesses? What’s being described here? Where are you “worshiping”? Need some hints? Those garbed, 3D “icons” you contemplated? They’re called manikins. That “chapel”? It was J. Crew. Your “relic”? Skinny jeans. The “priest” was your cashier who received your credit card “sacrifice” at the checkout “altar” where digital signals flowed like pleasing incense through the wires to fill the nostrils of the great “gods” of Visa. You’re at the mall and you’re worshiping. Did you realize it?


It’s all worship: football games, presidential inaugurations, shopping. The list of “worshipful” activities and “places of worship” is infinitely long because we’re always worshiping – all day, every day.


Why all this talk about worship? Last week we looked at the first episode in the story of Gideon found in the book of Judges. We saw how Israel, God’s chosen people, was in this state of transition, of twilight, an in-between time. They were stuck in this cycle of unfaithfulness to the promise they had made to God and God was raising up judge after judge to save them from their enemies. Gideon was one of these judges – a deliverer – who God was calling to save Israel. God had to take special measure to get through to Gideon and eventually Gideon got the message loud and clear. How did Gideon respond? WORSHIP. He built an altar and named it “The Lord is Peace.” Last week we learned that the first step, the foundational step towards the all-encompassing, comprehensive peace that the Israelites called shalom is to worship the God is who Peace. If we long for peaceful community – well-being, justice, security, wholeness, healing – we begin by worshiping the God-who-is-Peace.

We left Gideon in Judges 6:24, so let’s pick up where we left off and read just a bit more in the story:


The message I want to bear witness to this morning from the life of Gideon is simple:


Let’s go back to the text and break this down a little.


Worshiping the God-who-is-Peace is costly. When Gideon finally realized that he was talking to God, he had to come to terms with the fact that GOD had just commissioned HIM to be a judge, a deliverer of Israel. Now, we may be excited if God called us to do that, right? Don’t we all want that sense of God-given purpose and mission in life? And wouldn’t we love the assurance of this kind of personal encounter? Maybe so. I know I wouldn’t mind. But I’m not so sure Gideon was as excited about his commissioning as you and I might be because, as it turns out, Gideon and his family are… a bit pre-occupied. They’re Israelites but they’re kinda “on a break” from Yahweh, the God of Israel, and have started seeing another god. His name is Baal and he has a cool friend named Asherah. The text is pretty clear: Gideon’s family OWNS the altar to Baal, who is basically the most well-known pagan god in the Old Testament. When Israel rebels from God and turns to idolatry, it seems like they always turn to Baal.


 So, when Gideon hears this call from Yahweh, the true God of Israel, and then builds this altar and names it “The Lord is Peace,” he’s actually making a pretty significant decision because he’s changing his allegiance away from Baal back to Yahweh, the God of Israel. He recognizes that if Yahweh is the God-who-is-Peace, then every other “god” is a false god of chaos, violence, confusion, destruction, and death.

But, as significant as that decision was for Gideon, it was only the first step. It’s one thing to build an altar to Yahweh, but it looks kinda silly when that altar is actually just down the street from the Baal altar, you know, the one you and your family OWN. The first step of worshiping God leads Gideon to a second step: tearing down the Baal altar. What does this mean for Gideon? It means confronting his father. He not only has to dismantle the Baal altar and chop down the Asherah pole, but he also has to build a new altar to Yahweh on top of the ruins of the Baal altar and then sacrifice his father’s prized bull using the wood from the Asherah pole as fuel for the flames. Destroying the Baal altar is going to have serious consequences: as the text goes on to tell, this is not just a personal family shrine – it’s being used by the whole community. Gideon is deconstructing the community’s source of security, comfort, and hope. But it’s not just the community’s idol, or his family’s idol – it’s his idol too.


For Gideon, the cost of worshiping the one, true God-who-is-Peace is experienced in a confrontation with false gods that is simultaneously personal and social, public and private.

But Gideon goes through with it; he’s afraid but he does it anyway. As he feared, the townspeople are super-pissed. They want Gideon dead, but he survives and he even gets some unexpected help from his father. What happens next? Well, in brief summary form, Gideon delivers Israel from the Midianites, this people that were oppressing Israel because of their idolatry. So, Gideon worships the true God, tears down the idols, defeats the enemies, and delivers Israel. Sounds good right? What could possibly go wrong?

Let’s skip ahead and pick up the story in Judges 8:22-28. This is just after Gideon has returned from his successful military conquest of the Midianites:



There’s tons of irony here. One detail about Gideon’s conquest over Midian that I didn’t mention before is that God made a very specific, very intentional effort to ensure that there would be no way the Israelites could miss the fact that it was God who was delivering them – not Gideon. But what do the people tell Gideon? “for YOU have delivered us from out of the hand of Midian.” Not surprisingly, they miss the point.  This episode is already off to a bad start. But Gideon sets ‘em straight: “Nope, there is no king but God. Sorry folks.” Unfortunately, he keeps talking… Earlier we said that our worship of the one, true God-who-is-Peace is costly because it’s continuously challenged by our appetite for easy, cheap, imitation gods who make promises of peace that don’t last; that actually lead us, and all creation, towards death. We talked about the costly part already. Let’s look at part 2: the continuous challenge we face from our appetite for the easy gods, the “Baals,” that lead us toward death.


Gideon says one thing – “I won’t be your king. Only God is king!” – but then he does another. His actions speak louder than his words. He passes the offering plate and asks for gold and then makes an ephod. Now, what on earth is an ephod? It’s this apron-like garment that was to be worn only by the high priest. It was highly symbolic of God’s presence. It was worn only in a ritual, sacrificial context and it was considered to be one of the holiest objects that the priest wore. Where there’s an ephod, you should find a priest.


Now, the text doesn’t come out and say why Gideon made the ephod, but it does tell us the result: “all Israel prostituted themselves  [to the ephod]” and “IT became a snare to Gideon and his family.”   Judges chapter 2 uses this same imagery – prostitution and a “snare” – to describe Israel’s cyclical abandonment of God and return to idolatry. The connection is clear and its confirmed by what happens a few verses later: “As soon as Gideon died, the Israelites relapsed and prostituted themselves with the Baals.”[3] When Gideon makes this ephod, it’s like he’s saying, “I won’t be your king but I’m gonna be my own priest.” He refuses to be a leader but then takes a leadership role that brings Israel right back to worshiping false gods.


Gideon may have pulled Israel out from under the oppressive hand of Midian but he couldn’t break the hold of Baal on their hearts. He couldn’t break Baal’s hold on his own heart.

Idols don’t just go away. You have to dismantle them and then build a new altar to God on top of it. But even then, they return.


It’s like whack-a-mole… Gideon was, once again, oblivious to his own appetite, and the appetite of his community, for worshiping these cheap, easy, imitation gods that make false promises of peace that really just lead to death.

And, when I say “death,” I really mean that in a literal sense. This week marked the 68th anniversary of the atomic bombing of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during WWII.


Nearly 140,000 lives in Hiroshima and another 70,000 in Nagasaki were lost in an instant. A Japanese theologian Kosuke Koyama, wrote that “Baal persists in human history… [history is] the story of the confrontation between Yahweh and Baal.”[4] The destructive power of idolatry, on both sides of the war, was burned into his memory. We’d do well not to forget.

Like Gideon, we are a people who declare that God – the God of Israel, of Jesus Christ – is the one true God-who-is-Peace.


But our worship of God – our annunciation – rings hollow without corresponding denunciation. When we build an altar to worship God, God calls us to complete our act of worship by tearing down our altars to Baal, by denounce our false gods. This is a painful process. It is costly because we too often build our lives on these easy, false promises. We don’t like tearing down idols; we usually get really upset just by being told that we have idols! But we do.

I began this sermon talking about football, presidential inaugurations, and shopping for a reason. These “rituals” embody our idols: entertainment, national might, and consumerism.


Richard Foster, author of Celebration of Discipline, calls them money, sex, and power. Brennan Manning, another great author who wrote The Ragamuffin Gospel, describes them as security, pleasure, and power.

These idols, and probably others too, manifest themselves differently in all of our lives. We experience them in different ways. They present unique obstacles to our exclusive worship of the one true God-who-is-Peace. They lead us, by different paths, into brokenness that disrupts our relationships and disorders our community. These false gods are buried deep inside our hearts, competing for our love, enticing us with images of the “good life” that don’t last. They’re hard to detect and even harder to remove; like Gideon, they keep popping up and leading us away from God. Are you aware of your idols? What are the altars in our hearts?


We’re always worshiping. The question Gideon’s story calls us to answer is “who?” Not just between the hours of 10a and noon on Sunday morning; everyday, all day. If we say “Yahweh, the God of Israel, of Jesus Christ,” then we have one more step to take: tearing down our idols so that, in everything we do, in all our relationships, throughout our community and in the deepest places of our hearts, God is worshiped and peace, the shalom of God’s kingdom, breaks in.

Now, is money, or sex, or power always an idol? No. Is Auburn football inherently idolatrous? Possibly – and Cam Newton is most likely divine. These are our blind spots; the major weaknesses of our day where we are most prone to idolatry. But again, maybe you struggle with a different set of idols. The point is that we all have idols and we have more of them in common than we are sometimes willing to admit.

In spite of our unfaithfulness, we still have hope. The last verse we read says “the land had rest for forty years in the days of Gideon.” Even in spite of Gideon’s flaws, his struggle with his idols, God still used him to deliver Israel and bring rest to the land. One commentator I read sums up the matter well, so I’ll close with this: “The repeated cycle of deliverances in the book of Judges portrays a God whose essential will is to forgive and give life… Such grace is indeed free, but… it is not cheap. It demanded of Israel, and it demands of us, our souls, our lives, our all – in short, it demands that we worship and serve God alone.”[5]

[1] James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009), 21-22.

[2] Judges 6:25-27.

[3] Judges 8:33.

[4] Kosuke Koyama, Mount Fuji and Mount Sinai (1984), 38-39, 215.

[5] J. Clinton McCann, Judges (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 2002), 25.

Imagining the Kingdom with James K. A. Smith

After hITKcoverolding my breath for 3 months until the spring semester was over, I’ve finally started reading James K. A. Smith’s Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works. It’s the 2nd installment of his “Cultural Liturgies” project and follows what could be the best book I’ve read in several years: Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation. You can find my extremely brief summary of that book right hereYou can find a great review of Imagining the Kingdom over at the Englewood Review of Books.

What does Smith have in store with this book?

The focus of this second volume is to home in on these themes, further exploring the shape of a liturgical anthropology in order to articulate a Christian philosophy of action that (1) recognizes the nonconscious, pretheoretical “drivers” of our action and behavior, centered in what I call the imagination; (2) accounts for the bodily formation of our habituated orientation to the world; and thus (3) appreciates the centrality of story as rooted in this “bodily basis of meaning” and as a kind of pretheoretical compass that guides and generates human action (p13-14).

Hmmm… that sounds nice and all, but what exactly does it mean?

In short, the way to the heart is through the body, and the way into the body is through story (p14).

Ahhh… much better! Smith wants to help us understand what really causes us to do what we do. This is important because the life of Christian discipleship is not a “spectator sport.” It’s full contact and, as John Wimber would say, “Everybody gets to play.” We are all actors, agents, the movers and the shakers. We are a sent people who are caught up in the missio Dei – the mission of the Triune God (p3-8).

Smith is particularly interested in how we are shaped by “secular liturgies” (like going to the mall) and the role of Christian worship as a practice that re-shapes or re-forms us over against all the ways we are formed by the practices all around us. In addition, Smith is concerned about re-framing the paradigm of Christian education, universities in particular, from an “information” model to a “formation” model. Basically, Christian education and Christian worship are preparing us for the same thing: our participation in the mission of God (p3-8). But, how does this formation happen?

Smith’s response to this question has me uber-excited about finishing this book:

And this is how worship works: Christian formation is a conversion of the imagination effected by the Spirit, who recruits our most fundamental desires by a kind of narrative enchantment – by inviting us narrative animals into a story that seeps into our bones and becomes the orienting background of our being-in-the-world. Our incarnating God continues to meet us where we are: as imaginative creatures of habit. So we are invited into the life of the Triune God by being invited to inhabit concrete rituals and practices that are “habitations of the Spirit.” As the Son is incarnate – the Word made flesh meeting we who are flesh – so the Spirit meets us in tangible, embodied practices that are conduits of the Spirit’s transformative power. The Spirit marshals our embodiment in order to rehabituate us to the kingdom of God. The material practices of Christian worship are not exercises in spiritual self-management but rather the creational means that our gracious God deigns to inhabit for our sanctification (p14-15).

I can dig it.

The Praxis of Music and Song in the Pentecostal Worship Experience

Spontaneity, variety, and liveliness: these words immediately come to mind when one attempts to describe the Pentecostal worship experience. These three attributes of the Pentecostal worship experience are best captured in what is probably the most celebrated component of a typical Pentecostal worship service: the music and song. When considering the place of music in worship, Pentecostals would emphatically agree with Robert Webber when he says that “music is the wheel upon which the Word and Eucharist ride.”[1] As Webber notes, music is not an end in itself and, for Pentecostals, the end to which music leads is a personal, emotional, and transformative experience with God. The exalted status of personal experience in Pentecostal worship discloses its heritage in the nineteenth-century Holiness movement with its stress on personal conversion.[2]

In Pentecostal worship, music is “liturgically patterned” to form a “ritual pathway” which facilitates a personal experience with God.[3] This liturgical pattern begins with exuberant, upbeat songs of praise which declare God’s attributes, express thanksgiving, and re-orient worshipers’ minds to focus on God.[4] Praise songs are followed by slower “worship” songs which encourage worshipers to “reflect on God’s goodness and mercy towards them.”[5] Pentecostal song and prayer converge as the congregation sings songs of worship and adoration to God – not merely about God. This liturgical pattern is sometimes characterized as the “Temple Sequence” in which worshipers are led from the outer courts of praise to the inner courts of thanksgiving and into the Holy of Holies where they are transformed by God’s presence.[6] However, as essential as music is in facilitating this ritual pathway of personal experience, the presence and action of the Holy Spirit in those who sing and play is of ultimate concern. As they sing, Pentecostal worshipers call upon the Spirit to inhabit their praise and take all authority to lead, empower, and receive their worship.

The use of music in worship provides a lens to examine a broader theology of Pentecostal worship. First, singing reveals the divine-human interaction that serves as the foundation for all worship experience. In one sense, the song is a human response to divine presence and action throughout creation as a whole, and also in the personal lives of the worshipers. At the same time, it must be said that any expression of worship is “a very divine exercise initiated by God through the Spirit.”[7] In this divine-human interaction, a church composed of human, earthbound worshipers “joins the perpetual worship in heaven” while heavenly worship is simultaneously “incarnated by the worship of the church.”[8] Pentecostal worship, then, can be understood as a divinely-human and humanly-divine practice in which the church is transformed as they engage with God and God engages with it through singing, the hearing of the Word, and prayer.

Second, the use of song in worship highlights the need for maximum church participation in Pentecostal worship. After describing a worship event recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures, Webber mentions participation as “a fundamental aspect of worship.”[9] When a congregation participates together in worship, especially through song, a new sense of unity is born.[10] Participatory worship affirms the Spirit’s presence and work in each member of the congregation. As worshipers breathe in the Spirit together as one church, they are empowered to live in communal relation with God and one another for the sake of God’s glory and their own spiritual transformation.[11] However, participation in worship should not be understood as the autonomous decision of worshipers. Rather, it is the Spirit who invites worshipers to participate, but this invitation calls for them to “freely” submit to the Spirit’s sovereign direction of worship.[12] As worshipers open themselves to the Spirit’s presence and participate in communion with God and each other, Pentecostal worship truly becomes a liturgy – a “work of the people” – instead of the accomplishment of a few special individuals.

Finally, the practice of singing affirms the holistic nature of persons in Pentecostal worship. Too often, worship practices are designed for “Cartesian Christians” where the mind is considered all important while the rest of the body is “viewed as a hindrance to spiritual development.”[13] However, singing is a fully embodied experience; lungs expanding and contracting, forcing air through vibrating vocal chords, reverberating out of mouths, filling ears throughout the room. It usually involves clapping or the raising of hands. On occasion, worshipers dance while they sing or simply fall to their knees or lie prostrate before God. James K. A. Smith notes how this embodied spirituality puts worshipers “in a position of vulnerability and humility” before God and others.[14] This physical posture fosters an “open spirit toward God” in worshipers which allows them to “worship authentically and to experience the close presence of the Holy Spirit.”[15] Pentecostal worship is directed towards an encounter with God that engages the totality of a worshiper’s person – mind, heart, spirit, and body – so that worshipers are holistically transformed.

As I consider my personal theology of worship in relation to these three broader aspects of Pentecostal worship theology, I see both a positive and negative dimension in each one. First, I affirm that worship must be empowered by the Spirit’s presence and action because I do not believe that worship can be produced by human creativity and reason. However, I do not affirm the required use of “free prayer” that the Pentecostal tradition understands as a symbol of God’s presence and a more faithful way of discerning the Spirit’s direction in opposition to a written liturgy.[16] The use of a written liturgy that has been carefully researched and planned does not inhibit God’s presence or action in worship.

Second, I affirm the participatory nature of worship because it empowers all worshipers to contribute to a community that reflects the image of the Triune God. However, if this communal image is to be preserved, it is very important that the Spirit’s presence not be explicitly or directly linked to certain forms of participation.[17] Community is put at risk when this happens because those who do not participate in the “correct” forms of worship are excluded by those who do. God is free to be present and active through any form of worship and therefore no form of worship should be exalted over another.

Finally, I affirm the fully embodied, personally transformative experience of Pentecostal worship because I too easily focus on the intellectual, “heady” aspects of worship while ignoring my emotions and the desires of my heart. However, there is a dangerous possibility that these personal encounters with God will become private, individualistic ones that damage the communal identity of the worshiping community.[18] I cannot affirm these kinds of individualized experiences because they diminish the holistic identity of worshipers by detaching them from their place as persons-in-community.

[1] Robert E. Webber, Worship Old & New, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 195.

[2] Webber, 117, 122.

[3] James Steven, “The Spirit in Contemporary Charismatic Worship,” in The Spirit in Worship – Worship in the Spirit, eds. Teresa Berger and Bryan D. Spinks (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2009), 252.

[4] Janice McLean, “Make a Joyful Noise unto the Lord: Music and Songs within Pentecostal West Indian Immigrant Religious Communities in Diaspora,” Studies in World Christianity 13, no. 2 (January 1, 2007): 131.

[5] McLean, 131.

[6] Webber, 130.

[7] Jonathan E. Alvarado, “Worship in the Spirit: Pentecostal Perspectives on Liturgical Theology and Praxis,” Journal of Pentecostal Theology 21 (2012): 145.

[8] Alvarado, 144.

[9] Webber, 21.

[10] David Williams, “Music and the Spirit,” Evangel 23.1 (Spring 2005): 12.

[11] Alvarado, 141.

[12] Daniel E. Albrecht, “Worshiping and the Spirit: Transmuting Liturgy Pentecostally,” in The Spirit in Worship – Worship in the Spirit, eds. Teresa Berger and Bryan D. Spinks (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2009), 241.

[13] Christopher A. Hall, Worshiping with the Church Fathers, Kindle ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009), loc. 573.

[14] James K. A. Smith, “Teaching a Calvinist to Dance: In Pentecostal Worship, My Reformed Theology Finds Its Groove,” Christianity Today 52, no. 5 (May 1, 2008): 45.

[15] Albrecht, 239.

[16] Steven, 250.

[17] Steven, 259.

[18] Steven, 256.

Body with a Bias

One phrase that stuck out from our sermon this morning was this:

Sexuality is not neutral.

The quote was actually “Sexual immorality is not neutral” but I kind of think that is too narrow – all sexuality is not neutral. Since sexuality includes everything about our bodies as males and females, our bodies are not neutral. But what does it mean to say this? What exactly is “not neutral” about our bodies? Neutral with reference to what?

Neutral basically means impartial, unbiased, not committed, and unaligned. So, being “not neutral” implies some sort of bias, a specific direction, a desired end to which a person or thing is committed – it means picking sides.

When you use words like neutral or biased, you always have in mind a certain continuum of choices about certain objects, ideas, or people. You can’t just be biased about nothing. You need an object towards which you can be biased. So, what is my object of bias? As a follower of Christ, my bias is pretty clear: the Kingdom of God. If it brings good news to the poor, binds up the brokenhearted, proclaims freedom for the captive, brings sight to the blind, or sets the oppressed free, well – you can count me in! I am all kinds of prejudiced when it comes to proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor – JUBILEE YALL!

Going back to our original statement, we can expand a little:

The things we do with our bodies reveals our bias, our preferred direction, our desired end.

As followers of Christ, that desired end is the Kingdom of God. More than the clothes on our backs, the food in our bellies, and the roofs over our heads, we are to seek this Kingdom and its King. The question becomes: how do we do seek the Kingdom with our bodies?

Now, you may be thinking: “Well, everything we do to seek the Kingdom involves our bodies; our brains, our mouths, our eyes, our ears, etc.” Yes, you’re right. I hear you, but that’s not really what I’m trying to get at here. My question is not about how we use our bodily senses to seek the Kingdom; I want us to think about how our bodies reflect the Kingdom.

Another way this question has been posed is this: how do we honor God with our bodies? As I ponder on this, I’ll be using an article by Ruth Haley Barton entitled Flesh and Blood Spirituality. I’d recommend reading the whole article if you get a chance. I think this is a good place to start:

The Scriptures also seemed to indicate that it is possible to glorify God in our bodies rather than merely glorifying the body (the focus of the surrounding culture) or ignoring the body (the focus of the religious subculture).

Human bodies matter to God; they always have. They matter because they are integral to God’s good creation. We are stewards of God’s goodness and our first matter of stewardship begins by looking in the mirror. In her article, Barton highlights the importance of the body throughout Scripture: she begins, as I’ve just mentioned, in the Garden but adds that our sexuality is good as it allows us to “experience God as One in whom there resides a powerful longing for union and oneness”; she mentions how David praised God for being “fearfully and wonderfully made”; she points to God’s Incarnation in Jesus Christ as the ultimate sign of bodily sacredness; she recalls that Jesus’ last hours with his disciples were spent teaching them a practice that would forever remind them of his body and blood; she ends by noting the Christian hope of bodily resurrection. Bodies are a big, big deal.

Since our bodies are indwelt by the Spirit of God, they are sacred places. I guess it was good for Moses to take off his sandals – God wanted those holy toes to feel the holy ground on which he was standing. Of course, we have to remember that qualifying phrase: bodies are sacred because God has chosen them as a dwelling place. Do we care for our bodies as if they were sacred spaces? Do we get enough rest? What are we feeding ourselves? Do we get enough exercise? Too often, bodies are thought of as “necessary evils” – just decrepit shells that need to be thrown off so we can experience freedom from pain and limits. On the contrary, our bodies our essential to our spirituality, to our being transformed into the likeness of Christ for the sake of others. Our bodies have a bias. Do we embrace are good, created, God-given limits, or do we constantly try to live like gods? Do we treat our bodies like machines or like plants growing in a garden?

Honoring God with our bodies certainly includes our sexuality because our sexuality is part of our created nature. However, we shouldn’t reduce our bodies to sex organs. God wants all of our bodies to be reveal God’s new creation life. All things are being made new, all creation is being made whole. This includes our bodies.

Have you stopped to think what bias your body is revealing? Remember, bias reveals desire and desire will end in worship. The real question is this: who are we worshiping with our bodies?

Worship Arts at 6:8 Community Church

Since I’m interning at 6:8 Church now, I’ll be writing for their blog on occasion. Right now we’re blogging through all the different “systems” at the church – Prayer, Worship Arts, Stewardship, Impressions, Kingdom Opportunities, Missions/Church Planting, Kids, and Community Groups. I wrote the most recent blog on Worship Arts <<— CHECK IT OUT!