“God is the Audience” a Poor Metaphor for Worship

Zac HicksWorship Theology & Thought1 Comment

“Worship is fundamentally a series of actions. We sing, we pray, we praise, we confess, we cry out to God.  But none of our actions would mean much if God did not act as well…In fact, we could not worship at all if God did not invite us and enable us to do so…This is why the view of worship in which we are the actors, so to speak, and God is the audience—a view attributed to the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard—is not quite adequate.  It’s a good way to counter our tendency to make leaders the actors and the congregation the audience.  But maybe we need to get rid of the theater metaphor altogether.  Worship is a dialogic encounter, a loving conversation between God and the people of God.” 
– Debra Rienstra and Ron Rienstra, Worship Words (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009), 44. 

This is a fair check.  I often have reminded my congregation that they are not “watching” me or any of the other worship leaders as spectators at a concert or couch potatoes in front of a TV screen.  I have said, “God is the audience of our praise.”  I still think in our entertainment-saturated culture that this is an appropriate reminder for people who, with Pavlovian immediacy, tend to zone out become passive during worship.  Still, the Rienstras are right.  Theater is not the best metaphor, and perhaps it’s not even a helpful one.  Worship truly is a dialogical encounter with God.  Perhaps some better metaphors are (on the stately side) a town celebration of a King or (on the intimate side) a cup of coffee with a friend.  The main point is that God Himself is not passive in worship.  He’s an active participant.  He’s speaking, giving, ministering, feeding, calling, convicting, preaching, healing.  In fact, He’s the initiating party in all worship-encounters.  Even more to the point, apart from God’s active involvement in worship, worship would cease to happen.  It would be like planning a dance party for the “residents” at a cemetery.  God must act.  God must call.  God must revive. 

If you’re interested: see my full Review of Worship Words, by Ron & Debra Rienstra.  It’s a great book!


One Comment on ““God is the Audience” a Poor Metaphor for Worship”

  1. Good stuff. I totally agree with you an many points here; however, while I have not read Kierkegaard's work on this, I dont have a problem with the theatre metaphor. Yes, if it incites the people to be passive and entertained then of course this is not good. However, it seems to me you can do the theatre metaphor in a way that is very helpful. Here is my attempt…the theatre is a place where people enter into story. With a good story, the author and actors invite you to participate, and you long to place yourself in it. How much more then in corporate worship which is a retelling of the Story after which all other good stories fashion themselves? Certainly if we really got this then we would not be passive, rather we would be all too eager to reenact and enter into God's great drama of redemption.

    But take it a step further, the story of which we are speaking is a story in which God acts. He is not passive. He is the main character, he is the author, he is the protagonist, he is the great actor and he has invited us to be players as the story unfolds. Players who retell, reenact, and enter into the story so that we might see that we are part of his story in every area of our lives. So we participate together by hearing, telling, singing, and tasting the gospel. It seems to me that the biblical characters did not view it as just dialogue…the dialogue in their songs for example seems all too often embedded within story. Story gives the dialogue a direction (a remembering and a longing for) and it tells of the things you describe (a holy God who actually comes near), it makes God the audience and the actor (the worship receiver and the worship leader), and it challenges our tendency to be passive – capturing our hearts, minds, and bodies and enabling us to properly respond and so be transformed.

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