On Worship: Consumerism, God as the “Sky Fairy,” and Authenticity

Zac HicksCulture, Worship Theology & Thought2 Comments

I’ve got a new friend, colleague, and ally in the quest to raise the bar on evangelical worship.  His name is John Gooch.  He’s a new M.Div. student (worship emphasis) at Denver Seminary, and even as he leads worship at various churches, he’s been a part of our pastor’s group committed to weekly reflection, mentorship, and accountability in ministry.  John recently wrote a paper reflecting on Mark Driscoll’s, The Radical Reformission (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004).  This was part of an assignment for a pastoral ministry class, and he had some unique and insightful angles on worship stemming from the book.  Here’s the section of his paper, which he gave me permission to publish on my blog.  I find his thoughts valuable, penetrating, and prophetic.  Let us know your thoughts!

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Driscoll’s treatment of the “seven demons of postmodernism” lends important insight into several aspects of a worship leader and pastor. The fifth demon, “the customer is always evil,” correctly identifies the reality that “we all long for the world to bend to our needs,” and that our culture particularly believes “that the market should provide whatever people think they need” (p. 170). It is apparent that we often apply the worship of consumerism in our common practice of “church-shopping” and in treating our worship of God as a profitable business. Driscoll’s statement that “we tend to cast God as a product, and as mainstream a product as possible” is highly convicting as a songwriter and worship musician. The Christian music industry is not immune from clever marketing strategies and the adoption of mainstream cultural musical trends, and I personally confess a temptation to want to become the “next big thing” in Christian music. However, I do not think it is sinful in of itself that there exists a Christian music “industry.” Christian music serves to edify and encourage believers, as well as preach the gospel to non-believers. But we must remember that worship ministry is an outpouring of the spiritual gifts God has given us. It is not a religious service or product that we sell. Thus, our goal is not to become the “next big thing” in Christian music, but rather, to share the gospel of Christ through the beauty of music to as many people as God deems appropriate. We must be careful to continually humble ourselves and remember that worship must always be directed towards God, not allowing innovative marketing strategies and popular musical trends to supplant the sovereignty of God in our ministries.

Driscoll’s first demon of postmodernism, “the Sky Fairy,” plays an extremely important role in the theological and lyrical foundations of my worship songwriting. Driscoll identifies that the Sky Fairy “is the neutered and limp-wristed god of pop culture that wants to bless everyone, does not care what you call him/her/it/they, never gets angry, and would never talk about sin or send anyone to hell” (p. 166). Indeed, “ours is an increasingly spiritual age, but God’s people should in no way perceive this as an indication that lost people who believe in the Sky Fairy are any closer to the true God that the atheists of a previous generation were” (p. 167). How appropriate this is in the context of modern worship music! Admittedly, much of popular worship music today caters to crowd-friendly lyrics and weak theology that sings praises to a hyper-spiritualized Sky Fairy instead of the awesome and glorious God who holds all authority and power over the universe. Thus, in our songwriting, we should guard ourselves against the wide road of easily-digestible, catchy lyrics and theology that does not sing the true Gospel and the powerful work of the cross. As worship music should preach the gospel, so should we approach our songwriting with a careful and thoughtful hermeneutic that strives to root itself in scripture and seeks to be made manifest through the power of the Holy Spirit. Writing catchy and singable music does not mean that responsible theology must be sacrificed in the process.

Finally, Driscoll’s second demon, “keeping it real…sinful,” has a much subtler application in worship ministry. Driscoll identifies this demon as the underpinning that “God’s people need to be more real and authentic” (p. 167). In the context of praise and worship, being more “real and authentic” in this area is usually taken to mean becoming more emotive and expressive in personal and corporate worship. This may include pastoral exhortations to push expressive boundaries such as encouraging the raising of hands, clapping, and dancing while worshipping. This is under the assumption that such emotive practices surely demonstrate “real and authentic” worship. However, “because we are sinners, simply encouraging people to be who they are in the name of authenticity is dangerous because it can easily be taken as a license to sin without repentance” (p. 167) In praise and worship, this sin usually manifests as pride; in believing that because I am raising my hands, my worship must more honoring to God than the man standing next to me silently bowing his head and not singing. This is simply a false belief that we must repent of. True praise and worship comes from the real work of the Holy Spirit in the heart and soul of believer, not an artificial emotiveness rooted in pride. Raising hands should be celebrated as much as quiet reflection, as long as both activities are an outpouring of the genuine work of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, the action of repentance should be regarded as much of an act of worship as the action of praise, and worship music would be well-served to remember the theme of repentance in lyrics instead of always just focusing on the theme of praise.

2 Comments on “On Worship: Consumerism, God as the “Sky Fairy,” and Authenticity”

  1. Really really good thoughts here John.
    As one who loves the best of both modern and very ancient worship, I also like to be equal opportunity in my constructive criticism as well. And as you seem to have a good accountable eye to those in modern worship, let me put my two cents in against the traditionalist temptations.

    Re: point 3: Traditionalists are tempted to say modern worship is all emotion, and therefore quiet reverence is the only thoughtful response in worship. That would eliminate many Psalms from being sung corporately, if that were the case. See here for my comments on this: http://theredemptiveangle.blogspot.com/2010/03/mask-of-self-worship.html

    Re: point 2: Traditionalists of the 20th century stripe are just as guilty of small and overly-immanent views of Jesus. Many of the hymns written in the mid-20th century that aren’t that old (think Gaithers, John Peterson, and others– though much of their stuff is good too) neuter much of the power of the Gospel by their immanence as moderns do by the over-transcendance of God.

    I love hymns and modern worship. Music style must always be contextual and texts must always be biblical. That’s the principle.

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