The Antidote to Bad Theology is Good Worship

Zac HicksUncategorized8 Comments

There’s a lot of hubbub out there in Evangelicaland about Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins.  I have not read the book.  The accusations are that Rob Bell is a (Christo-centric) universalist—i.e. in the end everyone gets saved.  I hear these accusations from folks I trust.  Nevertheless, Bell says he’s not (see this fascinating MSNBC interview), so I’ll take his word that he’s not intending to convey the universalism it appears he does.

While I don’t side with Bell, I do not have the same fear I’ve been sensing some pastors do that this will stir up heresy in my local church, despite the fact that among our people are some die hard Nooma fans.  Why?  Because I’m my church’s primary worship-planner, and I know what our flock is fed, week in and week out.

Worship truly is a form of indoctrination.  “Indoctrination” is a four-letter word in postmodernity, for it is the unpardonable sin—forcing someone to believe what you believe.  Such doings would be grievous sin, if it were indoctrinating falsehood.  If it is The Truth, then indoctrination is not only good.  It is the right thing to do.   So indoctrination is one of the things the Church should be about.  She is the pillar and foundation of truth, after all (1 Tim 3:15).  The reason that worship is a form of indoctrination is that both the content and the form of worship train us, shape us, and teach us. 

Let’s take the test case of the present universalism scare.  Weekly, our church worships through a very specific progression of the Gospel.  We enter in, praising God for His character, holiness, perfection, and glory.  Met by such a Presence, we are immediately confronted by our own sin and brokenness.  We confess that to God, and we find Him responding by yet again proclaiming the Good News of Christ’s salvation: because He lived perfectly, we can receive his spotless record; because He died sacrificially, we can receive the Father’s forgiveness.  We respond in praise and thanksgiving, offering ourselves, in turn, wholeheartedly to God. 

When that cycle is imbibed weekly by our people, if they truly imbibed it, then I don’t need to schedule a special “Why Universalism is Bad” module into our Sunday School curriculum.  They have been drinking the antidote to bad theology every week.  The Gospel cycle presents us with the reality of hell, damnation, and judgment.  And it presents us with the true grace of heaven, forgiveness, and pardon…in Christ.  We learn in the Gospel cycle that God must judge to satisfy His holy character, or else He would not be a God of integrity.  We learn in the Gospel cycle that God has judged His Son in our place.  Love only wins if it’s set against the backdrop of God’s holiness.  Otherwise, it’s impotent, costless, insignificant, Oprah-style love.

Good, Gospel-soaked worship, in this instance, defends heresy just as well as a systematic theology course. Indoctrination certainly is not the goal and objective of worship.  But when worship is done well, indoctrination is a glorious byproduct.  Worship leaders, this begs the question: What are you feeding your people?  If all you’re giving them is the touchy-feely, lovey-dovey stuff, then maybe you should be a little concerned when the winds of heresy blow your way.

Keep her life and doctrine pure;
Grand her patience to endure;
Trusting in Thy promise sure.
We beseech Thee, hear us.

Thomas Pollock, 1871

8 Comments on “The Antidote to Bad Theology is Good Worship”

  1. Good word, Zac. Going through a gospel cycle like you outlined is very helpful – making sure you touch on all the parts (reminds me a bit of Greg Gilbert's "What is the Gospel?" with: God, Man, Christ, Response).

    Indoctrination is an interesting word… it does seem to carry some bad connotations, but perhaps out of misuse? Not sure. I would lean toward using the word "education" rather than indoctrination… I think education includes with it the idea of free-thought and ownership along with being presented a certain truth or way of doing something, whereas indoctrination suggests being spoon-fed and the individual or group of people has no way to break down the ideas and make it their own. Sort of a regurgitating knowledge, rather than a deeply rooted one, if that makes sense.

    Either way, I think your point remains true.

  2. Thanks for this thought Zac. What a great antidote to the scare mongering or, as is my response, to write a paper for my church congregation critiquing Bell's new book. While the response-paper may yet be written, the most important thing for me as a Pastor is to ensure that the good theology is being imbibed week after week. As primary worship leader in my church, one of the things I do as I plan my orders of service is to take people on that journey or process, as you encourage. My pastor friend of mine recommended, as I have used it since, the following loose structure:
    1) Act of entrance 2) Service of the word 3) Service of the table 4)Sending out
    Thought I never refer to it in my leading of worship, it's a functional reminder of what this time together is supposed to be about.
    Thanks Zac for your level-headed and grace-filled post.

  3. @Peter: Thanks for the good reflections. Yes, "indoctrination" seems to have bad connotations. I used it at least to slightly be a bit provocative…a wake-up. Education is a good word. Though worship's goal is not education but adoration, good worship will inevitably educate.

    @Dan: Thanks for the encouragement, and I love the four-fold liturgy you have. It's actually rooted in quite ancient church worship practice. You read Webber's Worship Old and New or Bryan Chapell's Christ Centered Worship and the both show that the most primitive worship forms of the early church were: (1) Liturgy of the Word; (2) Liturgy of the Upper room. Yours is a variation of that, simply with added beginning and end, but the backbone is the same. Chapell argues that that backbone is the hallmark of Christ-centered worship (or, worship that is truly Christian). Good stuff!!!

  4. Zac, I totally agree with you – education/indoctrination is not the goal, but it certainly is a by-product. I suppose you could say that it's a by-product of just about anything we do. I'd like some clarity: when you say "worship," are you referring to music, parts of the service, the whole service, etc?

  5. That's an important clarification Peter, re: worship. In fact, I posted this article to my facebook page, and one of my friends stated the following about Zac's article and particularly about the use of the word "worship":

    I read it, and I like it, except for two issues… I get frustrated at the music and singing we do each Sunday, or even the entire service being described as worship. For sure it is worship, but worship is so much more. Doing our taxes, cleaning the toilet or our regular job is also worship. Calling one thing worship implies the rest isn't… It's a standard issue I see with many churches including my own 🙂

    The second is getting our theology from some of the songs we sing… Even away in a manger has theological errors, other songs lyrics are also false, "in all I do, I honor you" and "it was my sin that held him there" for two obvious examples…

    Your thoughts Dan? You are a wise man and although we haven't had many chats, I've always enjoyed your candor and gentle wisdom! 🙂

  6. I think we just need to define our terms, and worship is no exception. I tend to favor Harold Best's definition in that we were not "made to worship" but instead, created worshipping (in the continuous sense). So the point is no longer whether we are worshipping or not, instead, it is if we are worshipping God or something else. However, it's good to note that there are different words translated as worship in the Bible, which of course, those words tend to favor the idea of grovel, rather than "stand in awe and worship" haha. Either way though, I don't think there's anything wrong with calling the service worship, or saying "we're going to continue in our worship by the giving of our tithes and offerings." Really, the first mention of the word worship in all of the bible happened in the story of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac (interesting to note that it's also the first mention of the word "lamb"). So, I guess we could say worship has to do with sacrifice as well… though we'd be foolish to suggest that what we sacrifice makes our worship acceptable… obviously it's about Christ as our sacrifice that makes it such.

    For the second point, I do think we get our theology from what we sing (whether we realize it or not), though I don't think "in all I do, I honor you" and "it was my sin that held him there" are inherently wrong. The first one can be sung as a prayer (though I'll be honest, there are times when I don't sing this line, because it's so convicting to me. It's like the hymn "Take my life and let it be" with the line "not a mite would I withhold" – yea right, I don't know if that'll ever be true of me.). I suppose this might be perceived as a cop out, but even so, when do I really mean "you are my King" or "we praise you" …do we? do we really? all the time? hm. interesting. ha. As for "it was my sin…" I think that can still remain true. It's a poetic way of saying "we rebelled against a Holy God, so He sent His Son in love to overcome sin and death on our behalf, because we couldn't do that on our own." I think it's also true, because if it wasn't for sin, then Christ wouldn't have had to die… but maybe I'm missing the point of what your friend is saying.

    Just some initial thoughts =)

  7. Great points, Peter! So much can be learned about worship simply from unearthing the language of Scripture. Of course, in this instance and in this post (hopefully obvious from the context), I was using "worship" in its narrow sense–the weekly liturgical act/ritual of the gathered people of God.

    I've never heard anyone take issue with "it was my sin that held him there" (from "How Deep the Father's Love for Us"). I'd be interested in knowing the scruples.

    Z

  8. Hello! new poster here. Enjoying your blog very much!

    With regards to "how deep the fathers love" – Is not the line – "the father turns his face away" more suspect than the line mentioned?

    The oneness Jesus claims in John 10:30 seems to negate the possibility of this somewhat commonly held assumption that God abandoned Jesus on the cross, or "turned his face away". ( This assumption is no doubt linked to the psalm that Jesus quotes… "My God, my God why have you forsaken me…"?)

    Back to "How Deep…." – Poetic license? Metaphor? I get it. Sound theology? I don't actually know!! Does not the idea of God actually forsaking the son, or turning his face away run against what we affirm as trinitarian unity?

    I think these are more questions I have, rather than statements I'm making. Any thoughts or insights would be greatly appreciated.

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