When Worship and Theology File for Divorce

Zac HicksWorship Theology & Thought1 Comment

In my last post, I processed how theology is most properly “done” in worship, not in the classroom. I ended the post with a warning to worship leaders to not become enamored by speakers, teachers, and theologians who aren’t invested in the worship of a local church.

Simon Chan, a theologian invested in the local church’s worship, says that when worship and theology (at least in the way we typically define those terms…many I’m reading would say that worship is theology), are separated both become impoverished. He then goes on to analyze two types of Christians, which I think aptly sum up, with a broad brush, two types of evangelical worshipers and worshiping churches out there.

The Doctrinaire Evangelical

Chan says that for the “Doctrinaire Evangelical,”

Worship is only…a kind of embellishment of what should be essentially an exercise in systematic indoctrination. In these churches the entire service may consist of a song to get the congregation ready, a very long and well prepared expository sermon, and another song to round it off. In between these, some prayers are interspersed and the offering collected. In this worship format, truth is not part of living worship but is almost exlusively confined to the sermon. Truth then becomes only a matter of right belief, and the worship service is essentially a time for instruction. The operating assumption is that teaching people the right things will lead to right living. There is no understanding of the formative role of the ecclesial community through ecclesial practice.*

The Charismatic Evangelical

For these folks, according to Chan,

Considerable attention is given to getting the congregation into a “worshipful atmosphere.” Here the emphasis is on practice. But no thought whatsoever is given to what impact such forms of worship might have on belief. The assumption is that they have none so long as no heresy is preached. What such Christians fail to realize is that when worship is not “right worship” (which is what orthodoxy means), it won’t be long before belief itself is modified to fit a heterodox worship. The primary theology expressed in a heterodox ordo will quickly overwhelm an isolated orthodox belief, making it totally irrelevant to the life of the church.*

Worship is Theology, Theology is Worship

The above is what happens when worship and theology file for divorce. The thing is, there wasn’t a wedding date in the past when worship and theology decided to get married. Worship and theology always are one in God’s economy. If theology is not just knowing about God but knowing God, then worship is the deepest, most central form of “theologizing.” As I said in the last post, this doesn’t mean that there is no place for the abstract theologizing of textbooks and classrooms.  In fact, this type of theologizing is needed in dialogue with the theologizing that happens in worship 

*Simon Chan, Liturgical Theology: The Church as Worshiping Community (Downers Grove: IVP, 2006), 52.

One Comment on “When Worship and Theology File for Divorce”

  1. There's probably a whole stream of reductionist anthropologies out there as many describe what "should" take place in worship. Above, from Chan, you outlined a "brains on sticks" anthropology and a "hearts on sticks anthropology." It could be just as true that other misguided anthropologies are just "sticks" worship or just "bodies without hearts or minds" (ritualistic traditionalism).

    I mention the misguided anthropologies to make this comment. In each reductionist camp, I've heard people over the years say about a particular church, "that church really does worship right." What's surprising is that I've never heard anyone say this of a normal, run-of-the-mill everyday church that's faithful to the Gospel in song, prayer, and sermon, even though that may be closest to the biblical, robust definition of God-shaped worship.

    It's interesting the metaphors we claim for what true lived-theology-as-worship is. If we stuck with biblical metaphors, we'd see something like "the body of Christ," which is a pretty ordinary metaphor. I'm around my body all day, every day, after all. It's the most normal thing about me. So, "ordinary" should be a word we use to describe lived-theology-as-worship, but I don't think the word would find its way to the lips of many in either of Chan's described camps.

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