The Art of Worship and Belief (part 1)

The Art of Worship and Belief, part 1: Absolutes, Humble Opinions, and Thinking Out Loud

This is the first of a series of blog posts on “The Art of Worship and Belief.” They will outline some of my current beliefs about worship and church music. Let me state up front that I hold these beliefs with open hands, and I rejoice that God is far beyond my understanding and that he has led me to these beliefs even as he refines them.

Indeed I do believe that God is far beyond my understanding. In its attempts to describe human comprehension of what God has revealed to us, Protestant and Catholic theology (essentially, the study of the nature of God and religious belief) too often forgets that the nature of God is unexplainable. Let’s be honest: On the cosmic scale, any attempt to describe God is grasping at straws. Nevertheless, these theological straws are very important to us, because living in relationship with God means that we hold dearly to what God has allowed us to understand.

So you can tell that I value mystery, and you can probably guess that I hold firmly to only a few absolutes. (I’ll address some of these in Part 3: Doxological Dogma.) That’s why I don’t want to argue with you about the finer points of doctrine, unless we both understand that such arguing serves to deepen our friendship and our common belief in God. I think it’s important that we Christians understand that, beyond our very core beliefs, finer points of doctrine should be presented as our humble opinions. Here is where I take my elbow and nudge my theologian friends, some of whom tend to be more opinionated than humble.

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A brief anecdote . . . Back in the summer of 2009, shortly after I finished my undergraduate studies, I had the pleasure of attending a conference that featured Dr. Terry York as its keynote speaker. (Incidentally, Dr. York ended up being one of my very favorite professors during five years of graduate studies.) He spoke as a friend and colleague of the music ministers who attended that 2009 conference, and he addressed some issues that had been controversial to this group in the past. He did so with the wisdom and sensitivity that is characteristic of a pastoral teacher. I can’t recall all the details of what he said that week (and I didn’t understand all of it back then), but I clearly remember one phrase that he repeated time and again: “I’m just thinking out loud.”

All of this is to say up front that when I talk about theology, beliefs, worship, repertoire, ritual, etc. my discourse is really me thinking out loud. I want to emphasize this because I have found that we are all less touchy about other people’s beliefs about God when they are presented as opinions, not absolutes.

So I invite you to join me in this discussion on the art of worship and belief over the next few weeks. Please share your thoughts when you feel so inclined.

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