Category: Of Worship and Work

Mood worship and the mundane world

November 8th, 2014 — 9:53am

The idea that worship is a matter of mood, of setting aside the mundane world in which we live in an attempt to attain a higher plane or more “spiritual” mood or state of mind is inherently dualistic and assumes a sacred/ secular dichotomy that is not found in the Christian Scriptures. This concept of spirituality combines elements of mysticism and paganism, but is essentially a notion derived from the Greek dualistic perspective that underpinned the Alexandrian world-view, which has afflicted the Christian Church from the beginning (and our society at large as well). It is this Greek dualistic heritage that is the source of pietism, which mood worship is a good example of. Spirituality, biblically speaking, is not an attempt to escape from or rise above this mundane world in any sense, but rather the proper dedication of this mundane world to the service of God. (Stephen C. Perks, The Christian Passover: Agape Feast or Ritual Abuse? pp. 12–13)

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Probing questions

October 21st, 2014 — 12:03pm

As liturgical forms, content, and styles of celebration are changed, we must ask probing questions of any liturgical material. What theology is being prayed? What experience of (what) God is being promoted? What in the story of Christ is being proclaimed? What understanding of the church is being generated? What attitude toward the creation is being cultivated? What relationship to the world is being strategized? What kind of worship is being made possible? What kind of hospitality is being extended? How are new Christians being made? What values are being instilled? What doctrines are being expressed? Cultural anthropologists have learned through case studies that a change of ritual forms can bring about a change of doctrine. Such data need to be taken seriously lest the community of faith gain the whole world and lost its soul. (Frank C. Senn, New Creation: A Liturgical Worldview, p. xi)

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Does prayer work?

March 25th, 2014 — 6:52am

The very question “Does prayer work?” puts us in the wrong frame of mind from the outset. “Work”: as if it were magic, or a machine – something that functions automatically. Prayer is either a sheer illusion or a personal contact between embryonic, incomplete persons (ourselves) and the utterly concrete Person. Prayer in the sense of petition, asking for things, is a small part of it; confession and penitence are its threshold, adoration its sanctuary, the presence and vision and enjoyment of God its bread and wine. In it God shows Himself to us. That He answers prayers is a corollary – not necessarily the most important one – from that revelation. What He does is learned from what He is. (C. S. Lewis, “The Efficacy of Prayer,” in The World’s Last Night and Other Essays)

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Too obvious to question

February 28th, 2014 — 11:26am

We cannot choose not to wonder at the characteristics of our era. If there are those who do not do so, let us by all means not awaken them. But when philosophical wonder, unbidden, uninvited, sets before us the culture of our time, we can no more suppress it than blaspheme against the Holy Spirit. There is plenty to show that those who do not make an effort to read their times in a disciplined way read them all the same, but with narrow and parochial prejudice. . . . The disciplines we need are those that good modernity-critics display: to see the marks of our time as the products of our past; to notice the danger civilisation poses to itself, not only the danger of barbarian reaction; to attend especially not to those features which strike our contemporaries as controversial, but to those which would have astonished an onlooker from the past but which seem to us too obvious to question. (Oliver O’Donovan, The Desire of the Nations: Rediscovering the Roots of Political Theology, p. 273)

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Smooth road to inferiority

August 30th, 2013 — 9:30am

I will speak to you as a friend, foolish Perses. Inferiority can be got in droves, easily: the road is smooth, and she lives very near. But in front of Superiority the immortal gods set sweat; it is a long and steep path to her, and rough at first. But when one reaches the top, then it is easy, for all the difficulty. (Hesiod, Works and Days, trans. M. L. West)

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Waiting for the weekend

January 26th, 2013 — 9:42pm

One of the largest obstacles to true Sabbath-keeping is leisure. It is what cultural historian Witold Rybczynski calls “waiting for the weekend,” where we see work as only an extended interlude between our real lives. Leisure is what Sabbath becomes when we no longer know how to sanctify time. Leisure is Sabbath bereft of the sacred. It is a vacation – literally, a vacating, an evacuation. As Rybczynski sees it, leisure has become despotic in our age, enslaving us and exhausting us, demanding from us more than it gives.

We all know how unsatisfying mere leisure can be. We’ve all known what it’s like to return to the classroom or the workplace after a time spent in revelry or retreat, in high jinks or hibernation: typically, we go back weary and depressed, like jailbirds caught. The time away from work wasn’t time sanctified so much as time stolen, time when we escaped for a short-lived escapade.

The difference between this and Sabbath couldn’t be sharper. Sanctifying some time adds richness to all time, just as an hour with the one you love brings light and levity to the hours that follow. To spend time with the object of your desire is to emerge, not sullen and peevish, but elated and refreshed. You come away filled, not depleted. (Mark Buchanan, The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath, pp. 35–36)

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Creativity and temptation

November 16th, 2012 — 10:14am

The more man lives in his artificial man-made reality amongst man’s structures and machinery, the more strongly he receives the impression that he is the creator of his own existence. . . . This does not mean that technics or productivity inevitably estrange man from God. Even the most creative mind, and even the man who has to live entirely among machinery and within a man-made surrounding, can remain God-conscious and can do whatever he does for the glory of God. Human creativity and the man-made reality is not the reason or cause, but it is the great temptation to Godlessness. The more creative man is, the more he is tempted to confound himself with the Creator. The danger is the titanism of the creative man who, inebriated by his feeling of creativity and in a kind of mystic ecstasy, thinks himself to be God. It is that old phenomenon of [hubris], of man’s forgetting his limits, which brings him to ruin. (Emil Brunner, Christianity and Civilisation: Foundations, pp. 151–52)

Remarkably, this is from a lecture delivered in 1947!

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Holiness at work

November 13th, 2012 — 2:05pm

Vocational holiness . . . means self-knowledge: to be holy is to know oneself and to accept oneself. In the language of Teresa of Avila (and Catherine of Siena), this is humility. Such holiness and humility will be at least partly evident in knowledge of one’s calling, having clarity about what one is called to do. We know who we are and choose to live not by pretense or by wishing we were someone else but in humility. We know ourselves and accept who God has made us to be and what it is that God, who alone is the potter, has called us to do. We turn from envy and wishing we were someone else with their gifts and opportunities. Hence, vocational holiness is not about doing everything or even trying to do all we can do; we leave it to Christ to be the “Messiah,” and we graciously recognize and accept our part in the kingdom work of Christ. It is about doing that and only that to which we are called. It is the grace of living in a way that is faithful to the reign of Christ and consistent with the truth of our own identity; this is humility, living without pretense. It is about living faithfully in space and time without anxiety and with no need to run about frenetically. (Gordon Smith, Transforming Conversion, p. 101)

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October 26th, 2012 — 9:14am

People used to hope to gain an otherworldly heaven by doing good works. Now they’re sure they can gain a this-worldly heaven by buying more stuff.

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A third way

September 12th, 2012 — 11:38am

What shall we say of Christian engagement with the world today? On one hand, we have those who think our engagement is pretty well exhausted by trusting Jesus for eternal life, telling others about this eternal life, and working on personal holiness. On the other hand, we have those who think we’re supposed to “redeem” every cultural life form we encounter, which means (in actual practice) embracing every such life form with a minimum of critical filters. What is weird is how much these two approaches share in common, despite their apparent differences. In both, whole tracts of human life are left basically untransformed by the lordship of Christ. The first confines transformation largely to the hallowed ground of personal piety (outside of character growth and adherence to obvious ethical precepts, the affairs of human life are either ceded to the devil or treated as neutral territory). The second scraps any pietistic pretensions and wallows comfortably in human fallenness. Where is a third way that embraces and enacts transforming grace (which is inevitably costly grace) in every sphere of human thought and enterprise, because it anticipates a day when our Lord will usher in the perfection of His kingdom, and sin will be no more?

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