Friday, September 21, 2007,3:35 PM
Up/Rooted Panel Discussion - Authenticity and Worship
Last night the Chicago Emergent cohort, Up/Rooted, hosted a panel discussion on the topic "the emerging church critique of evangelicalism." On the panel were Scot McKnight, Wayne Johnson, and David Fitch. The entire evening's discussion should eventually be available as a podcast and I'm sure someone with more patience than I will post a nice summary somewhere. (update - sorry no forthcoming podcast, something about it not recording and there is a decent summary here) For now, I will point you to Dave Fitch's blog where he posted a few of the ideas he covered last night. Scot also hinted that he will be blogging about the ideas he presented as well. Needless to say it was a stimulating discussion that did a fairly decent job of summing up most of the emerging critiques of evangelicalism. But of course the conversation didn't stop there as the presenters worked in their critiques of emerging/emergent as well.

I heard a lot I liked last night, a number of things I disagreed with, and a few things I didn't understand. I of course didn't ask any questions there, because, well, I hate asking questions in that sort of setting. One can't engage in real dialogue and the question generally gets misunderstood anyway (as evidents by the "let's see who can ask the most convoluted and confused question" game the audience seemed to be playing last night). But given the joyous freedoms on the blogworld, I can post my thoughts, disagreements and questions here and, in good emerging/postmodern fashion, engage with dialogue with anyone who is so inclined. So I'll try to post my random thoughts on this panel discussion here over the next week or so. That said, let's jump right in and talk about...

Worship. In his initial presentation on the emerging critique of evangelicalism, Wayne Johnson focused on the aspect of worship. While he thought that the EC has done a good job in it's critique of consumer, seeker driven worship, he also pointed out a few weaknesses in the EC in regards to worship. In setting up his discussion on worship, he defined the concept of worship as "our response to God's revelation in the world" (not a direct quote, but close I think). I like that definition, but not his subsequent assertion that primary forms of worship should then be the Word and the Table. Sure those are important aspects of God's revelation, but the God I worship is a lot bigger than just those two things. But I digress... What I really had issue with in his talk was his critique of the emerging emphasis on authenticity.

I know that "authentic" has become a buzz word in the EC and I fully agree that that which is trendy often has no real substance or meaning. And I fully agree that to push one idea of what it means to be authentic (informal, organic...) onto a person who is not those things to begin with kinda misses the point of authenticity. I get that. But then Dr. Johnson claimed that to be authentic is to promote an individualism that hinders the communal act of the body of Christ entering into corporate worship. If we so fine-tune our services into that which is an "authentic" worship experience for us, we run the risk of heightening ethnic, cultural, and generational divisions. We care too much about ourselves and not enough for others.

Don't get me wrong, I am all for diverse churches and I think our self centered myopic worship wars have caused more harm than good in the church; but, I'm not ready to throw out the concept of "authentic." If authentic is defined as that which is "true, real, and genuine," would not the opposite be that which is "false or a lie"? In emerging critiques of evangelical worship (and in evangelical critiques of traditional worship for that matter) there has been a lot of talk about "just going through the motions." In other words, participating in a false and meaningless form of worship - lying to God. I don't think anyone wants to promote lying in one's response to God as a good thing, but the question arises of if lying to God is justified if it helps build community. Is it okay to be inauthentic and false in how one responds to God if it helps build up a diverse body of Christ?

I honestly have no idea if that is at all what Dr. Johnson was intending with his thoughts, but it is what immediately popped into my mind. Does serving others involve making weighted moral choices like that or am I way off base here? Maybe I'm just too seeped in the evangelical definition of sin as personal choice as opposed to a wider more emerging view that involves the community as a whole. Maybe I just really have an issue with the whole concept of the submission of my will to that of other people. But I can't bring myself to say that it is okay to engage in false acts of worship solely for the good of the community. I see no problem with remaining silent and not making a scene about it if one can't participate, but I can't justify engaging. But maybe that's just me. What are your thoughts? What's your take on this whole issue of authenticity and worship?

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posted by Julie at 3:35 PM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 9/21/2007 09:52:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

    What about the whole "try it and you might actually come to like it" rationale? If you say "well that practice is just not authentic to who I am" might you not be missing out on something that could be really good if you gave it a little more time?

  • At 9/22/2007 11:21:00 AM, Blogger paul

    Thanks Julie, your thoughts have got me thinking :) I just wrote abit about worship and one of things i pondered on was about worship as spiritual formation, not so much in the actual act itself but in submitting myself to that act even if it is not my personal preference and in doing so needing the holy spirit as well as a truck load of generousity etc.

    Now i'm all for honesty in terms of using the space to talk to God if i feel i can't sing the song and why i might not be able to sing it but that feels more authentic than saying i can't do that because it's not where i am/who i am.

    So i can see it from both sides and i think that is part of the tension of our faith, we have a God who loves us as individuals but calls us to be his people - some of us are going to have more issues on one side then t'other. Well i know i do anywho...

  • At 9/22/2007 12:54:00 PM, Anonymous Tae

    I may be way off base here, not fully knowing the conversation which spurred these thoughts, but i would say that emergence and scripted worship are, by definition, at odds with one another. So when I think of emergence and worship acting together, I think of -not communally going through the scripted motions of singing, or liturgy, or prayers, but more as- allowing opportunity for worship to emerge as an outgrowth of life together. Creating space for people to express themselves to God, for God to express Godself to us. I think emergence in worship should therefore be not limited to a weekly scripted format, but cultivated to grow out of the day to day living. This is authentic worship. It is worship given space to breathe when no one reminds you to take a breath.

  • At 9/22/2007 04:10:00 PM, Blogger Helen

    Julie, I hear what you're saying.

    I never liked singing worship songs when I felt my heart wasn't in it.

    The songs I used to sing were written as if they are to God, whereas the approach you describe seems to be mostly about other people. That seems weird to me - that you lie to one person to make other people happy - especially if the one person is God.

    I wasn't there - my comments are based on what you wrote, not on hearing what was said for myself.

  • At 9/22/2007 07:15:00 PM, Blogger Julie

    Tae - there are those in the emerging church that would agree with you. Others do find value in scripted worship even liturgical styles mainly for the beauty and the connection to the historical church.

    For the other comments, let me clarify a bit. I agree that one shouldn't sing a "Since Jesus Christ came in ... I'm happy all the time" sort of song if to do so would be lying through one's teeth (can anyone sing that song without lying?). And yes I think people should be willing to be pushed outside their comfort zones and explores who they are in worship. The whole "I'm a jr. high boy (or the equivalent maturitywise) and I'm too cool to sing a song" is really a pathetic excuse not to engage with life.

    But I had more in mind the deeper struggles people face. What if a person doesn't know if she can say the Apostle's Creed with conviction anymore? What if she is the Pastor?

    What if a person truly believes that to use drums ever is a sin. No matter how stupid and racist I might think that conviction to be, that person truly believes they will be committing a sin if they worship God using drums.

    What if you are the Pastor and want to read scripture as worship in the service but people start leaving your church because it is too Catholic?

    what if you think the worship is fake and has nothing whatsoever to do with God, Jesus, or the Bible? But a lot of people like it and it fills the church every Sunday? Is it better to care for the desires needs of others even if you think it is a joke?

  • At 9/23/2007 02:14:00 PM, Blogger jhimm

    great thoughts julie. i really enjoyed the presentation as well, and like you i have struggled with various bits and pieces of it. there simply wasn't enough time! sure, there's a risk of emergence becoming the next commodetized church, but will our ironic self-awareness save us? didn't get to it! yes, "authenticity" can become a narcissistic trap, but is there a difference between individual authenticity (being honest with yourself and G-d) and communal authenticity which is essentially just a pose? no time!

    we needed another two hours, at least.

  • At 9/25/2007 05:06:00 AM, Blogger rodney

    Afer not being committed to a church for 15 years ( 11 of which I was a disillusioned ex-believer) i have recently gone back to a very good charasmatic/evangelical church in my home town. I am by inclination much more comfortable with contempolative forms of worship than singing choruses but I find I can still praise god through this medium. As the churches resident liberal I sometimes reinterpret lines of songs in metaphorical terms if I am uncomfortable about the theology it expresses. Every church is made of of diverse people /opinions about worship - I try to praise God no matter what the style of worship!


  • At 9/25/2007 05:08:00 AM, Blogger rodney

    That is my aspiration and ideal - however I often fall short of it!!!!

  • At 9/26/2007 07:43:00 PM, Anonymous tae

    Julie~thanks for engaging with my comment. I guess to clarify, I would then say that I believe that gathering together is multi-purposed.

    I, too, enjoy liturgy. It is beautiful, and sacred, and connected. For me, it is an important piece of gathering together. But is it authentically our response to God's revelation in the world (WJ's assumption about worship)?

    As a sayer of the Nicene Creed, "I believe in the communion of saints". It is within this communality to which I connect. Yes, I respond to my God. This explains why I can deeply pray the Lorica of St. Patrick, and though I've not encountered true wizards, I pray deeply. My spirit connects with these ideas in tune with the spirit of that Great Cloud of Witnesses, as well as with the spirit of God.

    When speaking of Emergence, I meant to say that emergent structures are not created by rule, but rather are the sum of their parts. It is this which creates authenticity in true "emerging" worship--that which emerges from those which come together. Could it be planned? Yes. But could it allow space for those who gather to express individual expressions? Yes, too.

    I value gathering together to be broader than simply responding to God. It is in recognizing that God not only responds to the individual, but to the communio, that we find fullness in the kingdom. God not only brings the kingdom to ourselves, but to the world around us, and it is in recognizing this that we find authenticity (and not navel gazing) in responding to God in worship.


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