Forced Worship

[Why is it that I always come up with my best thoughts when I’m driving down the road, listening to jazz, away from any venue where I could possibly actually record my thoughts as they come to me? I really ought to find my mini-recorder and keep it in the Explorer with me….]

I recently just finished up a CD series of Donald Carson, who spoke this past winter at Cedarville University during the annual Staley Lectureship Series. He spoke on the emergent church movement and integration of postmodernism into that movement. Something that he said really stuck out to me — postmodernism holds as one of its primary foundations the establishment of personal experience to determine truth. This method of finding ‘truth’ has crept into the church and influenced it in ways that I, personally, find somewhat alarming.

Something that has stuck in my craw for a few years now has finally been revealed to me, based upon this ‘revelation’. The worship times at Cedarville (during my five-year tenure there), especially the student-led times, often had a feeling of wrongness to them. A good friend of mine described it like this: “It was like they were ‘forcing’ us to worship, like they were saying, ‘Worship, dang it!'” This was in response to the call to worship, where the congregation was called to think on God, to think on all He has done for us, and to worship him with your heart, essentially with your feelings, your emotions. On the surface, this all sounded very good, but something still stuck out as being wrong about it. In reflection now, I see that this call to worship focused almost exclusively on the experience of God, little on the knowledge of Him and on His revealed truth through His Word. And the songs we sang, the worship choruses, were fantastic for building up emotion and describing the experience of God in our lives, but they also left me feeling theologically destitute, frequently neglecting words of Scripture, words of absolute truth to put all my experiences as a Christian, as a follower of Jehovah, into perspective in light of the Almighty One of Heaven, instead paving over them with poetic niceties. (Don’t get me wrong; I believe there is a place for this sort of worship, just not to exclusivity.) This is the wrongness that I perceived there, this almost single-minded focus on the experience, to the near-exclusion of the absolute and powerfully revealed truth of the Bible.

The weakness of this is that each individual interprets the same experience in a slightly different way, thereby gleaning a different version of the ‘truth’ than all the others. Truth suddenly becomes relative to the individual, based upon their own analysis of the experience in question. Multiple psychological studies have shown that people often define reality by their experiences, much more so in today’s world than in any other time in history. Their ideas of what is true and what is not is flavored by the circumstances they encounter each and every day. The trouble is, every single person encounters a different version of the ‘truth’ because of this approach. Of course, a postmodernist would probably now say that this all the more justification for their worldview, that nothing can ever be truly known because every person’s perspective is slightly different, that reality is constantly shifting for everyone because the only basis they have for ‘truth’ is their own experience of the world around them. They would even say that individual interpretation of the Bible as a standard for absolute truth is perpetually flawed and relative to personal experience because everyone is going to interpret the Bible according to the ways in which they perceive and experience the world. And yet, this is a flawed premise, in and of itself, for the Bible can be interpreted according to an unchanging standard and often be applied to a wide variety of circumstances and settings. All this is not to belittle the practicality of experience in determining truth. Paul himself, in many of his epistles to the early church, specifically encouraged the saints to test their faith against their own experiences and knowledge. But he also pointed them to Scripture, pointing out their sins and flaws, pointing them back to the path that leads to Christ. So, while experience is valuable for the testing of our faith and the working of our salvation, it cannot be held up exclusively as the only means for establishing truth because our own interpretations of experiences are frequently flawed and tainted by our finite sensory and cognitive capacities. The one source of truth that I am aware of that never changes (and has never changed over the centuries) is the Holy Scriptures, and while my own experiences help me understand this God that I love a little better and relate to my fellow man, they fall short of the true understanding of Him who I serve. Can I ever hope to know God and His truth fully? No. Not ever, for I am limited in my understanding, and I always, ever will be. But it is not enough to stop me from trying to learn more and understand more, from the only Source of true knowledge, for all the rest of my days. And I expect that I will often be wrong in my understanding. But I can frame my daily experiences within the context of the Word of God, and thereby gain truth and sanity and direction for my life.

9 thoughts on “Forced Worship”

  1. Thank you for intelligently contributing your point of view to the discussion on sexual orientation and the Bible.  Your responses were intelligent and well thought out.  And, this post is all well thought out and intelligent also.  I will post a reply to your comment on my site in a few days.  I will let you know when it is up so you can visit it and read it.  Again, I appreciate your reasoned discussion on this matter.

  2. His comment, he left, here is my point, intelligence and intellectualism are not the same thing. I can and used to say alot of things that were very intellectual but bear little weight of truth. As far as bible scholars go, we are not in the minority, we are in the majority. The truth is that those in the minority seem to have the louder voice since they are more inline with the world’s carnal view.
    I appreciate your discerning heart bro!!
    Love in Christ,
    Jeremy

  3. Sorry, I keep on forgetting that Asian is one day ahead, which really screws up my perception of time.  The reply will be made public in 24 hours.

  4. I enjoyed reading your thoughts. I personally feel that the revelation of truth comes as we grow. There are some things you just can’t expect people to understand right away because they are still spiritual babies. As I grew up, that is what I was, and a lot of what I read either didn’t interest me, or make sense to me. I held liberal views and could not come to terms with my feelings on controversial issues. As my relationship with God has grown, I have begun to see what Humanism is pulling over the eyes of everyone in this country.
    We are all on our spiritual journeys, no? It’s something that God is working within us. You’re right, the Holy Scriptures never change, but views change, and people change. The truth will be revealed by the Holy Spirit. I do not judge Khanhhoa for his views. Only God can do so. We will all stand in judgment and give an account of our actions.
    You said, “But I can frame my daily experiences within the context of the Word of God, and thereby gain truth and sanity and direction for my life.” This is what I seek to do, and what Khanhhoa seeks to do. Ultimately, you can try to knock some sense into someone, or establish truth for someone, but the acceptance of it is personal choice.
    You also said, “The weakness of this is that each individual interprets the same experience in a slightly different way, thereby gleaning a different version of the ‘truth’ than all the others.” I would like to humbly state that what you believe to be truth will not be the same as everyone else. I wholeheartedly believe that elevating ones truth over another is not going to bring any conversions. You do a good job with your argument, but as mentioned earlier, I believe acceptance of your truth is a personal choice and that truth is something revealed by the Holy Spirit.
    I know that this is one controversial subject of many, but have you tried to ask him about his views about other matters? Just because he, or I, think differently than you on this one subject does not mean that he or I will lead someone to the gates of hell. Comments left by people are thought-provoking at best. As the arguments will probably end up in neither parties budging, should we not encourage and pray for each other? It almost feels like brothers and sisters are constantly divided up by differeng perspectives and they just end up not getting to know each other.
    Just thought I’d put in my two cents. =) It’s not that I totally disagree with you and I’m not here to attack you. I pray daily for God to show me flaws in my reasoning. I pray that I can set a great example and that others can come to God through me. I do seek the truth, and I know that what I ask, God will give. Here’s to the journey! *thumbs up!*

  5. Hi, I can sum up the the argument you presented.
    Against Relativism
    1) Each person has his or her own experience of truth.2) Therefore, the truth is different for each person because his or her experiences are different.3) This argument is flawed because relativism is an “absolute” in the sense that we are absolutely certain that the truth is relative to every one’s experiences.4) Since relativism is an absolute, the arguments falls apart by itself.
    Against the Absolute
    1) The truth is absolute.2) He or she who knows the truth knows all.3) No one can know everything.4) Therefore, the absolute is unreachable.5) One person can know something that another person does not.6) Therefore, each person is closer to the truth through his or her own increased knowledge.7) Therefore, the truth is relative to how much a person knows.8) Since the absolute is absolute and the truth is based on how much a person knows, this argument also folds upon itself.
    Personally, I believe that God is infinite knowledge because He/She is all knowing.  To take infinite knowledge and put it into a finite Bible is oxymoronic.  Therefore, God does reveal His/Her truths to us through the Bible, but is unable to reveal all of it because we, as humans, are incapable of infinite knowledge.  However, I believe that as knowledge increases, we as a human race will come closer to the truth.  This is the reason why I promote reasoned and intelligent discussions.

  6. I currently have my reply to your comment up.  I hope you read it with an open mind and continue our discussion of such matters.  I strongly recommend the Logos Christian Library System.  You will have many translations of Bibles at your fingertips, as well as commentaries, and other resources.  I know I spent a great deal on the Scholar’s Library, but in the end it was worth it because I have expanded my knowledge of scripture and have grown to understand both points of view in evaluating an argument.  God bless, brother!

  7. I realize you haven’t read my reply so, I am going to pasting it here for you.
    I agree with you that while cultures change, the nature of humans do not, and probably never will.  Since the beginning of time, humans have been longing to belong, to feel happy and fulfilled, and to understand their roles in the societies in which they lived.  Countless philosophies, viewpoints, religions, and governmental systems had been created as a way to define humans’ role and part in the world.  Therefore, in my opinion, the parts of the Bible that deals with societal norms and matters that have changed serve only to help humans understand the spirituality of Biblical times, which in turns gives humans insight into spirituality in the modern age.  Thus, regardless of whether societal norms have changed through time, the spiritual truths contained within remains unchanged.  I do not consider Walter Wink’s essay an attack on the authenticity of the Bible, but rather a pointing out of changing societal norms and cultures throughout human history.
    I, like yourself, believe in the literal six day creation and actually recommend to you and others an author who did a very good job bridging the gap between creationism and evolutionism.  Dennis Gordon Linsday wrote a nine book series on creationism and evolutionism.  The major assumption that he used to justify the conflicting viewpoints between the two was the notion of the pre-flood world versus the notion of the after-flood world.  I wish I can get more into the discussion, but I rather you research on it yourself and get back to with your comments on it because I highly value intelligent thought and reasoned discussions. 
    Edit:  The nine part series can be found on Amazon. Each book runs about $6 each and is used, so that’s about $54.  The nine part series is also sold as a “Logos Product” because they have distribution rights over the book.  Unfortunately, they bundled the book as a part of their libraries.  Although the cheapest library, the “Christian Home Library” is $149.95, it contains countless resources for the study of scripture.  I have the Scholar’s Library and have been using it to cross reference between different translations of the bible and to compare to the Greek and Hebrew texts.  This library has been enriching my study of scripture and has been helping come a better understanding of it, so I recommend it to you and others who want to enrich their study of scripture a Logos Library System.  The link is here.
    I agree with that Walter Wink assumed that when the Bible was initially written, it will become outdated, failing to keep up with the progression of times.  However, I differ with you one fundamental point.  The outdatedness and failing to keep up with the progression of times only applies to sexual mores because this is what Walter Wink is specifically talking about.  To extend that assumption to spiritual truths contained in the Bible would unfair to him and his point of view.
    I agree with you that the Bible has been unchanged from its original documents; however, translations and translators have inserted their biases and prejudices in translations.  That’s why in my search for truth, I go back to the original Hebrew text for the Old Testament or the Greek texts for the New Testament as well as compare different translations of scripture. 
    Yes, I agree that your version of the Bible condemns homosexual acts (I am making a clear distinction between the orientation and the choice of engaging in homosexual activities).  However, when you take that passage of scripture and compare them to other Bible translations as well as the Greek text, a different picture appears.  As a result, this adds more confusion and divergent views into the discussion of sexual orientation and the Bible and has been splitting Christian denomination left and right.  I also recommend you and others read about Tony and Peggy Campolo, husband and wife, who share different views on sexual orientation and Christianity, yet have a loving and rewarding marriage.  Here is the link.  It also today’s suggested readings.

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