Postmodern Worship

I had a quick discussion with our Worship Pastor today about Postmodern Worship.  We discussed what Postmodernism is and also what worship is and what one means to the other.  Without telling you what we discovered, I’d like to hear your thoughts.  Should our cultural shift in thinking change the way in which we worship?


~ by Joshua Long on August 19, 2008.

13 Responses to “Postmodern Worship”

  1. To me, postmodernism demands a radical re-thinking of religious belief and practice. Monotheistic, dogmatic, literalist religion is becoming less and less sustainable every day. If postmodernism (and even just modernism itself) puhes us towards individualism AND globalisation, the world becoming one pool of billions of solitary individuals, I don’t see a way that traditional religion and worship can stand up. This is not necessarily a good or bad thing, but merely a thing.

  2. I think it is helpful to think with a different language about our time. Using post-structural, post-colonial, or post-eurocentric type framing might be beneficial to all communities of faith. I would disagree with the above post. Individualism seems to be absolutely contrary to what our age is about. The ‘soul’ project is threatened. Placing ourselves as people of faith into what really is going on around us might call us to a revitalized thinking of community. The muslim Ummah or Paul’s ‘body’ call us to a radical interdependence and mutuality. Okay: so what’s all that mean? Well, instead of relying on speaking purely of ‘post modernism’ why not in our communities talk about the challenges of post-colonialism and what that could mean for justice. Also, we find that as our ‘Post’ era is telling us, no one stands alone. We are intimately bound. Caritas, agape is the means and the end.
    To the question of ‘should our cultural shift change the way in which we worship?’ I would say that it really just matters to what you wish to accomplish. Worship is about what/who we are adoring right? How is your community’s God framed? Are you justice seeking? What are the concerns/needs/wants of your congregation? If they are seeking to be on the forefront of culture, that is, as a prophetic people, worship will have to always be changing. Newness, novelty. Whatever that means to you. But also in the spirit of the age one will have to ask: How is this binding me to all peoples/religions/cultures? Is it meaningful, tangible, responsible, and does it give free voice to everyone (who is excluded, called ‘less-than’, or ‘other’)?
    These are just a few thoughts and I hope that your conversation with your community goes well!
    Ryan McGivern

  3. Thanks Ryan,

    I agree that postmodernism is more of a revolt from individualism. It is a move toward inescapable non-individualism. What does worship mean to you, Ryan? How has your community shaped your understanding and practice of worship?

    Thanks also, Graciad. Why do you feel Monotheism is in danger these days? What experiences have you had that led you to that conclusion? What does worship look like for you?

  4. Perhaps the emphasis is wrong. When we think of shaping worship or worship being shaped by culture, we miss the true essence of worship. It is NOT about us. It is about God. If we miss that we miss what might be termed true worship.

    Personally, I am not at all enthralled with contemporary worship. The emphasis on “performance” and “presentation” is much too scripted. Then again, traditional worship (as I understand it) can be stilted and non-emotive.

    Worship, whatever form it takes, would compel us to an awareness of God’s presence and to humble ourselves in that presence and seek to honor Him. Seldom, if ever, should worship be what’s-in-it-for-me.

  5. Would you say that in this new environment, social justice is elevated as a form of worship, even though in the past it was considered mere obligation? We have been urging one another for a long time to broaden our idea of worship past just singing songs. I have heard an outcry from Christians to begin engaging in social justice but rarely hear worship as the reason for the call.

  6. I agree with a lot of what nmacdonald has to say. In the most sereotypical, generalist way, I think that postmodernism is slowly, but surely leading churches in the direction of “multiple paths to God” and pointing them away from Solus Cristus. With regard to worship, I think it is critical that you know who God is before you try to worship him. God didn’t pay attention to the worship of the prophets of baal in I Kings 18:26-29. I think reformed churches do a good job of leading individuals in a time of worship. What types of changes are you proposing? Are you ever going to tell us what ya’ll discovered?

  7. Joshua: My experience worshipping is as diverse as anything on my journey. This leads me to clarify-if we are talking about how we show a growing awareness of God in our ‘personal’ lives, in our relationships, in our weekly congregational settings etc. I had spoke before only in regards to the weekly community setting. But I really should have focused my response perhaps towards how we often frame worship only in this way. I think its in James where true religion is called taking care of people and showing compassion to the marginalized. Worship, in a nutshell to me is in the acts that we ascribe worth to…what do we honor and regard as beautiful and just? So I think that goes far beyond a question of altar calls, songs, sermons and such. So I really like the path of thought you proposed in your August 20 3pm post!
    Forgive my digression…
    I think I am in disagreement with nmacdonald’s suggestion that worship is not about us–its about God. Some of my favorite writings and Christian traditions talk about God being embodied in us. I also enjoy the Stranger/Savior motif of the Road to Emmaus. Worshipping and worshipful activities do bind us. I think that when we begin travelling down the path of trying to only please God and neglecting what we are doing for and to our world, we can miss the point of an incarnational spirituality. We tend the wounded, visit the sick. We listen. And that means that we listen to and respect even those from other religious traditions. Despite Jeff Fischer’s worry that this could lead one from diverting from Solus Cristus, I think that it is an opening for wider grace, patience, and compassion. Again, not to be argumentative, but I think that Jeff’s assertion that one must ‘know God’ before worshipping God is not how I frame things. Maybe it begins with humility, wonder, questioning, and a desire to serve. Knowledge to me best takes a back seat to fraternity with others.
    What a tangent!
    What we do when assembled with our faith communities-talk about, put our energies to, direct our monies toward these things are not separate from our political and cultural contexts. (I’ve read just enough sociology to feel this is true) As times change, and as a people changes, so will their doctrine, liturgy, etc. However, I think that the timeless ideals of the Beatitudes and a conscious and patient dialogue is always a safe place to found upon.

    Ryan McGivern

  8. I can agree with you Ryan that it is surely important to seek God with humility and with a sense of awe, knowing that we will never fully know Him in this life. I do not think that we should neglect seeking to worship Him in both spirit AND truth. While it is true that we should seek to know Him as we worship him (so that we do not end up worshiping our own constructs of God), it is also true that we discover God through worship. It is cyclical rather than linear.

    My humble observation is that we as moderns often err in worshiping God in truth but neglect worshiping Him in spirit. Likewise, we as postmoderns often err in worshiping God in spirit but neglect worshiping Him in truth.

    My worship pastor and I discussed some of these things and began to talk about how we as a culture think and behave. We are increasingly decentralized in our organizations. This leads me to believe that postmodern worship will rely less upon a single individual dictating worship practices and more on an organic discovery of ways to glorify God.

    As a culture, we are concerned about social justice–sometimes for good reasons and sometimes not. I love seeing believers worship God by taking care of one another. I think it is easy to neglect the spiritual needs while tending to physical needs because the latter is visible.

    There is so much to talk about, but back to you guys…

    In the last…i don’t know…40 years, there seems to have been a movement to point out all the similarities between religions and unite them into one big happy family of God-worshipers. This movement has been opposed (rightly so in my mind) by those who point out that Christ said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me.” While I agree with Ryan that we should respect those from other religions as creations of God in His own image, should we compromise our beliefs to make others feel more comfortable? Christ taught us to teach others by love and not by violence (though we have forgotten that a few times in our history). Can we not love others while holding on to Truth?

  9. Joshua:
    I appreciate your last post. It serves as a good conclusion to that thread, and I like the new line of thought.
    This discussion might deserve its own post, but I have been thinking on this lately.
    I had attended an interfaith worship service a few years ago near Thanksgiving and the center of the service was thanksgiving, and from what I experienced there, there was a lot to be thankful for. The Imam who led the led (along with I believe Catholic and Episcopal leaders) was powerful and the Muslim call to prayer stirring.
    I then undertook a bit of a study about Christology, Soteriology, and interfaith dialogue. I got a little atuned to what has been occurring in this area and I found that there was always diverse approaches to dialogue between faiths and reconciling belief with humility, challenge, and the possibility of a God we don’t expect.
    With this in the back of my mind, I did a study on Genesis where Abram is hanging out in various tribal altars and calling the God of Genesis by many names from other traditions.
    As a result, I partook in an interfaith group this past spring consisting of Muslim, Christian, pagan, Jewish, atheist, and Unitarian Universalist believers. To say the least, it was a life changing and wonderful experience.
    To my delight, I heard repeated over and over how many had not experienced that compromising their beliefs made others feel comfortable: but the opposite.
    “Why didn’t you just tell me you ate only Kosher!” was one experience I heard related. What I heard was that when one was comfortable with their own faith and in expressing it without trepidation, there was more comfort than not (and lots of good questions).
    Maybe this gets back to the whole postmodern thought line, but it seems to me that the time of apologetics and systematic theologies are over.
    Not to open too many directions at once, but I feel that a part of our identifying with the cross can involve the laying aside our beliefs in favor of a revived and reviving faith.

    Ryan McGivern

  10. i would like to find our churches able to find God in the still small voice. i would hope this is the direction of post-modern worship. modern worship is in a difficult place. it seems to be unconsciously focused on the development of mans ego. in my experience with this process of worship i have brought upon myself great pain.
    in striving to lay my crown at the feet of the Almighty i had only built a house on the sands of ego and individualism rather than the rock of humility and non-individualism. as the prophecy goes, the house i had built fell in a quick moment and i was left as a wave bound to an endless ocean. concerning post-modernism it is my hope that we return to find God in humble silence, from here may we proceed to raise the walls of our temples and play our harps as David did.

  11. “For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.” Acts 17.21 Sounds a bit familiar.
    You know, I have loved worshipping the Lord, and it is refreshing to me to be able to worship Him in new ways. None of us have yet scratched the surface of it and will be able to do this in more amazing ways all throughout eternity. God filled Bezaleel with His Spirit so he could be an artificer and a craftsman. This is a great way to worship God. But corporate worship is an opportunity for us to come together and praise God with one voice meanwhile encourageing our fellow-believers.
    I think we should be cautious about joining with non-Christians for worship, or else our worship will be like that of the Samaritans “You worship you know not what.”

    Josh – Great blog! It may be my favorite, but I guess so, since I’m your Dad!

  12. Since I am sort of ignorant of the meaning of postmodernism, I found this definition. Is this what you mean by it? Is it an effort after modernism (liberalism) to return to tradition?

    Merriam-Webster attempts to describe the term as either of, relating to, or being an era after a modern one or of, relating to, or being any of various movements in reaction to modernism that are typically characterized by a return to traditional materials and forms (as in architecture) or by ironic self-reference and absurdity (as in literature), or finally of, relating to, or being a theory that involves a radical reappraisal of modern assumptions about culture, identity, history, or language.[1] The American Heritage Dictionary describes the term as Of or relating to art, architecture, or literature that reacts against earlier modernist principles, as by reintroducing traditional or classical elements of style or by carrying modernist styles or practices to extremes

  13. Postmodernism is certainly not yet pinned down. We do know that it is not modernism (spawned by scientific revolution, industrial revolution, and The Enlightenment) which was characterized by central leadership, a tendency toward metanarratives, scientific authority, clear definitions, sterility, complicated plainness, etc. Most agree that postmodernism lends itself toward decentralized leadership (shared leadership), narrative, communal authority (or distrust of authority), fluid definitions (because definitions depend upon language which is fluid), chaotic vibrance, and organic representation. Someone tell me what I missed or misrepresented. Everyone agrees…postmodernism is certainly not modernism.

    I am sure that more scholarly students of this era will find my ramblings laughable. Please, do not mock but rather correct. One leads nowhere, the other leads to common understanding (which happens to be standard value of postmodernism).

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