Kemper Crabb

Worship. Art. World.

A Few Observations On Worship And The Arts: Part Three

     We have seen in the first two parts of this article that worship is to be done primarily for the Pleasure of God, rather than for our own pleasure. We saw also that Evangelical Christians in America have largely lost this doctrine in the heat of the pursuit of their own pleasure, deforming the form and content of worship to elicit emotional, self-fixated good feelings with little or no thought given to forming the holiness in the worshipper that enables worship that truly pleases God. 

    This self-orientation amongst Evangelicals has led many to a strident selfishness that is a primary contributor to what have been termed the “worship wars,” a struggle over style or form of worship, rather than content (though content is frequently involved, especially when one realizes that style itself is a content…). 

    Most Evangelical churches have experienced this struggle in the years since the cultural upheavals of the 1960s and ‘70s (though it has been present, in generally less explosive fashion, throughout the Church’s history), which affected styles of artistic, fashion, architectural, and even inter-relational expression virtually across the board. When those from among the resultant counter-culture were converted to the Faith (mainly large numbers of younger people), they carried into the Church those speech, clothing, and musical fashions of the culture they were from, not unnaturally (or unreasonably) wanting to render praise to God in forms they knew and appreciated. They were also concerned to communicate the Christ they had come to love with those in the counter-culture who still were unconverted, once again utilizing the styles of expression they knew, which were also the styles those they were trying to communicate the Gospel to would know and respond to.

    The natural tendency of these young counter-cultural converts to want to worship in styles they loved and knew best was only encouraged by the young (and sometimes not-so-young) Christians who had been raised within the worship-culture of the Church, but who both were exposed to and adopted many of the stylistic practices of the counter-culture for themselves, both because they saw potential for Evangelism in them and/or because they understood and appreciated those stylistic expressions (this writer was himself a very young Christian in the early 1970s, in the first wave of what came to be called the Jesus Movement, who appreciated and adopted many of the stylistic expressions of the counter-culture, for both reasons of personal preference and for evangelism).

    However, a vast majority of the leadership and membership of the Evangelical churches which were receiving the young counter-cultural converts into their midst did not approve of the cultural expressions of the young converts. There were basically three reasons for this. The first was that they correctly understood that much of the ideology (the ideas) held by the leaders and primary spokesmen for the counter-culture of the 1960s and ‘70s was explicitly anti-Christian. How, they reasoned, can any form or style that comes out of a cultural movement so inherently pagan be any good (“ Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”)?

    This led to the second reason: a deficient theology of culture, which led many older Christians of the day to be blind to the culture-transforming power of the Gospel, especially in light of the Church’s centuries-long dominance of the Arts, which had only began to fade in the attention of the Evangelicals sixty or seventy years before (similar objections were raised, for instance, to motion pictures and the advent of television).

     The third (and generally the dominant) reason for most was that the older Christians, who didn’t have much contact with, and either didn’t understand or appreciate counter-cultural artistic expressions, were uncomfortable with, actively disliked, and resented the intrusion of the contemporary forms of worship into the enjoyment of their worship “comfort zones”.

    We will, Lord willing, continue this topic in next issue’s column.