Question of the Week: How Far Is Too Far With Worship Ministry?

There are usually two ends of the spectrum when it comes to worship ministry.

On the one hand, there are those who see the modern influences of technology, modern music, multi-media, and other production elements as extremely negative. I’m not just talking about the King James only, Retirement Community only churches of America. There are people of all ages and backgrounds, in churches all over who fear the modern shift in worship ministry. They go out of their way to avoid the modern eases.

On the other hand, there are those who embrace every aspect of the modern. They have multi-media presentations on the highest quality projectors money can buy. Their bands are made of all studio musicians and the light shows rival broadway.

As a worship pastor, sifting through what’s right and wrong with regard to method is important. I think anyone attending church, especially with any role of leadership needs to ultimately wrestle with this issue. What is the balance? Should we refrain from any modern influence for fear of going too far? Just because we can do something with regard to production and technology, should we?

How far is too far with worship ministry? In a recent article in Relevant, they asked ten worship leaders questions along these lines. Be sure and check it out as you work through this and weigh in below with your thoughts. Has worship ministry gone too far with technology and where is the balance?


5 Reasons People Still Predict the End of the World

Even in Jesus’ day, his followers were obsessed with knowing when his promised return would be. While sitting on the Mount of Olives, his disciples approached him and asked when the end of the age would be (Matt 24:3). Right before ascending up to heaven in the beginning of Acts, his disciples ask if it was the end of time when he would restore the kingdom completely. In both instances, Jesus responded with the most challenging answer human ears can hear: “You will never know!” Jesus tells them that there will be certain indications that it is near, but we will never know the exact time of his return. Jesus describes his Second Coming as a thief who breaks into a house in the middle of the night. No one will expect it. This is what the Bible guarantees.

Jesus’ promise of our ignorance has not stopped people from predicting it. The Seventh Day Adventist were formed when William Miller predicted the end of the world would be in 1843. Harold Camping originally predicted the end of the world would be in September of 1994. When September of 1994 came and went without any sign of apocalypse, Harold re-predicted the end of the world as May 21, 2011. If you have been driving down a major highway in America, you have probably seen the billboards guaranteeing it.

I am baffled that despite the incredible clarity in the Bible that we will not know when Jesus is coming back, people still predict it and are believed. What is it that drives so many people to buy into these predictions? What is the motivation behind the billboards seen all over America?

Here are 5 Reasons why people predict the end of the world:

1. We Can’t Stand Not Knowing – From the oracle at Delphi saying, “Know thyself,” to Nietszche’s famous quote, “Knowledge is Power,” knowing has been one of the most significant driving forces for progress and sin in human history. It’s what got Adam and Eve in trouble. They wanted the power behind behind the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. People just can’t stand not knowing. So instead of accepting Jesus’ promise that we will never know, we turn to all kinds of kooky numerology and other strange methods to predict it.

2. We Want to Control Our Fate – It brings chills down the spine of most Americans to hear the last two lines of the famous poem, “Invictus.” “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” Unfortunately, this line just isn’t true. There are certain things in life we can control. Our ultimate fate is not one of them. By predicting the end of times we take what was meant to be hoped for in faith into something we control. If we know when the world will end, we can plan accordingly. We can control things.

3. We Want to Make Money – I know this might seem strange to you, but there is a lot of money in end of the world predictions. Harold Camping is currently worth 25 million dollars with his company, Family Radio, netting over 177 million dollars. Once you predict the end of the world, you ask people to give all their money to the cause of getting the word out, which doesn’t cost nearly as much as is earned through people’s donations. Thus, profits. People predict the end of the world in order to prey on the above mentioned impulses of other people. It may seem sleazy, but it works.

4. We Don’t Read the Bible – At least, we don’t read the Bible in its entirety. If you already have an idea of what you want the Bible to say, you can make it say just about anything. However, anybody who reads the Bible in its entirety and without a severely debilitating preconceived notions would predict the Second Coming of Christ. Jesus himself tells us we can’t. However, if we don’t read the Bible, it is not difficult to claim that it supports our whack job theories.

5. We Want the Publicity – Nobody in America should know who Harold Camping is. But we do. Enough said.

Jesus doesn’t want us knowing because the Christian life is supposed to be lived by faith. If his return is immanent but unknown, it should cause us to be constantly living in expectation and sharing the good news of salvation through Christ. I look forward to seeing you all on May 22, 2011.

On a related note, the zombie apocalypse is totally legit. Watch out!

Question of the Week: How Has Your Past Affected Your Present?

I recently began reading through one of my dad’s books, Grace Based Parenting. In the first chapter it talks about the role someone’s past has on his present. In the context of the book, it is referring to parenting. If someone has a positive experience from her parent’s methods, she is likely to follow suit. If negative, she will likely overcompensate in the opposite way.

Cody Kimmel as a kid

One example of me growing up to be something I was as a kid

I’ve heard this before, and this isn’t something only true for parenting. It had just been a while since I had thought about it. My past affects me more than I realize. Even while reading my dad’s book, I was struck how similar my writing style is to his. I’m not only learning my parenting techniques and spiritual values, but even things like my writing voice.

In a bigger way, the way we experienced God as a kid, whether in church or out of church, with a supportive family or a hostile one, has effected the way we experience Him now. I grew up in a strong Bible church without much presence of charismatic giftings or worship style. As an adult, my faith is now very Bible-driven and I have a difficult time with charismatic expressions in worship. I’m not even talking about things like tongues or prophecy, but stuff as basic as lifting up hands in worship.

My question for you this week is how has your past with God affected your present with Him?

How are you different because of your childhood?

There are a lot of things in the Christian life that we may elevate because of our own past, not necessarily because it should be elevated. Take some time this week to reflect on this and if you would like, share it here.

What Parents Need to Know about Postmodernism

The Postmodern Parent written by Cody Kimmel

Today I had the privilege of once again guest posting on my parent’s ministry blog, Family Matters. In this guest post I begin a three part series examining the language of postmodernism and what parents need to know. The first part is dedicated to the underlying distrust of our generation towards authority, the reasons why, and how parents can deal with it. Here is an excerpt:

Postmodernism can be defined many different ways depending on the context, however one of the constants is the suspicion of the “because-I-said-so” explanations.  This new culture is one existing in the shadow of two world wars, genocides and oppression, and an overall abuse of power in every sphere of cultural life. Because of this, the postmodern generation is suspicious of authority. They are suspicious of people who say they need to believe something just because they say it’s true. This new paradigm of suspicion poses an interesting challenge for parents.

We now live in a culture that does not support parent’s authority. If the people in charge are under suspicion in a postmodern world, parents often become public enemy #1 in the eyes of their children. So what are we supposed to do? Do we just surrender and let our kids disobey and question without any reaction?

Fortunately, there is a way to communicate in an authoritative way to a postmodern culture! The postmodern generation doesn’t reject authority because they flat out hate it (although it might seem that way to parents sometimes), they suspect authority because they don’t trust it. Now more than ever, it is essential for us as parents to earn the right to be heard by our children.

You can read the whole article HERE!

What Does it Mean to be a Worship Pastor?

I’m going to confess something. There are times when I wonder if I should be a worship pastor. In high school, I started learning acoustic guitar because I wanted to be a part of the high school worship band and hopefully help lead worship. Although my motivations weren’t always selfless, I have always enjoyed using music to give God glory and helping other people connect with God. But now that I am a worship pastor with over ten years of leading worship under my belt, I find myself doubting my career choice.

What does it mean to be a worship pastorI think a lot of my angst over being a worship pastor springs from what I have perceived of its role in the church over the last ten years. The current status of worship ministry is in many ways more like a music and production business than a pastoral church office. The teaching pastors are the “theologians,” whereas the worship “pastors” are the rockstars, the artists, the cheerleaders and glorified karaoke machines who lead people through songs talking about God, (some of the time).

This is a hard reality I have grappled with over my career leading worship. On the one hand, I love creating and writing music. I love the artistic elements and the aesthetic nature of it. On the other hand, I have been disappointed by the lack of “pastoring” present in worship ministry. It’s not expected for worship leaders to know the Bible well or have any training in exegesis and counseling. Outside of Sunday, there really aren’t many responsibilities for worship pastors apart from making sure the program runs smoothly.

This is why I have doubted my career choice lately. Can a worship pastor be more than a song leader? Should there be more expected than a smooth, professional music section on a Sunday morning service?

Over the last few months, I have been working on a paper on the role of worship pastors and I have been unveiling some of that research on the blog. A few weeks ago I discussed the idea of worship ministry as dialectic liturgy. This is really just a fancy way of saying that worship ministry is the unique ministry of dialoguing with God. Whereas preaching is more rhetorical and does not demand interaction, worship ministry is interaction. It is on this point that I’ve seen a glimmer of hope. The last ten years of developing as a worship leader may not have been completely in vain.

If worship is dialectic, then worship ministry is the overseeing of dialectic liturgy. The role of the worship pastor, if working from that premise, is so much more than a song leader on Sunday mornings. A worship pastor creates the atmosphere, space, context, and modes for the church to actively interact with God and know Him dialectically.

This does not discount the role of music in the dialectic worship of God. However, effective worship ministry is one that sees music as part of a greater culture of interaction with God and not as the only medium through which people can know and respond to God in a worshipful way. True worship leaders are liturgical architects.

In part two of a theological look at worship pastoring, I discuss four practical ways dialectic liturgy can be lived out.

  • Return to pre-Modern liturgy
  • Contextualize Song with Narrative
  • Use Art as a Deconstructive Aesthetic
  • The Aesthetic of Justice

Am I alone in wrestling through this? If you are a pastor, worshipper, or just interested, I desperately seek your input. The job description for worship pastors must be re-written for the sake of maximum impact. Will you help me re-write it?

Happy Mother’s Day! What I’ve Learned From my Mom

My mom and me at my wedding

So in case you, the reader, were unaware, I have a mother. In fact, I have an incredible mom to whom I owe much of my character and personality. Although she was most certainly the smartest of everyone in the family and probably could have been some high powered lawyer somewhere, or a leading scientific researcher, or an astronaut, she decided to pour all of her intelligence, passion, gifts, and time into raising me and my 3 siblings. I am truly blessed to have her, I don’t tell her enough. So, in honor of Mother’s Day, I wanted to share a few things I’ve learned from my mom over the last 26 years.

1. Your past doesn’t have to define your present – Without going into detail, my mom didn’t have the ideal upbringing. The main issue was her dad, who didn’t find Jesus till much later in his life. Christianity was not present nor encouraged. This made her home life challenging in many ways. I’ve met quite a few people in my life with similar histories, and for the most part, all wear the scars to prove it. Whether its a lack of trust in people, debilitating insecurities, indiscriminate affection, or just unhealthy distancing, people raised in a hostile setting show it in their lives.

If my mom has scars from childhood, they are not visible now. She is confident, unbelievably gracious, elegant, trusting, and secure. She has not allowed any of the hostility experienced as a child play out in her own life as a mother. I had a great childhood, but there are even times when I am tempted to let my past mistakes define how I act today. I’ve learned from my mom, and the example of what Jesus did in her life, that my past doesn’t have to define my present.

2. Unique memories are worth the effort – For most of my childhood, we had an extra storage unit to store Christmas decorations. That’s right, we had so many decorations, we needed an entire storage unit! We now have a giant shed in our backyard for storage, but regardless, it is overwhelming. Growing up, the day after Thanksgiving was always dedicated to making multiple trips back and forth from the storage unit to the house bringing our THREE Christmas trees and boxes back to our house. My dad, my brother, and I would do this, not always cheerfully, because my mom loved decorating for Christmas. She loved listening to the music, making the house look beautiful, and maintaining the traditions surrounding the holiday. We all knew what to expect at Christmas time because my mom and dad worked very hard to maintain consistency with regard to tradition.

I didn’t appreciate all the work my mom put into Christmas time until I went away for college. I was surprised how much I missed the decorations, the schedule, and the Mariah Carey Christmas album being played ALL the time in our house. I even downloaded that album one year to secretly play in the car so I could remember home. It was a lot of work on my mom’s part, but she created a unique memory that I will always carry with me. Mariah Carey’s “Silent Night” reminds me how much I am loved. So many events and holidays, especially now, are haphazardly approached. I’ve learned from my mom that good memories take work, but have incredible lasting effects.

3. There is wisdom in talking less – The first time my wife, Lauren, had a meal with my whole family, she was shocked by how loud it was. My family is very close, but we’re all pretty loud and opinionated. So our meals together usually consist of debating politics, theology, philosophy, or just trying to one up each other on jokes. In the course of events, all of us end up saying at least one stupid thing that we wish had never come out of our mouths. All of us, except my mom. Like I said before, my mom is by far the smartest and most eloquent one at the table, but instead of talking too much and putting her foot in her mouth, she just sits back and watches the trainwreck of a conversation crash in front of her. This is a lesson I have barely learned. But any restraint I show in conversation, I learned from my mom.

4. Grace is beautiful – It probably won’t surprise many people, but I did a lot of stupid things growing up. I embarrassed myself and my family and I have no doubts there were times my mom would have rather wrung my neck than hugged me, but she didn’t. I was never shamed by my mom, I was never guilted. Despite the stupid things that I did, I always felt safe in talking to her about them. Now my mom is a beautiful and elegant woman, but a beautiful person without grace can quickly become ugly. My mom has grace, and it makes her beauty all the more incredible. I have learned the power of grace in the way my mom treated me growing up and the way she deals with my idiocracy still.


I know this is cliche, but the list could definitely go on and on. I’m very blessed and I hope my mom has a great Mother’s Day. I love you, mom.

On another related note, the example my mom set for me made the standards for who I married incredibly high. Lauren has exceeded them. If you want to read more from another incredible mom, check out Lauren’s Little Blog Book or my wife’s newest blogging adventure, Dallas Moms Blog.

Family in Flagstaff

Karis, Lauren, Mom and me in Flagstaff, AZ

Will Osama Eventually Be In Heaven? The False Dichotomy of Religious Expectations

Sunday Night, the greatest villain in the Western mind was announced dead. Ever since the tragic attack on September 11, 2001, Osama Bin Laden has grown to be the face of evil to an entire generation and as the news quickly filtered through Social Media sites, news station, and then finally declared by President Obama, the mantra “Justice Has Been Done” echoed through the night and has continued ever since.

Bin Laden not only orchestrated the killing of thousands in the attack on the twin towers, but has led a subversive radical regime which has taken hundreds of thousands of lives since its inception. The label “evil” is appropriate for him. Throughout history, when evil people finally got their just desserts (Hitler committing suicide, Bundy getting executed, Hussein being executed), the world rejoices over the justice that has been done. Regardless of the progress of human history, there is something inherent that enjoys seeing evil punished. Civilization is reassured that despite the overwhelming evil that goes unpunished, sometimes evil is conquered. Justice is done.

Prior to the events of Sunday night, the topic of heaven and hell dominated theological conversation and debate. With the release of Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, the question of how a loving God can sentence people like Gandhi to eternal hell just because he didn’t believe in Jesus has come into the forefront. While many in the Evangelical community have written Bell off as a Universalist, the overwhelming popularity of the book indicates that Bell’s concerns with the traditional understanding of hell are shared by many in America, especially amongst the younger generation.

Although I personally disagree with Bell, I do however understand the angst and difficulty of reconciling a loving God with hell. What I found lacking in the conversation prior to Sunday night is the other side of the argument, a side that has been made explicit in America’s reaction to Bin Laden’s death. If we refuse to accept that Gandhi will spend eternity in hell for rejecting Jesus, and that he, through God’s love, will eventually be brought into heaven, then the same must be true for Bin Laden. It seems almost cool to ask how a loving God can send people to hell. But is it equally cool to ask how a just God can let evil go unpunished? Will Osama eventually be in heaven without any repentance or contrition? Can a just God truly ignore the overwhelming evil of this man?

There is a false dichotomy in the religious expectations of Americans. On the one hand, we want to believe that God’s love will just turn a blind eye towards our sin and allow us into his presence. On the other hand, we see the death of Bin Laden and the hell awaiting him as justice and we revel in seeing it. We want a love that ignores evil while at the same time wanting a justice that punishes it. In a recent article in the New York Times by Ross Douthat, this same problem is discussed. He takes the example of the fictional Tony Soprano and asks if we really believe a guy like that, his archetype, could ever be accepted into heaven by a just and loving God.

A few weeks ago, I asked the question of whether or not hell exists. Hell may not be popular to a Western World that has been overwhelmingly anesthetized to the true effects of an evil world, but for those who have seen first hand violent oppression, genocides, terrorism, and holocaust, its hard to imagine a spiritual realm without hell. If God is just, there must be a real punishment for evil. Justice must be done. As Psalm 11:5-6 says, “The LORD tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence. 6Let him rain coals on the wicked; fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup. 7For the LORD is righteous; he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face.”

As we process the news of Sunday night, I hope we can take a deeper look at our religious expectations. It might be easy to shrug off hell as an outdated dogma used by the church for control. But if we do that, what will we do with evil men like Bin Laden? Furthermore, what about all the evil in the world? Can God’s love be applied like a band-aid to the massacred flesh of a world infused with evil, or does Jesus’ death mean more than that? Is more action required from God for justice to be done?

The God of Love in 3-D

I was struck by something today.

While working on some homework in the crowded Koine coffeehouse on the DTS campus, I was listening to  John Mark McMillan’s album The Medicine. The final song on the album is one that I have been doing frequently in worship, How He Loves. Although repetition can be the key to learning, it can also be the enemy of profundity. Every night Lauren and I sing “Jesus Loves Me” to our son before he goes to bed. A common mantra in our church is “Jesus loves us.” No doubt, we worship a God of love. But how often do I actually feel it? How often do I affirm the two dimensional phrase “Jesus loves me” and also experience it in 3-D?

Knowing God is a God of love is one thing. Feeling it is something completely different. Today I was struck by how little I let myself feel that God is a God of love.

My wife called me earlier to give me an update on our son. Apparently today he learned how to take his diaper off during nap time. This is one of the many little fears that new parents have. We know it will happen, but we still dread the day. As my wife walked into his room and saw what had happened, she walked right up to Kyler’s half naked little body without hesitation, picked him up and cleaned him. She didn’t close the door and hope he would some how learn how to put his diaper back on. She didn’t put newspaper over him. She didn’t shame him and yell at him. She gently brought him into her arms, braving pee, poop, and any and all of the other disgusting things our cute baby creates, and showed him love.

We tell Kyler that we love him all the time, but today Lauren got the opportunity to show him that love in 3-D. He may not have fully understood it, but in his own way, he felt loved. Just like Lauren entered the mess of a diaper-less nap time, Jesus entered into the mess of our world. He didn’t close the door. He didn’t try to cover us up. He didn’t shame us. He just loved us.

In those moments when I feel distant from the love of God I affirm, I think of Jesus. The God of love is not merely a theological proposition. It is not a tagline in a song, or a meaningless platitude we tell ourselves to assuage the pain of a fallen world. The God of love is 3-D in Jesus. Through him we can feel it, experience it, and know it beyond words.

Do you sometimes have a hard time feeling God’s love? What helps you?

““For God so loved the world,that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16–17 ESV)

A Theological Look at Worship Pastoring: Part 2

Over the last few months, I have been researching and writing a paper for an independent study entitled “Teaching Theology through Worship Ministry in a Postmodern Context.” As a worship pastor, this has been the most important academic study I’ve ever done as far as influencing my personal ministry. Now that I have turned in my first draft of the paper I’m excited to share with you bits and pieces of the paper (It’s 30 pages long, so don’t worry, I won’t be sharing all of it). Overall, I argue that worship ministry is the perfect medium to teach theology to a postmodern culture because it is a ministry characterized by a dialogue with an incarnate God. Part 2 is the last section of the paper in which I propose four strategies for teaching theology through worship ministry to a postmodern generation. I break every blogging rule in the book on the length of this post, but I would really challenge you to read through this critically and give me your feedback. Part 1 is posted here.

Singer/songwriter genius Sufjan Stevens is a unique blend of spiritual and postmodern in his approach to God in his music. Although he claims no major religious affiliations and certainly does not manifest clear orthodoxy through his songs, there is a sincere desire in his music to engage with a God he longs to be near. In his song, “Oh God, Where are You Now,” Stevens begins by asking God to hold him, to draw near to him as he walks through his draught of faith. In another song off his 2004 album, Seven Swans, entitled, “To Be Alone With You,” Stevens explores the great depths of the implications of atonement, but does it in a very personal, interactive way, that is honest about the underlying doubts inherent in trusting through faith.

I’d swim across lake Michigan
I’d sell my shoes
I’d give my body to be back again
In the rest of the room

To be alone with you
To be alone with you
To be alone with you
To be alone with you

You gave your body to the lonely
They took your clothes
You gave up a wife and a family
You gave your goals

To be alone with me
To be alone with me
To be alone with me
You went up on a tree

To be alone with me you went up on the tree

I’ll never know the man who loved me[2]

            It is a mistake to believe that just because postmodern culture has rejected Enlightenment epistemology, that it has no interest in knowing God. As Stevens’ songs express, there are many in the postmodern context who want God to hold them, who want to be alone with the only man who can ever love them completely. But many feel like they can’t know God through the tired recitations, the practiced bullet points, and the reason-entrenched liturgy of the institutional church. But is this the only way to do church? To understand true things about God, is it necessary to recognize them in an auto-legitimizing knowledge system rooted in Enlightenment epistemology? A look at the means by which Ancient Israel and the Early Church engaged with God liturgically and learned about his character says otherwise.

The great hope for the church in the midst of the seemingly hopeless and nihilistic world of the postmodern is the doctrine of Incarnation. Postmodernists can reject metanarrative all they want, Christians know God through Christ! There is no need to fear the multiplicity of interpretation if the interpretation is coming through a walk of faith with an interactive Savior. In order to teach theology in a postmodern context, pastors need to approach it in a way that recognizes our knowledge of God comes through the manifestation of his presence, not the systematic theologies, tomes of dogmatic didactics, and rhetoric driven information. Worship pastors have the opportunity to re-orient and reshape the liturgical structure of the church in such a way that people can dialogue with God. In order to meet the needs of a postmodern culture and teach theology, there must be a reprioritization of dialectic, incarnational liturgy through which the church can know God through interaction.

Before concluding, there are four brief suggestions for practical steps towards a dialectic liturgy that can teach a postmodern church theology. (1) Return to Pre-modern liturgy, (2) contextualization of songs with narrative, (3) the use of deconstructive aesthetics, and (4) the aesthetic of justice.

The sacramental imagination begins from the assumption that our discipleship depends not only—not even primariliy—on the conveyance of ideas into our minds, but on the immersion in embodied practices and rituals that form us into the kind of people God calls us to be.[3]

1. A Return to Pre-modern Liturgy

            James Smith, in concluding his discussion of postmodernism and the church writes, “The outcome of postmodernism…should be a robust confessional theology and ecclesiology that unapologetically reclaims pre-modern practices in and for a postmodern culture.”[4] Pre-modern liturgy is one founded on Incarnation, not Reason. Before the Enlightenment, people could know things without knowing them objectively, they could embrace faith without fear of it seeming unreasonable. Now that the man behind the curtain of Modern thinking has been exposed, Smith concludes that there is nothing stopping the church from returning to a dialectic liturgy centered on Incarnation and driven by faith.

As is seen in a look at Ancient Israel and the Early Church, there is great precedence for knowing God through dialectic media. A return to practices such as the interactive taking of the Lord’s Supper, the dialectic interaction that takes place through participation in the traditional church calendar, and the communal sharing of stories about God’s interaction in their life can create strong dialectic liturgy that both praises God and forms believers’ understanding of him. As Marva Dawn writes, “The church’s catechumenal process forms us all—both the new in faith and the more mature—to be a people who drink exuberantly of the satisfying Water of life to quench our deepest thirst.”[5] The Lord’s Supper causes the church to interact with the God who saved them and the church surrounding them in a way that forms an understanding of God. Participating in things like Lent can teach Christians their poverty that led to the cross and the value of sacrificing for Christ, much like Ancient Israel knew God through the daily habits formed by Law-living. Recounting stories, both biblical and personal, can promote a dialogue with an interactive God that teaches truths about Him.

2. Contextualize Songs With Narrative

            Music as a mode of both worship and teaching of theology, as discussed earlier, is an important part of both modern worship ministry and historical liturgy. However, modern worship music can often times feel like stars floating aimlessly through space, unaware of the galaxy surrounding them. It is good for the church to sing, “Our God is greater,” but the phrase doesn’t mean as much when understood outside of the context of the narrative that expresses that truth about God. Without the narrative surrounding the songs sung in a liturgical setting, musical worship becomes rhetorical, merely affirming truths about God and not truly interacting with the God of truth.

In order to connect worship songs effectively to a postmodern culture in a didactic way, the singing of them must happen in a dialectic context. This means contextualizing songs with either the biblical narrative surrounding them or the narrative of the church. Lee Wyatt, although writing primarily about preaching in a postmodern context, still makes an appropriate point. “If we allow the shape of the Story to inform our preaching, then we will be primarily storytellers. No longer will we simply dip into the Scriptures to find a text, or use lectionary readings in isolation from their larger contexts. Specific texts will be embedded in a larger Story.”[6]

Likewise, specific songs need to be embedded in the larger Story of faith. As a worship pastor, before leading the church through a series of songs about God’s faithfulness, I might try and share the story of God bringing his people back from exile, or talk about Jesus’ faithfulness to Peter despite Peter’s denial of him, or have a member of the congregation come and share her story of God’s faithfulness in her own life. By contextualizing songs in narrative, a liturgy that is currently rhetorical becomes dialectic again. Just as Moses sang out of response to God’s presence and interaction, the church is singing in a response to the narrative they inhabit. This simple addition to the current worship form of many Evangelical churches would turn music into a strong dialectic liturgy and a powerful didactic tool to a postmodern culture.

3. Deconstructive Aesthetics

John Caputo describes deconstruction as the “hermeneutics of the Kingdom of God.”[7] What he means is that the kingdom of God, the advent of Jesus in the world, is the deconstructive force that tears down the systems of self and idolatry characterizing the world and reconstructs it in the image of Christ. He writes, “In my view, deconstruction is good news because it delivers the shock of the other to the forces of the same, the shock of the good (the “ought”) to the forces of being (“what is”), which is also why I think it bears good news to the church.”[8] In Caputo’s conclusion, he describes a “church” in Ireland called Ikon, which exemplifies the idea of incorporating a deconstructive aesthetic to create a dialectic liturgy. In its service there are interpretive readings and dance, plays expressing the darkness preceding the resurrection, dramatic iconography asking questions about forgiveness and acceptance of gays and lesbians, pallets and paints available for people to respond and an ultimate suspension of judgment for the sake of all entering into God’s presence.[9]

This, even by Caputo’s admission, is an extreme example of postmodern liturgy that would be difficult for many Christians, even Liberal ones, to enjoy participating in. However, it does show the powerful effect deconstructive aesthetics can have in helping people engage with God. A more palatable example of deconstructive aesthetic is Rob Bell’s series of devotional videos called Nooma. The videos range from two minutes to thirty minutes and usually consist of a series of questions or statements that invoke the viewer to work through the truth of God for himself. In these videos, theology is not normally explicitly expressed but rather inferred through its deconstructive presentation.

Deconstructive aesthetic is any form of art that causes the receiver to actively engage with God. It is a prophetic voice calling the church out of her slumber into an active dialogue with her Redeemer. In order to create a dialectic liturgy in a postmodern context, art must not merely be used as passive reflections on truth, but active deconstructions that invoke interactions.

4. The Aesthetic of Justice

            Smith in his conclusions about a radical orthodox church writes, “The Christian ekklesia must be not only liturgical but also local; it must transform not only hearts but also neighborhoods; its worship must foster not only discipleship but also justice—indeed, disciples who are passionate about justice.”[10] During the research for this paper, I was surprised by the descriptions given by postmodern theologians like James Smith, John Caputo, and Merold Westphal of what postmodern liturgy should look like. It seems the assumption they make about postmodern culture is that it is a culture filled with highly educated people with nuanced artistic tastes. Although that does describe a small part of them, it is not characteristic of them all. In fact, the majority of postmodern culture is comprised of people who would find radical forms of deconstructive art off-putting. It is for this reason that I would like to suggest something new to be thrown into the discussion for what postmodern liturgy should look like. It is the aesthetic of justice.

I am currently a worship pastor at a church called Fellowship White Rock in Dallas, TX. It is a new church started a year ago as a parish offshoot of the church Fellowship Bible Church Dallas. As an attempt to engage a postmodern culture with a dialectic liturgy, the teaching pastor and I decided to change the traditional structure of Sunday services to incorporate the aesthetic of justice into our common liturgy. Every fourth Sunday of the month, instead of the preaching and singing, instead of communion and story, we serve the community in which we inhabit. Since we meet in an underprivileged, underachieving school, there have been numerous ways to serve the community in meaningful ways. Doing things like planting a vegetable garden, hosting block party celebrations for the school kids, and even refurnishing the home of a student who lost all he had in an apartment fire, our church is actively engaging in making right the physical, community wrongs we see around us.

The people who go to our church, for the most part don’t look like radical postmodernists. Although educated, they are mainly young professionals who couldn’t recognize the beauty of a Jackson Pollock painting if it punched them in the face (which could happen). However, they are postmodern and recognize the beauty of seeking justice for the people around them. They are learning that God is a God who transforms people groups, that God’s grace seeks justice, that God’s people should be blessings to those around them. They are learning that the Gospel is both a now and not yet transformational force. In order to create a dialectic liturgy through deconstructive aesthetics, pastors need to think beyond the traditional realm of art and explore the more accessible aesthetic of social justice.

[1] Sufjan Stevens, “Oh God, Where are You Now? (In Pickeral Lake, Pigeon, Marquette? Mackinaw?),” Greetings from Michigan, comps. Sufjan Stevens, 2003,.

[2] Sufjan Stevens, “To Be Alone With You,” Seven Swans, comps. Sufjan Stevens, 2004,.

[3] Smith, 140

[4] Ibid., 116.

[5] Marva Dawn, A Royal “Waste” of Time (Grand Rapids: WIlliam B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), p. 251.

[6] Wyatt, 160.

[7] Caputo, 26.

[8] Ibid. 26-27.

[9] Ibid. 131-133.

[10] Smith, 142.

Why Did Jesus Have to Die?

Today is Good Friday, a day we celebrate with both sorrow and joy. Sorrow for the suffering Christ endured, but joy for the salvation it accomplished. Many of us today may be going to a church service where we will sing songs about his death, take the Eucharist, sit in quiet meditation, and listen to a sermon. I hope that we can all do something today to remember the great price paid.

I know, for me, the repetition of the traditions surrounding holidays like Good Friday can be important in giving me occasion to think about what God did and remember. However, it can also be easy to do the traditions and remembrance of the events, but forget why it happened in the first place. Too many fear that “why” is the antithesis of faith, but what is faith if we can’t answer “why?”

So here is a list of five reasons Jesus died on the cross that I hope will help us have context for why today is such an important day and why our great God suffered such humiliation for us.

1. God is a God of wrath – This is an unpopular truth about God. I think a lot of people hear God’s wrath and assume it means that God is some hot head who gets upset over petty things and uses his power to exact trite revenge on people who offend him. This is an easy association because in a lot of the other ‘wrathful god’ situations, especially the Greek and Roman mythology, the wrath of gods was petty. But the true God’s wrath is not. When he looks at the injustice of the world, the exploitation of the poor, the violence done to one another, the dishonest and undercutting behavior people have with each other, God gets angry. It is a righteous anger that is violently and justifiably opposed to the evil that exists in our world. The reason Jesus died in the manner of the brutal and humiliating cross instead of dying quietly in his sleep is because the manner of death needed to reflect the measure of God’s wrath towards sin.

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” (Romans 1:18 ESV)

2. God is a God of Justice – Not only does the cross reflect God’s wrath, but it also shows God’s justice. The motivation for the wrath of God being poured out on the Son is that justice might be had for the injustice of sin. Not only is God’s justice positively for the weak and oppressed, but it has to be against the wicked. God has to punish wrong, and the consequences for rebelling against God is death, not merely physically, but an eternal separation. So for God’s justice to be satisfied, there needed to be a death. Not because God is unnecessarily cruel, but because he is necessarily just. Jesus’ death was the result of a just God.

“Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV)

3. God is a Holy God – Although it is our nature to think of God in terms we can relate with and in fact create God in our image, the truth is that God is something completely and totally other than us. The realm in which he dwells is completely separate from us. This means that God is a God who’s uniqueness does not allow sin into his presence. Even though he has a deep desire to dwell among people and let them dwell with him, his holiness separates him from sin. This is why God can’t just ignore people’s sin and allow everybody to just be with him in heaven. He is holy and separate from a world sin. The only way for someone to stand before God is to be in the same holy state as him, namely, perfect. The holiness of God is the reason the cross had to happen in the first place, because if God was not holy but just as tarnished as we are there would be no requirement of perfection to be in his presence.

“But as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”” (1Peter 1:15–16 ESV)

4. God is a God of Mercy – The violence of the cross is explained by God’s wrath, the death on the cross is explained by God’s justice, the impetus for the cross is God’s holiness, but why was it God in Jesus who suffered all these things? If God is wrathful, just, and holy, the grotesque death of a person on the cross would actually make sense, but why was it Jesus, both God and man, on the cross and not us? This is answered by God’s mercy. Because his wrath needed to be placed somewhere, justice needed to to punish sin, and man become holy to be in God’s presence, God decided to allow all of those things to be placed on a substitute instead of ourselves. In order for ancient Israel to atone for sin and maintain their covenant, God mercifully allowed them to use the substitute of animals to meet the needs of God’s wrath, justice, and holiness. Jesus was the ultimate substitute expressing God’s mercy. The reason it was Jesus and not me on the cross is because God had mercy on me and allowed himself to be the substitute for my sin.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—” (Ephesians 2:4–5 ESV)

5. God is a God of love – The question still remains, why would God grant mercy on a people who have rebelled against him in all ways? Why would he take our place and endure the consequences of his wrath, justice, and holiness? This is because, despite ourselves, in spite of ourselves, and not because of ourselves, God actually loves us. He, our Creator and Father, loves us with a love that initiates and pursues beyond what we can ever fully comprehend. The exact nature of his death and the presence of Christ on the cross may be answered by the above attributes, but the whole reason God was there in the first place, the reason he even cared to do anything to save humanity from the inevitable death we chose by sinning, was his love! And this is why we humbly, somberly, but joyfully celebrate Good Friday. Because in the cross, the whole nature of God was both manifest and satisfied and as a result, we are now children of God!

Have a great day and remember why Jesus died as we celebrate what he did!