Tuesday, May 05, 2009
McKnight on Spiritual Eroticism
Scot McKnight has a thought-provoking article on the out of Ur blog about spiritual eroticism, i.e. the idea that sometimes we Christians are more in love with being in love with God, than we are with God himself. He writes:

Friends of mine today worry about consumerization or commoditization in the church. I offer a slightly different analysis of what might be the same thing: for many, Sunday services have become the experience of courtly love. Some folks love church, and what they mean by "loving church" is that they love the experience they get when they go to church. They prefer to attend churches that foster the titillation of courtly-love worship and courtly-love fellowship and courtly-love feelings.

They say they love worship, and by this they mean they love the courtly-love-like songs that extol the experience of loving Jesus or the experience of adoring God or the experience of a concert-like praise team that can generate the sound of worship intensely enough to vibrate the very soul of the worshiper.

Such folks might like sermons that create powerful contrasts between God’s wrath and human sinfulness or between our sinfulness and God’s gracious love; or they might like stories told so well as to usher them into the depths of human loves and hates and tragedies and comedies. What they like is the freshness of discovery or the flush of shame or the intoxicating sense of learning something new. They may create such a stir of silence in expectation of some great preacher or some great leader that the sheer presence of that person makes their soul swoon.

But this does not describe worship.

Click here to read the whole article.

I've definitely had this experience myself, and while I'd want to push back on Scot just a little bit with the recognition that we always have impure motives in seeking God and God in his mercy still uses that, I nonetheless admit that this is is a problem and one that we should try to be aware of in ourselves. This is part of the big reason that I don't actually enjoy most "praise and worship" services anymore, because a long time ago I became aware of the emotional manipulation that was occurring within me, and how I was becoming more attached to that experience itself than to God.

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posted by Mike Clawson at 10:14 AM | Permalink |


At 5/05/2009 02:24:00 PM, Blogger Chris Cottingham

As a musician and worship-leader (the "waving my arms at the congregation" type, right now, though I've done some of the praise team type in the past), I feel both sides of this dilemma. I don't want to manipulate anything, and I want people to be able to come to worship feeling however they feel - including sad, angry, or just "cruddy". I mostly stopped coming to church for 1-2 years (in seminary, no less) because I was depressed, and I couldn't bear the effort of trying to appear happy in church.

Yet also as a song-leader, I get frustrated with people who stand there looking bored and not opening their mouths or making any stab at a joyful noise. We've gathered for corporate worship - so let's worship! Looking over the congregation and seeing apathy and disinterest bothers me, and I'll occasionally challenge that, very rarely even stopping the singing to talk about what we're doing or to draw attention to the words we're singing.

I try to view this, not as manipulation (which it can easily become), but as coaching. I see in it echoes of C.S. Lewis. Very loosely paraphrased, he wrote that when we don't feel like praying, we should pray, in hopes that the effort and discipline of prayer will, over time, become ingrained, and prayer will get easier.

For me, the best way to avoid being manipulative while still trying to teach and foster worship, has been to focus on being authentic and relational. Rather than trying to get a particular response, I strive to genuinely worship myself, as I lead others.

Another part of this is the problem of viewing "a corporate worship service" as the totality of worship. Part of my goal is to teach worship as expressing love for God - and that needs to be expressed in action as well as words, by showing love for the "least of these." Hence the missional impulse - but that's a bigger topic.

Another way to look at it, and I wish I'd thought this before I wrote all the other. Using Scot's "courtly love" analogy - even after you're married and committed, you still need some time for date nights and "courting." That's what Sunday worship is - the date night where you reconnect in the midst of the daily in-and-out process of living in relationship with God and all God's family. (Lots of in-laws.)

The problem is Christians who only go on dates and never settle down to the marriage and becoming responsible members of the community of the Kingdom.


At 5/05/2009 09:40:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Re: courtly love - as Scot described it, courtly love was not the same as "courting". I.e. it wasn't just about dating or keeping the romance alive. Courtly love, according to Scot, was more about being in love with love, rather than actually being in love with the other person, and that's what Scot was critiquing. Expressing love for God in worship is great, but I agree with Scot that too often what people "love" is really the worship service itself and the feelings it produces in them, not God.

As for people looking bored in worship or not participating, some of that may indeed be a harmful apathy. But, on the other hand, speaking as one who may have been one of those folks at times, it could be a function of the fact that different people worship best in different ways, and there are actually a whole lot of us for whom contemporary praise music is really not our thing. Churches that make praise and worship music their predominant (and sometimes their exclusive) mode of worship, are actually alienating quite a few people, many of whom probably think there is something wrong with them for not getting as much out of worship as they're "supposed to". Personally I'd like to see more churches experiment with multiple worship practices, whether contemporary, traditional, or ancient - and especially with lots more forms of worship than just music. Making "worship" synonymous with "singing" is like trying to subsist on a diet of Easter candy and nothing else IMHO.


At 5/06/2009 08:39:00 AM, Blogger Karl

I haven't read Scot's article yet, but it seems to me that this phenomenon can be true of just about any form of worship service or Christian action. We can make an idol of the experience itself.

Whether we're talking about icons in Orthodox worship, low church evangelical praise and worship music, the smells and bells of the high liturgical service, the intellectual satisfaction of learning from a scholarly sermon or talk, the inner gratification that comes from serving the poor, etc. Each of those can become an idol - pursued solely for the feeling it produces. But each can also be a good means, to a good end. "Any road out of Jerusalem must also be a road into Jerusalem."

And that's a good reminder, that we probably never act with completely pure or unmixed motives. So while needing to be conscious of our tendency toward idolatry, we still need to worship, act and serve.


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