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What began as a theological critique of one aspect of worship at Triennium has become a wide-ranging discussion of christology and trinitarian theology.  I suppose that some of this is inevitable.  One of my basic premises is that theology matters deeply—religious practice without critical theological reflection is dangerous.  This is why I wanted to think about the theological implications of the music at Triennium worship.

I am grateful to all the comments these posts have received.  I even appreciate the comments (and blog posts) that assume that I am a heretic and are concerned about my relationship to God and the youth and others that I lead as a pastor.  Thank you for your prayers.

I’m not ready to give up what I think is an intriguing theological question about the way Jesus lived his life and the way we worship him post-resurrection.  But as I continue to think about what it was that troubled me at Triennium, and with the help of some insightful comments, I think that a major problem for me is that the Jesus presented by the worship band at Triennium was a one note Jesus.  It’s not as if I find this particular portrayal of Jesus so problematic that I think it has no place in worship.  I just don’t want to hear that and nothing but that, which tends to give a skewed impression of what we think is important about Jesus.  If I really think about my experience at Triennium worship, my discontent grew day by day as were given the same thing (musically) each day.  While the liturgy, drama, and preaching gave voice to different aspects of Jesus, the music was pretty monotone.

A very helpful comment by church musician Eric Wall reminds us that the liturgical calendar, the lectionary cycle, and the nature of the gospels themselves work through (but I would add, don’t necessarily resolve) the tensions I have called attention to.  We do ourselves a disservice when we forget that biblical theology (as opposed to post-biblical systematic theology)  is mostly accomplished through the art of storytelling, not in the pronouncements of absolute doctrines and well-crafted logical propositions.  The gospel is narrative by nature and should be approached accordingly.  A good example of this is what is known as narrative (or postliberal) theology.

For years I have suggested that systematic theology, as it has mostly been practiced since late antiquity, is an inadequate approach to the way that theology is actually done in (most of ) the Bible.   Jewish biblical theologian Stephen Geller has argued for what he calls a theolexical approach rather than a traditional theological approach (see his excellent book Sacred Enigmas).  Yale theologian Hans Frei’s masterwork on narrative theology, The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative, calls us back to a way of reading scripture that is more in tune with the nature of the biblical writings themselves.

As frustrated as I sometimes get with the lectionary (for leaving out troublesome texts and skipping over some important parts of the Bible), it does guide us through the narrative shape of the gospel as it is reflected in the liturgical year.  Eric is right that the humility of Jesus is balanced out by the exaltation of Jesus and vice versa.  The liturgical calendar and lectionary cycle don’t allow us to focus on only one.

What I find problematic about some Jesus worship is that it only focuses on one element of the Jesus story.  At the same time, I would agree that if we were to only focus on the humble servant Jesus in our worship, we would be missing important elements of the story.   What we need is balance.

This kind of balance, which is easier to discern at a congregational level, is admittedly difficult to achieve at a five day conference.  But I don’t think that it is impossible.  And I think we would be doing our youth a great service by being more attentive to this in the future.

John W. Vest

John is a "church hacker" attempting to overcome the limitations of church as we know it. To connect with him and learn more about his work, please visit johnvest.com.

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