A preview of postmodern worship
November 21 2001 by Robert Dilday , Religious Herald

A preview of postmodern worship | Wednesday, Nov 21, 2001
  • Sociological. The world became a true "global village." Increasingly the urban church will become much more inter-cultural, Webber said.
  • Historical. The view that the world is getting better is no longer widely believed. Instead, young people seek a recovery of the past.
  • Scientific. Newtonian physics was mechanistic. Current views see the physical world more like a web, more interrelated. That shows up in the church as an increase in interrelationships and community.
  • Religious. Although there still is a lot of nihilism, there has been a rise in spirituality, Webber said. The church's worship needs to connect with that.
  • Philosophical. Reason is no longer the basis of people's world view. Instead, mystery better explains the shape of things. "When looking for a church, people used to ask, 'Where's the best preaching?' Now they ask, 'Where's the best worship?' People are not looking so much for answers as for an encounter with God," Webber said.
  • Communications. Print orientation shaped the traditional church, while broadcast orientation shaped the contemporary one. The Internet shapes the postmodern church. "The Internet is participatory and relational," Webber said. "The postmodern church will begin to reflect that shape of communications."

    Webber said he recently conducted a survey of more than 175 undergraduate and graduate students to determine where Christian leaders who are in their 20s want to take the church.

    "The highest negative in worship for these people was entertainment," he said, describing entertainment as "worship that is done to you or done for you."

    The 20-somethings are "looking for depth and substance," he said. "They're sick of the trite stuff that has come out in the past 30 years. Some of it is good stuff but much of it is superficial."

    A primary way in which that depth and substance is communicated is through mystery and ambiguity, Webber said. "They have a desire for transcendence. They get it every other place - why not at church?"

    Many conservative Christian leaders today are in fact liberal, he said. "They have adopted the (reasoned) philosophy of the Enlightenment and it's not going to fly," he said.

    A new generation Seven characteristics describe the 20-something generation, according to Webber:

  • They are ready to commit. "They are radical, extreme." A revival of interest in the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, especially The Cost of Discipleship, is indicative of their passionate commitment, he said.
  • They are spiritual but not religious. "They don't like institutions but they're deeply spiritual. Don't hand them a bunch of rules," Webber said.
  • They are nostalgic for the past - especially forms of worship such as those in the Iona or Taize traditions that reflect ancient Christian influences.
  • They long for connections. "They want person-to-person contact." Conservative churches today have adopted a CEO model, he said. "That's off-the-chart liberal. Those who believe in turning the church over to the people are truly Reformational."
  • They are attracted to mystery and ambiguity. "Don't give a 20-something lots of answers," said Webber. On the other hand, he said he expects to see a revival of belief in absolutes. "Young people who are extreme will go to the wall on absolutes. But they're not looking for answers - they're looking for wisdom and direction."
  • They are participatory joiners. Neither traditional nor contemporary worship is participatory, he said. "Traditional worship is choir driven and contemporary worship is band driven," he said. "(Twenty-somethings) want to sing it, pray it, say it, kneel it."
  • They are audio/visual learners. They were raised on television and the Internet. "They want to see it."

    Postmodern culture will be around for a long time, Webber said, but not postmodern philosophy.

    "Postmodern philosophy is very relativistic," he said. "September 11 (the day of the terrorist attacks in the United States) was a wake-up call and has brought about the end of political and religious liberalism and relativism. By 'liberal' I mean Christianity that is humanist, human based. That kind of Christianity is dead and gone."

    In its place, said Webber, will be the "recovery of a new kind of conservatism, a healthy conservatism, a biblical conservatism. It will fly in the face of postmodern relativism. Young people will embody those values. I see the emergence of an old Christianity in the context of the postmodern world. Progressive and traditional churches won't cease to exist, but they will become irrelevant."

    In a second lecture, Webber fleshed out a vision of postmodern worship which focuses on God's transcendence.

    The language of mystery "Over the past 30 years we have not been adequately triunal in worship," he said. "In the '60s we shifted to intimacy with God, reflected in a closed relationship with Jesus. We don't want to give that up, but we need the otherness, the holiness."

    The means to achieve profound worship of God is through the language of mystery, Webber said. Sung "alleluias" interspersed in worship, the use of Latin and Greek phrases such as the "kyrie eleison," ("Lord have mercy") and times of silence all give a sense of the otherness, he said.

    "We used to avoid silence in worship because it was 'dead space,'" he said. "Silence is not dead space but a sound which is alive."

    The language of narrative frames the worship of the Son, Webber said. "We Christians have a story to tell and we express it in the context of worship" through hymns, some choruses, scripture, creeds and sermons.

    "The story is told supremely at communion," he said. "When you lift the bread and pour the cup you are not only telling the story but dramatizing it."

    The worship of the Holy Spirit is expressed through the language of symbol, he said.

    Because God created all things, His presence is everywhere, Webber said. But there are places of "intensity of God's presence," he added.

    "In the Old Testament it is expressed in holy mountains and in the Tabernacle. In the New Testament, "the Word became flesh. God localized Himself, He became 'earthed.'"

    "The church is the continuation of that incarnation and today the intensity of God's presence is expressed in the church. One's first encounter with the Holy Spirit is going to be with each other. The worship of the Holy Spirit is always expressed through a visible, tangible form of ministry, word or sacred action."

    (EDITOR'S NOTE - Robert Dilday is associate editor of the Religious Herald, the Baptist General Association of Virginia's weekly newspaper. This article originally ran in the Oct. 11 Herald.)

  • Wednesday, Nov 21, 2001

    A preview of postmodern worship

    By Robert Dilday Religious Herald Just as revolutionary changes in the 1960s paved the way for contemporary styles of worship, revolutionary change in the 1990s inspired postmodern worship - and it's here to stay, said seminary professor Robert Webber. "The generation of 20-somethings - those most influenced by postmodern trends - is looking for an authentic encounter with God," said Webber, a widely known authority on worship trends. The church's challenge is to find ways for that encounter to happen in worship, he said.

    In the last half of the 20th century, the transition in many American churches from traditional to contemporary forms of worship produced conflict as advocates of one view or another strove to see their style prevail.

    Such a conflict won't occur in the transition to postmodern forms of worship, Webber said. If the 20-somethings don't find the encounter with God they seek, "they won't stick around. They're not fighters - they're surfers."

    Webber spoke at "Worship First," a two-day conference at Derbyshire Baptist Church in Richmond, Va., sponsored by the Virginia Baptist Mission Board's worship and church music ministry team and by the board's Center for Creative Church Leadership Development. Webber is professor of ministry at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Ill., and president of the Institute for Worship Studies.

    "One word that defines the 20-somethings is 'authentic,'" said Webber. "They want to be real - they want real community, real worship. It doesn't have to be excellent; it has to be real."

    For most of the 20th century, Christian worship in the United States was "traditional," Webber said - very predictable, very print oriented.

    That changed in the 1960s, as cultural upheaval sparked both the liturgical renewal movement among Catholics and, among Protestant evangelicals, a new desire for intimacy with God - the driving force behind the many contemporary worship services that sprang up.

    In the 1990s, technological and sociological trends influenced a new world view, a postmodern view that seeks convergence - a term Webber prefers to the more familiar "blended" - of worship styles.

    Cultural revolutions Webber described those "cultural revolutions" as:

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    11/21/2001 12:00:00 AM by Robert Dilday , Religious Herald | with 0 comments
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