You didn’t think I’d miss my chance to weigh in on the latest round of pink slime discussions, did you? Rather than recapitulate the horror that is your favorite form of “lean finely textured beef,” I will instead point you to my favorite statement in defense of pink slime. It was given by American Meat Institute Director of Scientific Affairs Betsy Booren…
“All my life I had heard words such as, “Let God in your life;” “Give God a chance,’ “Accept him as your Savior and you will discover the rich meaning of life:” I gradually began to understand that these phrases and others like them turn the gospel inside out. I once understood the gospel as God asking me to let him into my narrative, to find room for him in my heart and life. But now I realize that God bids me to find my place in his narrative. In God’s story, he, with his own two hands-the incarnate Word and the Holy Spirit-recapitulated and reversed the human situation so I can now live in him.”
One of the trends that I am seeing over and over in the material that I have been reading is the overt nature in which my own apprehension of the eschatological dimension of worship is stunted. I think this is because I am gun shy of the whole topic. Not because it isn’t important; rather, because in many church contexts as soon as the words “eschaton” or “end-times” are uttered people would come out of the wood-work like a comicon convention with their Tim LaHaye books and their Jack Van Impe brand predictions about a dispensational pre-millennial rapture/tribulation/new world order.
In addition to all of those positions being recent developments in the church, biblically ridiculous, and not to mention a bit convoluted to unpack, the bigger issue is that people get offended (read: angry) when we use the term eschatology to mean something more biblical, more reformed, more in line with the arc of redemptive history that God has created and is taking the whole world to. But people don’t want to hear that. They want to talk about how Obama is the anti-Christ, how the USA will escape a military takeover because of some obscure passage in Daniel, or something else. They don’t want to consider for a moment that a proper view of the eschaton involves God not letting any part of the fall be victorious in this world. The whole world was cursed, humanity included, and the whole world is being redeemed, including the ransomed of humanity.
But it was tiring to even write that; finding the strength to step in the fray and teach that seems like it would be a whole lot of work.
The reading in Webber, Mouw, Meyers, Frame, and others have pointed out that worship is both remembrance (reminder) and rehearsal. It seems like not dealing with eschatology head on is kind of like permitting kudzu to grow. Eventually you are in a losing battle with the weed just trying to keep it from completely eclipsing everything instead of doing the hard work of preventing those seeds from being planted in the first place.
Observe these few quotes from When the Kings Come Marching in: Isaiah and the New Jerusalem
“But the Holy City is not wholly discontinuous with present conditions. The biblical glimpses of this City give us reason to think that its contents will not be completely unfamiliar to people like us. In fact, the contents of the City will be more akin to our present cultural patterns than is usually acknowledged in discussions of the afterlife.”
And this one:
“We – at least many of us – seem to assume that the present patterns and entities of corporate life will simply be done away with when the time for “heaven” comes.”
If we prepare the church for its place in the New Heavens and New Earth, we must begin to think of the new creation in language that the Bible refers to it. Which means that we must not grow weary in speaking against the salesmen and panic-mongers who try to hijack the entire narrative of eschatology in the church.
Oh yes. One other thing. The world is not going to end on May 21, 2011. We aren’t smarter than Jesus.
“At this point in the story [speaking of the numerous accounts where God’s people have profoundly screwed up], many contemporary readers may be wondering: “Where are all the spiritual heroes in this story? Whom am I supposed to be emulating? What is the moral of the story?” The reason for our confusion is that we usually read the Bible as a series of disconnected stories, each with a “moral” for how we should live our lives. It is not. Rather, it comprises a single story, telling us how the human race got into its present condition, and how God through Jesus Christ has come and will come to put things right.”
Often times it is hard to preach sermons from the bible that end up being Christocentric because we don’t ourselves fully understand how they are Christocentric. We are surrounded in our western culture with a fair amount of “hero-worship”, whether they are actors, media spectacles, sports personalities, or even pastors.
So it isn’t surprising that we bring our persistent tendency to make do and get by to the scriptures and settle. The problem is, we don’t settle. We look at the accounts of the people of the Bible and beat ourselves up as to why we couldn’t have enough faith, perform the miracles, hear from God, see the glory, experience the signs, or just all in all get it right.
The real tragedy is that in much of our preaching in the church we bring to people a picture of the bible that simply screams “you would be a much better Christian if only your life looked like [Paul, Peter, James, John, David, Abraham, Moses, Noah, etc.]”
I think that the real work of a sermon is to find the redemptive thread in it, and show our people how it connects to Jesus. But that first means that as pastors, our hearts have to have connected with Jesus in the text before we can bring anyone else to that point.
In order to conclude our discussion, we must now try to understand how to contextualize the biblical model with sociological phenomena. The responsible church musician must ask first and foremost what the common language of their congregants is. What moves them, what heightens their affections, what draws them closer to God? Is it contemporary expressions of music, played by a band with guitars and drums? Is it hymns of the faith, played on organ and accompanied by strings? We are to strive for excellence, to be sure. It is our objective to be precise in our exegesis of our culture, and edify the body by using our gifts to serve the kingdom.
Does this mean that we forget the music of our past? Of course not.
As Reggie Kidd is quick to point out, the hymns, creeds, and confessions of our church that have stood the test of time are just some of the things that connects generations past to this present age, and give the saints that have gone before us their voice in our day. We are part of a church that is confessional (we hold to the creeds and confessions of our faith), connectional (we are linked together by Christ to the church universal), and we must be a church that is contextual (that is, we strive to edify our surrounding culture by meeting them in their own common experience).
Does this mean that we leave them there? No. We want to, again using the words of Kidd, be as broad, vast, and as creative as the Creator is. We want to explore new expressions of music and art. We want to see what new spheres our art takes us to next. But this is not to serve ourselves. This is to point us to the Holy, for indeed that is only where we can find true beauty.
But as we explore these new forms of expression, we want to be sure that we are contextualizing it for our people; we want to make it come alive for them in new and vibrant ways. Language is not innately understood. It is learned and it is taught. Likewise in music, people only know what they have been exposed to. It is the burden of those who have been gifted to excel in music to condescend to the people (just as Christ did), to meet them where they are (just as Christ did), and to lift them up to places that they could not go on their own (just as Christ did). Churches must take an active role in safeguarding their worship, so that the body of Christ is edified, and not alienated.
When we speak of elevating a person’s language, we do not mean that they must switch from Swahili to English. It instead means that we teach them to explore the full depths of Swahili and plumb its fullness of expression out for a specific purpose. Likewise, when we speak of music, though we want to expose people to “languages” that are not their native tongue, we do not want to err as the Catholic church did by presenting one service in one language to the detriment of the people. Our calling in the reformation is to make sure that the language of worship is accessible.
Why is this important? Because when we think of worship in terms of style, aesthetic, and preference, there is no common denominator whereby we can orient our discussion. However, when we think of worship is a communicative tool that will be transmitted and must be understood by the hearer, we can then have (what I feel to be) a more objective discussion.