This week our study topic was theology and worship. Maybe some of you are gulping and can already feel a slight headache coming on with the mention of the word theology, but I assure you that is not the case for me! Digging into theology has always been something that gets me excited and passionate, and I would say that has only increased after this week as we looked into how theology and the arts are tied together and what a partnership of the two looks like. There were no outdoor adventures this week, so no scenic pictures to share unfortunately. I have however, included some pictures from our International Party Night. Each of us prepared some kind of food that is important to our culture and we had a night of feasting, fun, games, and laughter! I made Lamingtons to represent New Zealand, because they were in fact created in New Zealand, not Australia. 😉 I have also included a video of one of the songs my lecturer wrote and performed for us this week. As usual, I have also included the top ten points from the teaching this week and what I learned about worship from our lecturer. I have already noticed that different teachers highlight different points about worship, and even say things that could appear to be opposing points. I think one of the top ten points from this week addresses that well… Eat the fish and spit out the bones! No one is perfect and we should test and check everything we hear or read.
Theology and Worship – John de Jong
The Key: It is important to really think about things, whether they be intellectual or creative things, and consider whether we are restricting ourselves with imaginary walls, or really walking in the freedom that comes from being a follower of Christ. Theology services our faith, the same way actually lifting the bonnet of your car services your automobile! To speak of God is to speak to God, so theology is worship!
Ten Main Points
- A little difference can make a huge change. The difference between monument and movement is only two letters. We have a God of movement, don’t let your relationship with Him become routine religion – a mere monument.
- Fools learn by experience, wise men learn by other people’s mistakes. Learn to listen to those around you, eat the fish and spit out the bones. Take what is good and leave behind the parts that shouldn’t be swallowed.
- We don’t worship God just to please Him, we worship because we love Him. God is not some school headmaster standing over you with a stick waiting to smack you when you mess up! He is our loving Father.
- The Reformation was a positive thing, but like any social movement from the past, you can’t bring all the ideas to our society without asking questions. One negative remnant of the Reformation is skepticism about art and things associated with the right side of our brains. It is important to expose this so we can deal with it and then use all the spheres of influence God has gifted us with to share His Good News!
- Don’t try to put everything in a nice, little logical box. Some things are too big and mysterious; especially things pertaining to God. Not all truth is logical and not all truth can be proven as a fact, through being tested and seen. The Bible describes Truth as a person, Jesus. You can’t fully describe a person with words, so you can’t fully describe Christianity with words alone.
- Sin is essentially self-centeredness – the heart turned in on itself. Worship is doing the opposite of this. The heart turned out towards God. To live a worshipful life is to live a life that is God centered, a life of submission. Worship is not an activity, but an attitude. An attitude of submission. We are made in the image of God, and God is a worshipper. God submits to the other persons of the Trinity through a love that affirms the other all the time. We are made to worship, but our true humanity is found in worshipping God alone.
- We must learn to observe with imaginative engagement. Not a quick glance, not mere rational analysis, and not just a surface level look. None of us will ever know the whole story, the whole truth, and we can spend our whole lives looking and learning. We do also have safe guards to ensure that we stay on track and don’t completely go out into obscure nonsense though. These safe guards are the Holy Spirit, common sense, consensus and community, tradition, and context.
- It is important to share principles, however artistic style doesn’t and even shouldn’t all be the same! There are different styles often related to different denominations when it comes to worship, but all of them should aim to express relationship! There are possible hidden motives behind each style, but each style also has something really good to share too. Charismatic worship risks worshipping to get some kind of experience with God, but it is good that it is a Spirit filled expression. Conservative worship risks worshipping as a way to warm-up for the preacher, but it is good that it is Biblically focused. High Church worship risks expressing worship as a way to be saved, but it is good that it embraces tradition and mystery. Try to take the best from all three!
- We should worry less about whether or not we are performing when we worship, and instead concern ourselves with who we are performing for and why we are performing. There is a difference between ambition and aspiration. Ambition is self-promotion, aspiration is fulfilling your God given calling.
- God is the Creator and since we are made in the image of God, we are also creative. We can feel like certain people are just naturally more creative than others and there isn’t much we can do about it if we aren’t creative, but there are ways to become more creative. The first step is to know your identity as a unique, creative, and loved child of God! Other steps are to not worry about performance, to learn to live dangerously and to take risks, to deal wisely with mistakes, to widen your artistic horizons and vocabulary, to develop creative relationships, and to be disciplined and invest in your gift!
What I Learned About Leading Worship From John
“Intellect Does Not Hinder Creativity”
The lessons that John prepared and presented taught me so much about how theology and creativity can compliment one another. Being able to watch him lead times of musical worship and also just witnessing some of his character also taught me so much about how deep thinking and deep feeling can release deep beauty when the two are brought together under God’s reign.
I do think that people often equate theology with boring bookworms and constraining conventions, but John really showed how this is so far from the truth. Throughout his teaching he kept bringing back the importance of not just following conventions and clichés. His theology as well as his music really opened up a new way of thinking, of being challenged intellectually, and moved emotionally. We can think that songs or art works that are very Biblically grounded are going to be obvious or even restricted. It can feel like you either have to choose to do something very creative and new, or something that makes people think about the Bible and it’s Truth. Often the art we consume today only displays one or the other, not both, And yet John’s songs showed the exact opposite. Each song shared a different part of God’s story, a different part of Scripture, and a different part of John’s own life, and it was presented in such a unique, artistic, and beautiful way. I kept thinking about how great his songs were at sharing the stories I love from the Bible, the characteristics of God that are so AWESOME, and John’s own testimonies in a new way that would reach a totally different group of people!
Considering that theology and the arts do so often get separated and are seen as two such different paths of life, it could have been very easy for John to just focus on one of those areas and the gifts that God has given him in just that one area. Instead, he has pursued higher education, he is about to get his PhD in theology, and he is an amazing musician who clearly loves playing his guitar and writing songs. It is possible to have both. Even when we have really different interests or gifts, and different parts of our personality, we can surrender them all to God and He can use them to actually encourage our worship of Him, not complicate it unnecessarily! The right part of the brain and the left part of the brain are meant to work together in balance. This is how God has created us! They do not need to oppose, but should compliment one another in order to worship God in a full and rich way that speaks to every part of us, so that we truly can worship Him with ALL our heart, soul, mind, and strength. If we are leading in a community that heavily leans on either left-sided logic, or right-sided creative expression, we should work at bringing about balance and showing the equal importance of both, and how God has made them to work together.
Here is a video of one of the songs John wrote the lyrics for, composed the music for, and shared with us while he was teaching. The song is about Creation and John is the man singing in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xssOWZG_n-U
All the glory to God for yet another amazing opportunity to learn, grow, and serve! May He bless each one of you on each of your own journeys too! To end this post I will share the verse that we memorized this week:
“Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged swords be in their hands.” -Psalm 149:6