I would like to expound a little, with Robert Webber's help, on something Ryan said in his last post Triune Love. He said,

I have no problem singing intimate songs of friendship and love for God when they are located in the truth of who I am (a sinner), who God truly is (the Redeemer), and a true understanding of the Gospel.

Like Ryan, I too am uneasy at times with the themes and emphases of many popular worship songs widely used in the Contemporary Church today. If it's not an individual song, it's the combination of songs in a set list that raises flags. This feeling comes when, for example, I participate in a worship service that flippantly speaks of being "God's friend," or how He "thought of me above all." It's not so much that these themes are unbiblical, but rather they must be completed or complemented by other necessary themes, bringing balance to the "Story."

I have been absolutely blown away reading Webber's Planning Blended Worship, which Ryan gave me when I visited him a few months ago (book link to the left). I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys the conversations in this blog, especially worship leaders and planners. Webber's book has brought clarity to some of these common feelings described above. He articulates very well some important guidelines in choosing songs and planning musical worship, which I have now begun to use, and which have really helped me to identify what is often missing.

Webber says that when we worship we must "proclaim God's worth through the recitation of God's saving deeds in Jesus Christ.” The emphasis of worship is "not on the experience of the worshiper, but on God, who initiated a saving action toward creation, which was in desperate need of restoration." To accomplish this "recitation" our worship must contain the following themes (these themes apply to all kinds of worship activities, but I will mainly relate them to musical worship):

1) Dislocation - In our worship we must be reminded of our fallen sinful nature, as well as our current despair, disarray, or confusion. Many of the Psalms begin in this way, basically saying, "My life is falling apart."

2) Relocation - After we recognize our dislocation the story continues to completion as we are reminded of God's saving action, how He saved us fully through the work of the cross. We can also be reminded of how we have been "relocated" by reciting how God saved, healed, and delivered His people through the Bible, or in the lives of those in history, or in our own congregations.

Many of the Psalms that begin in dislocation end in relocation, a remembrance of God's saving action in history, and the psalmist breaks forth into praise. I've found that many classic hymns take this format as well ("Amazing Grace," "Alas and Did My Savior Bleed"). When we incorporate these themes in our worship we are reminded that God has worked and continues to work in our present situations.

These terms have helped me realize that it's not the "friend of God" terminology that makes me uneasy, but the absence of dislocation that does. It's one thing to be all happy and jumpy and smiley singing about Jesus my buddy, but the song takes on an entirely new meaning when an honest assessment of our human position as "God's enemies" comes before it. We as musical worship planners cannot forget to include this critical part of our worship, especially in a culture that thinks Christians are supposed to always be happy.

Webber summarizes saying, “The underlying conviction of Christian worship is that we are all in a state of dislocation. We are dislocated from God, from self, from neighbor, and from nature. But God has entered into our history in Jesus Christ to bring relocation...When we in worship hear of God's action in the past, we apply it to our present dislocation.”

Webber gives three central questions for worship planners to be guided by:

1) How does worship speak to God's glory in heaven and God's saving actions on earth?
2) How does this worship help people identify their dislocation?
3) How does this worship lead people into a relocation with God?

The congregation I lead has responded well to an increased emphasis on dislocation followed naturally by hope-filled relocation. People have gone to greater depths in heartfelt praise when they have taken part in the remembrance of the complete story. When leading a congregation I have found that I don't need to point out or explain these themes, but rather simply plan ahead to include them. It's amazing how quickly these threads become the fabric of a solid, worshiping community.

Finally, I leave you with Paul's letter to the Romans. Notice how much sweeter the relocation in verse 11 is when it is read in the context of our dislocation in verses 8-10. How much greater is friendship when enmity is first understood? It causes the heart to marvel all the more at the saving work of Christ.

5:8 But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. 9 And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. 10 For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. 11 So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.

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