Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Insights from a book

Today, I've been reading Christian Worship: Glorifying and Enjoying God by Ronald P. Byars. It is part of the Foundations of Christian Faith series published by the Office of Theology and Worship of the Presbyterian Church (USA). I chose it because Byars is a theologian in the PC(USA) and I need to have dialogue with some theologians in my tradition for this paper. Additionally, it's a good book. I'm halfway through and so far he has talked about
  • ch.1: The point of worship - why do we worship? His argument (and I really have to agree wholeheartedly with him) is that God has hotwired us to worship. That worshiping God is a basic impulse that has flourished (in good and bad ways and every way in between) throughout most of human history. But, according to Byars, in our modern society we've scrambled that impulse with the ever present impulse to get money and buy things. But, even as we work to suppress our instinct to worship, it continues to well up inside of us and now we're seeing a resurgence of a desire for the mystery and real connection with God. He covers a lot of other important stuff in that first chapter, but I don't want to totally give away the whole book
  • ch. 2: the shape of worship - different styles, tradition versus traditionalism, etc. He talks about the importance of naming God as Trinity, about how Christian worship is rooted in loads of tradition beginning with Jewish Temple and Synagogue worship, and how Christian worship should be a healthy combination between Word and Sacrament.
  • ch. 3: This one he focuses on the importance of Word and Sacrament, with a brief description of how those two elements came to be in the New Testament church, how it became distorted in the medieval church, the Word loosing out to the Sacrament. Then in the Reformation, despite the reformers original desire to recapture the New Testament ideal of Word and Sacrament, the Sacrament fell by the wayside in favor of the Word. "... the Sacrament, without the Word, can easily slide into superstition. However, it's equally true that the Word, without the Sacrament, can loose its essential character, too." (Byars, 45.)
Sometimes I'm a little put off by his jabs at non-denominational, contemporary, non-traditional churches. I see him trying to paint a balance picture and equally lay out the weaknesses of the more 'traditional' churches (in a North American Protestant last 75 to 100 years sense), but it's not quite equal. Other than that, there is plenty of good stuff here when you overlook what I sense is a (perhaps only slight) bias. I think one of the best points he has made so far is that we worship a God that is bigger than anything we can possibly imagine.

I have to side step and tell about a conversation in our staff meeting today. The staff is also doing the Bible in 90 days together and today met together to talk about it so far. We were asked if we had any problems or struggles (other than drudging through all the rules and sacrifices and begats) with what we had read so far. We're in the middle of Deuteronomy right now. I mentioned that I really struggle with the violence - the Israelites wiping out whole nations of people. That's a hard pill to swallow, especially in times like these when we're at war. One of the staff members said he doesn't like it either but has to just believe that God knows more than we do, and that if he understood everything that God does, then he'd be on the same level as God and what kind of god would that be. That really made a lot of sense to me - it didn't make me feel any better about the violence, mind you, but he had a very good point. As if to make sure I heard his point, shortly after that meeting, I read in Byars book the following in relation to balancing understanding with faith:

"Nevertheless, when we have gathered information, processed it thoroughly, and reached as much understanding as we're likely ever to reach, is it really possible to understand God? And if we could understand God, would God be God? Could we worship and serve a God whom we are capable of comprehending?" (Byars, 28)

Well, I could go on all night...


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