The Role of Worship: Wesleyan Catechesis, part 8

Monday, April 25th, 2011

This blog completes an eight part series on the distinctive of Wesleyan catechesis.  These blogs on catechesis are actually part of a larger project I am exploring through my blogs as to how we rebuild the meta-narrative in the church today.  One of the earliest writers to recognize the collapse of modernity as we in the post-Enlightenment world understood it was the French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard in his 1979 article entitled, The Postmodern Condition:  A Report on Knowledge.[1] In the article, he coined the word “post-modern” (the term had actually been used by several others even in the 19th century, but not in the way it is used today) and stated what has now been observed by dozens of writers in the subsequent years and that is that the fundamental reality of our time as Western civilization is a growing crisis of truth.  In the modern world there was a belief in an overarching truth – whether informed by a Christian world-view or even a secular belief in progress and the perfectibility of humanity.  Lyotard argued that modern societies produced order and stability by generating what he called “grand narratives” or “master narratives.”  In America, for example, one “grand narrative” is that democracy is the most enlightened and rational form of government and that implementing of democracy will lead to universal happiness.   In contrast, the Marxist “grand narrative” posited that capitalism was collapsing in on itself and that, in time – and spurred by revolution – a utopian socialist world order would evolve.

In the post-modern context, we are only on a virtual voyage where one explores self-created worlds.  Post-modernism marks the movement away from claims to objectivity and a greater emphasis on fragmented forms and discontinuous narratives.  In short, the very notion of truth as Truth has begun to collapse.

Christians know that the only true “grand canopy” of meaning is found in the great redemptive work of God in the world.  However, tragically, today’s church can all too easily become co-opted by the self-referential, consumer driven, emotive oriented forces which are present in the wider society.  Nowhere has this become more evident than in contemporary worship.  There are, of course, some wonderful, truly wonderful, new choruses and hymns being written today.  There is also quite a bit of chaff in the midst of the wheat.  We must recognize afresh that the “worship wars” is not a struggle between hymns versus choruses, any more than in Wesley’s day it was over Psalms versus hymns.  The struggle must be focused on the fact that we worship the living God and all worship is a response to His revelation.

This is, of course, the crowning piece in Wesleyan catechesis: The centrality of Worship.  Wesleyans sing their theology!  Wesley knew that it is not enough merely to believe and to confess, we must enter into the very presence of the Triune God in worship.  Worship is one of the main ways Wesley forged the great meta-narrative of God’s redemption into the lives of new disciples.  Charles Wesley wrote thousands of hymns to capture the great truths of the Christian faith.  If we are to engage in serious catechesis today we must not neglect the renewal of worship.  Our worship must be Trinitarian, theologically rich, memorable and, most of all, faithful to the entire meta-narrative.

[1] Jean-Francois Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition:  A Report on Knowledge (MN:  University of Minnesota Press, 1985).


  • Holly says:

    The quest to help us “sing our theology” with rich theological Truth is a journey worth engaging continually…. worshipping our living God in response to His revelation is daily and weekly JOY.
    Sidestepping the “worship wars” becomes tricky, but I’ve found putting on the Ephesians 6 armor helps tremendously in staying focused on Christ and His excellence in all endeavors.
    THANK YOU for these rich blogs, Tim. We miss your personal presence at FCCO, and are grateful for what the Asbury family now enjoys…. and because of technology, we all become “included”!

  • Chris says:

    “In the post-modern context, we are only on a virtual voyage where one explores self-created worlds. Post-modernism marks the movement away from claims to objectivity and a greater emphasis on fragmented forms and discontinuous narratives. In short, the very notion of truth as Truth has begun to collapse.”

    I like the way you say this, but I’m not entirely sure I agree. I think that people will always believe in absolute truth (to use another term for what I think you’re saying here), but I think that it’s a priority shift; postmoderns prefer to maintain their relationships in the face of belief differences rather than essentially end the relationship because of them, but they take it so far as to say “your beliefs are true for you” in an effort to make the other feel better about their belief. Relativism, I think, is a misnomer because it misses the fact that everybody still behaves as though there is an absolute truth; nobody denies that gravity still pulls us down, and very few people would even deny that, say, killing your friend is bad (the rest we try to lock up by popular consensus). This does mean that the relationships do tend to be a bit shallow, but they’re still there.

    What I’m saying, I guess, is that while I get that we are in effect creating our own little worlds by the whole hyperindividualism part of the paradigm, this generation is reacting to the previous generation’s tendency to sever relationships with “the other” in the face of disagreements. It’s not denying truth, merely avoiding the conflict. Admittedly also not a healthy thing, but it changes the nature of how we address this – instead of condemning their “lack of faith” or trying to get them to agree our set of beliefs, what we ought to be doing is helping both modernists and postmoderns to understand that it’s possible to have a deep relationship with someone and still disagree on big issues. We don’t have to condemn the other, and we don’t have to go for a shallow relationship, but we do have to be willing to have those deep conversations whilst understanding that there will be discomfort and tension in the midst of them.