Sunday, May 12, 2013

Worship in 'Spirit and Truth' (Part 3)

A number of years ago I was struck by an article in The Guardian which read: "The great evangelical rebranding: US evangelicals no longer talk about how God will smite you. Now it's all about personal, spiritual and material fulfilment".

While the article creates some caricatures, and focuses on some of the more extreme expressions of  the 'evangelicalism' of the God TV variety, there is a shameful amount of truth contained within the stinging observation that evangelicals have modified their view of God. When we consider the claims of modern evangelicalism regarding the nature of God, we are often presented with a being who is 'loving' and who exists for no other reason than to make us happy. Other aspects of God's character (his attributes) such as his holiness, justice and  his actions such as judgement and wrath are often minimised or not mentioned at all.

While the impoverished preaching from many pulpits is a primary reason for this theological shift, another reason is the type of songs that are sung regularly in many evangelical churches. I think it was Jeff Lucas who once said that he was concerned about the number of 'God is my girfriend' type songs which were becoming increasingly popular in evangelical circles. Lucas, through use of wit and satire is basically making the same point as the article in The Guardian: the God of evangelicalism is too fluffy.

This brings me to my final  and perhaps most important reason why I have found the singing of the psalms so 'incredibly refreshing'. Not only do psalms, as I mentioned in my last post, incorporate the fullness of human emotion into worship, but the psalms also reveal the fullness of God's nature. The psalms magnify the mercy, goodness and love of God without shrinking from his justice, righteousness and holiness. They reveal his acts of kindness and his works of wrath.

Michael Lefebvre in his book Singing the Songs of Jesus uses an example from C.S Lewis's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to illustrate how the psalms enable us to reflect not only upon the goodness of God, but also his justice:

"One of my favorite lines in C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia occurs when Mr and Mrs Beaver first tell Lucy about the lion Aslan (the Christ-figure in that allegory). Quite alarmed at this talk of a lion, Lucy asks, ‘Is he quite safe?’ to which Mr Beaver replies, ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.’ And so the thematic phrase is repeated throughout the story, ‘He is not a tame lion.’" Lefebvre then applies this observation to the psalms that deal with God's justice and judgement which, he argues, serve to remind us that: "Jesus is a good king, but not a ‘tame’ king. He is a just king, who loves his people and comes to their aid."

I share, with many Christians across the various denominations in Scotland, the desire that our land and churches will experience revival. However, I am increasingly convinced that in order to experience revival we need to stop expecting God to conform to our expectations. It is perhaps good to remind ourselves that he is the God who made us in his image, we need to also be careful that we have not substituted this God, for a god which is made in our image, Perhaps more precisely, a god that is simply a reflection of the values of secular culture: A god who is pleasure seeking, tolerant of unrighteousness and intolerant of truth.

On the other hand, the God we encounter in the psalms, is God as he truly is. We can, as believers, at no point say, 'Oh I don't really like that psalm', if we do, what we are really saying is 'I don't really like that God.' Jesus explained to his disciples the nature of true worship: Those who truly worship are those who worship in 'Spirit and truth'. What is truth? Jesus again tells us 'Thy (God's) word is truth.', elsewhere we read that scripture is 'God breathed' (therefore spiritual). Perhaps the historic psalm singing churches have something to teach us about worship in 'Spirit and truth' after all.

Psalm 102
For God will yet appear
In glorious might to reign;
The Lord in grace will build
Jerusalem again

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