- On hearing God(published )
Hi Chris. Reading your thoughts and questions here and thinking back to our conversation the other night, I think I’m starting to get a better sense of where you are coming from and what you are trying to wrestle with. Hopefully this will be helpful. :) In Western culture (meaning, basically, European and European-derived culture), we have tended for the last several centuries to think of our world as having two “levels” or “spheres” or whatever: the natural and the supernatural. Some people think of these two spheres as overlapping or interacting a lot, some think that they do so only a little, some think that virtually never do, and some even think that the supernatural level doesn’t exist at all (this would include atheists, for example). In most Pentecostal and charismatic circles, this two-storey view of reality is the starting point for understanding how God interacts with us. Pentecostals and charismatics will insist that there is lots of interaction between the natural and the supernatural, and therefore that we should seek to interact with God supernaturally as much as we can. In this way of thinking about things, revelation from God obviously needs to be categorized as a supernatural event, an intervention in which something crosses over from God’s side into our side. Hearing God, therefore, should be a strange experience. One should be able to recognize “the real deal” in part by the how it is weird and doesn’t feel like our natural ways of perceiving, thinking, knowing, learning, etc. The Pentecostal understanding of receiving the gift of tongues, in which it is thought of as a distinct event when a person has this spiritual ability bestowed on them that they would not naturally have otherwise, is an example of how this plays out. However, this two-storey view of reality is actually very problematic for Christian faith and practice. Among (many!) other problems, it creates a relentless pressure towards expecting that God’s interactions with us will be rare and fleeting. If we consider God’s actions to be essentially alien to the natural world, then they are by definition abnormal and unusual. But Jesus didn’t think that God’s interactions with people were unusual. He taught his disciples to expect that God would interact with them, and that this would be NORMAL for them. Why? Because material and spiritual were not two separate sorts of reality existing in different realms or planes of existence or whatever; rather, they were simply aspects of one, single, unified reality. The Holy Spirit’s coming to the disciples was remarkable not because it indicated a metaphysical change, but because it indicated a relational change. The God from whom we had been estranged by our sin was now no longer a stranger to us. He has begun interacting with us all with a new intimacy and closeness, and so his people have begun to experience his Spirit with us in a way unlike before. This isn’t an incursion of the supernatural into the natural world, but a reconciliation with the God who has always been all around us. So, God’s interactions with us, including the sorts of interaction that we usually describe as him speaking to us, are how things are supposed to work. We human beings were made for this sort interaction from the very beginning. Our physical and mental processes are designed precisely AS the way for us to interact with God. He always intended to interact with us using the equipment he gave us, and as we become reconciled to him, he does that. So, imaginative impressions (e.g. visions and dreams), reading and pondering (say, the Bible, but also other things), experiencing stuff for ourselves, listening to the stories and wisdom of those who have gone before us in the Christian journey, and all the other human things we do to learn are EXACTLY how we learn from God. Heck, even when God does some astounding thing—burning bush, dramatic healing, pillar of fire in the desert, whatever—we still have to perceive and understand it with the same physical and cognitive faculties that we use to perceive and understand the presence and meaning of a hamburger on a plate. It is based on this kind of understanding of how God interacts with us that the Vineyard adopted the practice of using expressions like, “I’m seeing this image…” or, “I think God wants to say…” when sharing what we feel God is revealing to us. We know that we are all of us in the process of learning to hear him well, and that even though he speaks infallibly we are fallible listeners. It is also based on this kind of understanding of how God interacts with us that we say, “Everyone gets to play,” meaning that everyone can hear from God, pray for God to act, and participate in whatever God is up to. All human beings have the natural capacity to interact with God. We need only be reconciled with him and start relating to him in an interactive way. The upshot is that learning to hear God isn’t about him overriding or bypassing our normal ways of knowing, but about learning to recognize his guidance, direction, and revelation in what we see, think, imagine, hear, and feel. It is a matter of the content, not the form.
- Holy Spirit
- image of God
- Thoughts on fostering theologically rich worship music, updated (published )
On Dec 16, 2012, Dan Wilt posted this on the SVS Facebook group (now available on the SVS forum): I need some clear, benevolent, instructional statements from as many as possible for our Vineyard worship leaders. Worship leaders tend to have a more romantic, idealistic approach to other movements, and particularly the music that flows from them. For them, everything is simply a “style difference,” rather than a core theological or philosophical difference. In your own words, could you help us recover why music created from a uniquely Vineyard vantage point is so vital for us, and for the Body of Christ. (In moments, feel free to graciously compare that ethos to Bethel, Hillsong, and Passion). We’re trying to inspire our worship leaders to write well, and choose well, in their worship work. I gave a couple of responses in the ensuing conversation: ——— Phew, Dan, that is a big question! I can’t give as full an answer as I might like right now, but I would first point to the way that our congregational musical worship times function sacramentally for us. The chief function of the worship music is to create a sacred time and space for encounter with our God. The music serves in our church culture as the signal for the gathered community to focus attention on the Spirit, who is then faithful to respond. The result is often a heightened awareness of and interaction with the Spirit. This time of musically driven worship is thus one of the chief means—or perhaps even the chief means—by which we “partake of divine grace,” as older sacramental theologies might phrase it. This is a rather unique way to think about worship music within Western Christianity, but there are some interesting parallels with certain aspects of Eastern Orthodox sacramental theology (for example, the Orthodox use of icons and Vineyard use of music seem to have some common elements in terms of practice, if not necessarily in the theological language used to explain and support those practices). But regardless whether it is unique to the Vineyard or not, the importance of this sacramental function cannot be overstated for our spiritual life. Since this is the chief vehicle through which we experience the presence of God (rather than through, say, the Eucharist ritual or something else), losing a strong and intentional focus on this role would be terribly destructive to the spiritual health of any Vineyard church that did so. My charge to Vineyard worship leaders, if I could give one, would therefore be to make creating that sacred space for entering into the presence of God their chief concern at all times. Every other concern we might have about doing worship well flows from, and is therefore subordinate to, this. If there has been a reduction of lament, repentance, confession of weakness, exhortation to take up the cross, etc., in recently written Vineyard worship music, the first place I would look for an explanation would be the encroachment of non-Vineyard worship theologies and priorities. The same goes for any loss of intimacy and vitality. If musical worship becomes reduced to sung theology, or a collective expression of devotion and prayer, or (due to lack of any better theological reflection) merely a means of making church more appealing, the damage inflicted on our spirituality will always be immense, because we will find ourselves bereft of our chief means of connection with the life-giving Spirit of God. But when we keep the goal of creating a space and time for encountering the divine presence foremost in our theology of worship, then all the rest will fall into place. Good sung theology, the full range of devotional response (repentance, lament, and struggle as well as praise, joy, and excitement), and a truly attractive church environment will all follow from worship that centres on the sacramental function of entering his presence. That was how Vineyard worship became a driving force in the growth of our movement in the first place, and why so many others have sought to learn from it and to attempt to re-create it in their own traditions. If we lose this sacramental theology of worship music in favour of the theologies at work in traditions that have taken on the musical form without the undergirding theology, we will harm ourselves and moreover lose the ability to share this vital insight with those other traditions—which would be a sad loss for us and for the Body of Christ as a whole. Also, Vineyard metal and punk would be awesome. I was involved for several years in running a Vineyard electronica (dance, trance, techno, etc.) service, and it was FANTASTIC. Everyone always assumes that it would have appealed only to “the young people,” but this was not the case at all. Our attendance at these special events always reflected the full demographic range of our congregation. There is something quite marvellous in seeing a church grandmother, a 50-something seeker, a young mother, and a teen all lost in worship to the sound of throbbing DJ beats. Did that grandmother normally listen to electronica? No. But the Spirit of God was there, speaking through these finite sounds, and so we all bathed in his glory. ——— Okay, so here’s a more nuts and bolts approach than I took in my previous comment. Perhaps it is more in line with what Dan is looking for. I’ll take Casey Corum’s “Dwell” (2003) as an example of excellent, relatively recent, Vineyard-to-the-bone worship music. Lyrics: Dwell in the midst of usCome and dwell in this placeDwell in the midst of usCome and have Your wayDwell in the midst of usWipe all the tears from our facesDwell in the midst of usYou can have Your way Not our will, but Yours be doneCome and change usNot our will, but Yours be doneCome sustain us I consider this to be theologically an excellent representation of Vineyard’s heart and soul. First, the real meaning of maintaining the tension of the already and the not yet is well embodied here. This is not simply declaring that the eschatological power of God is here and available, as is typically emphasized in the songs of some of our more “kingdom already” brothers and sisters. Rather, this is asking for his presence in this moment. This entails the dual recognition that we do not have his presence the way we would like, but that if he should choose to come, we very well could. Neither does it only look forward to a glorious “some day” for the fulfillment of the kingdom promises, as is often emphasized in the songs of our “kingdom yet to come” brothers and sisters. The very same eschatological realities which will one one day be given their ultimate fulfillment when Jesus returns are truly able to be given fulfillment here and now, too. Note how the cry to have the Spirit “wipe all the tears from our faces,” which is drawn directly from Rev 21’s final vision, is asked in expectation that it can be given a fulfillment both now and not yet at the same time. In this song we see the true understanding of the already and the not yet at work, because it contains the absolutely vital recognition that the content of the kingdom’s enactment is not split into some pieces already and others not yet, but all of it now and all of it not yet. Asking for God to come dwell among us in this place, to have his way, and to wipe the tears from our faces, is simultaneously asking for the Spirit to come among us to do these things and for Jesus to return and do these things, because these are at once different things and the very same thing. Second, the lines about “Come and have your way” and “Not our will but yours be done” reflect the attitude of obedience that does (or should) characterize Vineyard in its search, not for spiritual power, but for God’s reign to be enacted in our world. This attitude of surrender and obedience, even at personal cost (think of who first uttered the line “Yet not my will, but yours be done, and in what circumstances), disappears altogether too quickly, and altogether too unnoticed, when triumphalist, “kingdom already” theologies are in play. In triumphalist traditions, the focus shifts subtly to the spiritual power given to us so we can do the works of the kingdom, and thereby away from seeing the works of the kingdom take place, for which we may, when necessary, be given access to the Spirit’s power. Closely connected with this is the pointed confession of dependence on God’s continuing, moment by moment grace. We do not simple have his power that sustains us, but rather we need him to come exercise his own power to sustain us. But then again, we also are not looking only to a future manifestation of his power to redeem us, as would occur if we leaned too far towards the not yet. That would recognize that our ultimate salvation is dependent on his loving presence and power, but would leave the matter of living today to be carried out under our own steam. The call, “Come sustain us,” is the recognition that our life now is entirely dependent on him and also graced and empowered by him. Of course, no one song can do everything. (For example, the sociopolitical implications of “Wipe every tear from our faces,” which are powerfully present in the original Revelation passage, are present only as resonances with the original and are not developed in any explicit fashion. The concern for social justice remains embedded within the song, even if dormant, and it could be drawn out without much difficulty, but the song doesn’t proactively lend itself to that purpose.) Nevertheless, I believe this song provides us with an excellent example and model for how Vineyard’s theological presuppositions and tradition can and should produce worship songs that differ subtly but profoundly from those of other, superficially similar groups.