- On why “fully” is a bad description for divine presence(published )
In response to the statement that “If God’s presence was fully with us then surely the evil and alienation and suffering would end.” That depends on what “fully” means. Does it mean “concretely,” “observably,” “manifestly,” etc.? Does it mean “deeply,” “intimately,” or “in the heart”? Does it mean “transformationally”? “Gloriously”? “Victoriously”? “Ubiquitously”? Something else? If we are using quantitative metaphors (fully, partially) to talk about how concretely or manifestly God is present, then no, God being fully present doesn’t mean the end of the old order. It doesn’t get any more concrete and manifest than the incarnation—one could literally see, hear, and touch God in Jesus—and that did not bring the old order to its end. If we are describing God’s presence with quantitative metaphors as a way to discuss how he relates to us, then once again, no. The Holy Spirit dwells in us already (corporately and individually) and is “closer to us than our own hearts,” but the old order is not ended thereby. Paul does use quantitative metaphors to talk about how the Spirit’s presence now functions soteriologically (i.e. as a downpayment on our future inheritance of glory), but this indicates how our salvation is not yet fully realized, not that the Spirit is only partially present to us. The Holy Spirit’s real, full, and true presence in us today is precisely what enables us to face the ongoing reality of the old order with faith that evil, alienation, and suffering will end. If “fully” means “gloriously” or (more to the point) “victoriously,” then the statement is true. God’s ultimate triumph over evil will mean the end of the old order of things. ... But does God’s “full” presence properly mean his being triumphantly present? Was God less present at the stoning of Stephen than at Peter’s healing of the lame man outside the gate called “Beautiful”? Was God less present on the cross than at the transfiguration? Perhaps we need to understand the relation between God’s presence and the existence of evil in a different way. I suggest that it’s not a matter of how much God is present vs. how much evil and suffering there is. “How much” is not the right sort of relation at all; it isn’t a matter of degree, but of mode. The right question is “In what way is God present in the midst of this suffering and evil?” Or better, “How is God acting in the midst of this suffering and evil?” The cross requires us to see God himself nailed to it, God himself surrendered to death and submitted to it. Our God does not negate evil. He does not make it as if it never were. No, he takes it, goes into it, and from the depths, he changes it! He rises from the grave not as a negation of death, but as the subversion and transformation of death. He rises with the nail scars in his hands and the gash in his side, but now they are wounds of glory. They have not disappeared; they have not ceased to be wounds inflicted on him by nails and spear. But they no longer hold the power of death, for they have been transformed into wellsprings of life. The life that flowed out of those wounds into the void has proven to be inexhaustible, and now the void is changed. Eschatological new life arises where there was only death, new life where there was only destruction, because God is there, too. So, do we still see suffering and evil in our world because God is not fully present? No. Our world still contains brokenness because God is currently present in a mode of kenotic redemption, subverting evil into good and transforming suffering into new life. We look forward to the day when this work will be complete and he will be present in the mode of glory, having won his victory via transformation rather than negation. But in the meantime, we suffer not because he is only partially present, but because he is not yet finished the work he is doing in us and our world.
- 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.