Saturday, June 25, 2011

Immanence and Worship Part I - Bapticostal?

A recent conversation with some friends led me to think about the relationship between our view of God's immanence and worship.  Since I've never actually sought to spend devoted time to thinking through this, starting this week I would like to take some time to outline how God's presence in time and space effects our practice in corporate worship.  Before I dive headlong into things though, I think it would be helpful to give a brief synopsis of my experience.  My aim is to make some of my presuppositions explicit, in hopes of giving you a better idea of where I might be going with all of this.  So, without further adieu...


After some consideration, I have determined that I have a somewhat odd background when it comes to thinking on God's immanence as well as his transcendence.  At certain points in my life, I think I've leaned too heavily on one or the other.  I grew up straight-laced Southern Baptist, an upbringing for which I am thankful in many ways; however, we Southern Baptists in the latter half of the 20th century seemed to be a schizophrenic lot when it came to thinking about the presence of God.  Generally, recent worship in the SBC has been greatly influenced by the Charismatic movement, which leans decidedly towards an emphasis on his immanence.  Yet we still have somehow managed to maintain our straight-laced worship habits.  I must admit it's a bit odd to see us Baptist folk worshiping to songs like "Fire Fall Down" by Hillsong and standing as straight and still as a pillar.  

During college, I began exploring the charismatic movement and Pentecostalism to a limited extent.  During my time in college I gained friendships with many brothers and sisters in Christ who hearken from the Pentecostal tradition of Christianity.  Though I never truly moved over to the Pentecostal camp of Christianity, my time spent there deeply impacted my thoughts on church worship.  It certainly gave me a much greater sensitivity and realization of the presence of God in the gathered church.  Though I have deep disagreements with many aspects of Pentecostal theology, they understand better than many that we worship a living God, in whom we "live and move and have our being." (Acts 17:28)

Towards the end of college and the beginning of my time at seminary, I began moving back towards an emphasis on the transcendence of God in worship.  I think this had much to do with my progression into a more Reformed view of God's sovereignty.  Though I wouldn't say that was the entire reason, it was certainly a major factor in the transition.  This time gave me a much deeper appreciation for the our limits.  Though God is knowable, ultimately he is only knowable to the extent he chooses to make himself known to us.  It was during this period that I began to understand the vastness of God, that we will spend eternity getting to know him more each day.

Since that time, I have grown more towards a median state.  Ultimately, I think a healthy view of worship entails an equal emphasis on both the transcendence and immanence of God.  This is where I am now - influenced by one on each end of the spectrum, and by another standing awkwardly in between.  I'm aiming for a fourth way, an in-between stance sans awkwardness, if you will.  We can be exuberant in transcendence and solemn in immanence. We can focus equally on both...and not feel weird about it.  I'm convinced this is possible.  Perhaps you are as well, or perhaps you are not.  Either way, come along for the ride, Lord willing we will both learn something.

By the Spirit He is made knowable
And by His Word He is known


1 comment:

  1. Initial thoughts:

    Personally, I feel that much of my "career" in pastoral/apostolic ministry will be seeking ways to unite high-church liturgical practices/traditions that emphasize order and are deeply rooted in history (e.g. that of Anglicanism) with the mysticism and passion for the presence of God I believe to be vital in from my charismatic roots. I think it's very difficult to have both paradigms for most people, but I do think it is possible. I, for example, rarely feel the presence of God more than when I, say, pray with beads, make use of icons or use the lectionary.

    The in-between we seek is difficult because the two paradigms stand almost in contrast with each (seems like God likes doing things this way) other most people want either one or the other to their own detriment. It's our job to educate and lead into that seemingly awkward middle-ground.

    Peace & Love