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Archive Nota Bene Steven Wedgeworth

Carl Trueman and Tragic Worship

Dr. Trueman takes on the entertainment idol among those churches committed to contemporary worship. He makes a solid point when he writes:

The problem with much Christian worship in the contemporary world, Catholic and Protestant alike, is not that it is too entertaining but that it is not entertaining enough. Worship characterized by upbeat rock music, stand-up comedy, beautiful people taking center stage, and a certain amount of Hallmark Channel sentimentality neglects one classic form of entertainment, the one that tells us, to quote the Book of Common Prayer, that “in the midst of life we are in death.”

It neglects tragedy. Tragedy as a form of art and of entertainment highlighted death, and death is central to true Christian worship. The most basic liturgical elements of the faith, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, speak of death, of burial, of a covenant made in blood, of a body broken. Even the cry “Jesus is Lord!” assumes an understanding of lordship very different than Caesar’s. Christ’s lordship is established by his sacrifice upon the cross, Caesar’s by power.

Dr. Trueman makes his point well, and his later emphasis on the psalms in Christian piety and worship is a greatly needed message, particularly among Evangelicals. However, he does seem to miss one very basic attribute of effective music and art. It isn’t that we need to simply make our worship tragic, but that we need an appropriate balance of all moods and emotions.

After all, I’ve been to some of those traditional “haunting” Presbyterian services. They are not always the proper corrective. Indeed, many of them feel a bit too much like funerals– always Calvary, never Easter if you take my point. Rather, it seems we ought to have both, the highs and the lows, songs of joy and triumph on the one hand and songs of repentance and mourning on the other.

And doesn’t a certain sort of liturgical service, along with the Church Calendar, make an effort at doing exactly this? At my own church we begin with a serious call to worship, then move to a confession of sin (usually paired with a darker and introspective hymn or psalm), and then onward to the joyful absolution. We have a teaching-based sermon, and then we conclude with a celebratory Eucharist. We observe a moderate liturgical calendar throughout the year, emphasizing Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter, and I have found that this cycle goes through a wide variety of human desires and emotions.

It may not be perfect or complete, but it seems a rather good place to start.

By Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the associate pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, British Columbia. He writes about theology, history, and political theory, and he has taught Jr. High and High School. He is the founder and general editor of The Calvinist International, an online journal of Christian Humanism and political theology, and a Director for the Davenant Institute.