Saturday, February 17, 2007

Final Worm on the Subject (Exiles 6)

This is it -- I promise -- the final utilization of the can o' worms as pictorial metaphor whilst I wax expressive on Michael Frost's worthy tome Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture. This book rocks and should be in any top-ten must-read book list.

That being said, there were sections that drove me up the wall, and inspired an earlier reaction of:
"Frosty, I'm about to drag you through shards of broken glass before dumping your bruised and bleeding carcass into a swimming pool filled with iodine..."
This post would be explaining what prompted that response.

Frost's final two chapters in Exiles focus on singing "dangerous songs" of the Kingdom. Frost continues to provoke us to live beyond a Sunday-go-to-meetin' kind of Christianity, and he takes on worship that is sappy, self-indulgent, and theologically insipid. Kudos to Frost on that; we're in complete agreement when it comes to ridding ourselves of "safe" little ditties that do not inspire. Frost also rejects the idea of turning our "worship services" into evangelistic events, concerned that this will water down our worship; again, I concur and applaud.

But then Frost dives into the whole "feminization of the church" pond, and I find myself quickly scrambling for my hip-waders.

I find it really curious (and disturbing) that so many in the emerging/missional stream have such a strong desire to project God as transcendent over God as imminent. I've covered this before in posts like Near/Far, Near/Far: Second Iteration, and Near/Far: Second Iteration, Subset One, so I won't go over all that ground again. But let me point out a couple of areas where I find Frost playing fast and loose with a Scriptural defense of his point of view.

For example, earlier in Exiles, Frost was making a case that much of current thought has placed Jesus as so transcendent and doctrinal, that we have lost sense of His humanity. I agree with this concern of Frost's, but then he claims that the early creeds were a way of "domesticating" Jesus, and over-emphasizing His divinity.
"Jesus isn't romanticized in the earliest creeds. He is presented in flesh and blood, very real and very dangerous. Sadly, the early church was quick to move beyond the very earthy, actional description of Jesus in the Gospels to a more ontological one in the creeds... I can't help but wonder which came first: the impulse to sanitize and tame Jesus by encasing Him in abstract theology, thereby removing our motivation for discipleship, or our natural repulsion toward discipleship that forced us to domesticate Jesus to let us off the hook."
While I agreed with Frost's point, it's absolutely absurd to suggest that the writers of the early creeds were trying to "domesticate" Jesus and downplay His humanity. Any student of church history knows that the creeds were written to AFFIRM and DEFEND the reality of the Incarnation against the heretical attacks of Gnostics and Docetists who were trying to purge Jesus of being fully human and fully divine. Why Frost tries to assert the opposite is beyond me.

In the "Dangerous Songs" chapters which close the book, Frost does similar things with Bible passages on worship. In stating his dislike of seeing heaven as a 24/7 worship time, Frost quotes Revelation 21:1-4, which speaks of the justice and societal equity found in heaven, as foretold by Isaiah 65:19-23. However, he neglects to mention that in the same book of Revelation, chapter four and chapter five detail some pretty impressive 24/7 worship that includes beings that appear to be created for no other purpose but to worship continuously. This selective use of Scripture bothers me.

In the final chapter, Frost denounces what he calls "Jesus is my boyfriend" kind of songs. I don't like sappy worship, either, but there's a difference between sugary and simplistic love songs, and songs of true intimacy with Jesus. Frost disagrees, and suggests that any song that speaks of "loving" Jesus are actually "sexually charged" and therefore inappropriate (Frost also ignores centuries of Biblical scholarship and rejects Song of Songs as a metaphor about Christ's love for the church).

Frost prefers to equate "loving Jesus" with "obeying Jesus" (John 14:15, 21, 23-24). While I don't disagree that loving Jesus certainly includes obeying Him, I wouldn't make the two synonymous. For example, a teenager may take out the garbage to "obey" his/her parents, but that doesn't mean that he/she loves them. They could simply be selfishly mindful that obedience equals getting the car keys on Friday night. Love can be the motivation for obeying Jesus; fear of retribution or a desire to manipulate to gain answered prayer could also be the heart motive in obedience. Equating obedience as love is inadequate.

The other highly selective use of Scripture which jumped out at me was Frost's repeated appeals to the exilic passages of Isaiah (41:13-14, 43:1-6, 49:25-26, 61:8-9), which speak of Yahweh's care and promised redemption of His people in Babylonian exile, while ignoring the myriad of places in the Psalms alone which speak of loving God (Psalm 13:5, 18:1-3, 25:7) and which also speak of God's love for us (Psalm 36:7, 48:9, 57:10, and of course Song of Songs).

Worship is a multi-faceted jewel, to be sure, and many times we have over-emphasized some things and neglected others. But we need to be careful about balancing these extremes of imminence and transcendence, devotion and action, intimacy and reverence. We won't get there by simply rushing from one pendulum swing to another. The same God who said "be still and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10) also declared "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice..." (Isaiah 58 -- read the whole chapter!). Separating the two is simply not a biblical option.

And that is my final worm on the subject.


  1. ah....i see.
    shards of glass

    i think i have agreed with your interpretation.
    although...havent read his book to fairly judge.

    but...if we are the BRIDE and there is a MARRIAGE supper....wont it just be too wierd if the Bride and Bridegroom just sorta kinda like each other? thought the Bride and Groom were supposed to be wildly jealously in love beyond all reason?

    worship will go on 24/7 cuz GOD is just wont look like any of our "services" (thank you GOD!!)

  2. I should know better than to open your blog while I am eating. I almost lost my appetite for my breakfast after seeing the last can of worms. Other than that great thoughts on the book. It makes me want to purchase it and read it. Though I am sure I will have many issues with it, it will be good to challenge my thinking and my faith.

  3. Hi Rob,
    Great insight. "Exiles" is probably my favorite book to date, but I do agree with your critique.
    I have heard Frost say that he doesn't care what music you play in church, or the format of worship, but that you are who God created you to be - don't compromise that; just make sure you take your life oustside the walls of the church.

    Earl Crepps' latest blog is about the x-factor in the church. What makes some churches attractive and others not so? We can say anointing and that's true, but that's not limited to style. There's an Episcopal church here that I adore, while down the road there's a community church that sings the songs I like, but I'd rather stand out naked in a blizzard than attend. Why?
    I'm not sure, but I think the issue is more than whether worship is pop-songs or hymms.
    So why I also don't agree with the blanket statement Frost makes, I do agree that worship has to be more than just a few 3 minute songs to make us feel good.

  4. Bill,

    Thanks for the (almost) thumbs up.

    Your wormaphobia is well-documented.

    Blame the Tall Skinny Kiwi for the Snap Preview.

    I could mail you the keys to my dilapidated '93 van, but the vehicle itself was rejected as mailable by Canada Post.


    I agree, it would be strange for the Bride and Bridegroom to only respect each other from a distance. I appreciate Frost's reminders of worship being more than just singing, but it's a little extreme where he goes with this, and what he rejects.


    Many apologies for your breakfast trauma. I can only hope and pray that your laundry detergent will be up to the task.

    And I really recommend the book, because it encourages and challenges, and makes me think. I like that in a book.


    I've had similar experiences in a charismatic church that I visited, that I couldn't wait to get out of, and also feeling the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit in a cessationist church singing cheesy choruses. Go figure...

    "...a few 3 minute songs to make us feel good..." is a great insight: if the goal is to make US feel good, then it is really worship at all?

  5. So, do I gotta write TSK to get the dang Snap Preview shut off. Or does the British Gov have anything to do with it, now. What with the PC book and all. (Can't wait for the book, yah know.)

    No worms were hurt in the writing of this comment...although it was tempting.

  6. Hey Bill,

    Here's how you can disable snap preview for yourself.
    1.) When snap opens you will see in the right top corner that it says "options", click it.
    2,) The window will change and give you the opportunity to disable snap on the site you are on or on all sites (This is only on the computer you are working from). Click "disable all" and you will be free of Snap.

    The other option is for Rob to go into his blog's "dashboard" and disable it. On my wordpress blog it is in the "extra" tab within the presentation folder. I don't know how it work's for Blogger though.

    Hope this helps to de-worm you.

    On the subject of worship - it is and should be all things at all times, not just lovie-dovie nor just austere or mysterious. The dynamics of worship are incredible. Perhaps as a worship dude I have a bias but I find that people who haven't fleshed out their thinking (for whatever reason) are usually the ones who dismiss or downplay aspects of it.
    And worship is also subject to age... a youth can be invited to worship with "One Way", while a 25-45 something might dig "Facedown", while a senior may need "A Mighty Fortress is Our God".
    I'm in complete agreement as to being careful not to swing on pendulums, it's too wild of a ride.

  7. KSG,

    Thanks for bailing Bill out; I know Snap's not everyone's favourite, but I kinda like it.

    Interesting the songs you listed; I'm 45 and I don't know the song "Facedown" at all, but I've heard (and rocked to) "One Way" -- I think I've played bass for a few worship leaders who were doing the song, as well -- and I really like the song.

    Of course, that may be a result of what God has been speaking to me about recently: namely, finding incredible joy and celebration in the simple fact that I'm a child of God. Once in the kingdom of darkness, now in the light. Once lost, now found. Once blind, now seeing. Once an enemy of God, now a friend of Jesus.

    The phrase "joy of my salvation" has taken on a whole new intensity in recent weeks.

    For example, for my birthday Wendy got me Glenn Kaiser's Blues Heaven II (I'm a big Resurrection Band fan, so anything from Glenn is always welcome, esp. if it's blues), and when I heard the very first cut -- the ancient camp song "I've Been Redeemed" -- I just cranked up the car stereo and had me a worship time. When Glenn ripped through an electric slide version of "Do Lord", man, it was sweet.

    Then again, I'm not normal, so my personal song preferences should never be extrapolated to my general age group! :)

  8. Hey Rob,

    "Facedown" is the title track of a Matt Redman album... same album as “Dancing Generation” & "Nothing but the Blood" (great hymn re-work). I'm not a 'worship-music-as-a-genre' dude so I stay away from most things worship but recently Matt Redman and a few others of the Passion crew have really rocked (Chris Tomlin & David Crowder specifically) and with an eye to mission.

    Speaking of in-car drive-by worship, The Electrics
    "Party Goin’ on Upstairs" does it for me every time I play it. Maybe it’s the Celtic groove but I could almost stop the truck and dance a jig. It’s a drunk-on-God song for me.

    Thanks for the comments about “the joy of my salvation” it is encouraging and I needed that.

  9. two comments:

    1) i feel like i took on more than i could handle when i started thinking about these things. thinking criitically about worship singing has totally destroyed the worship experience for me, and i don't think that has been a good thing. i could go on and on about bad theology in worship, and i do, in my head, every sunday morning.

    2) musing on love. i think the song of solomon is about god and israel, or now, god and the church. it is a little me-centric to decide that this applies to me personally. but this is an example of the kind of grumpy theology that makes people stop listening to me, i understand that.

    i think culturally we do tend to have a fairly intimate idea of the word love. it is something i can say to my wife and children quite freely, but to others, even important people in my life it is something that could only be said very carefully, for fear it would be taken wrong.

    there is definitely a sexual component, and sex and love is a strange ride where you almost have to give up on them being connected at all before you finally begin to see the real way they are connected. the first level of connections, for example the feeling of "need" turns out to be stuff that isn't part of love after all.

    so it is actually pretty interesting to think about if the emotions we mean by "love" are appropriate to express towards god.

    it might be an interesting exercise, to write two poems (or songs if you are inclined). one of love for a husband or wife, and one to god, and don't use the word "love" in either one -- and see what other words we choose to use.