Friday, April 29, 2011

Shopping at the Worship Mall

If we could have planned a book rather than a single issue of Liturgy on "emerging worship," it might have looked something like Bryan Spinks' recent The Worship Mall: Contemporary Responses to Contemporary Culture (New York: Church Publishing, 2010). Spinks, professor of liturgical studies at Yale University Divinity School, provides what I found to be a helpful overview of the variety of liturgical responses to contemporary consumer culture, including those that loosely fit under "blended," "praise and worship," "emerging," and "Celtic" (where the quotation marks take on a double meaning). It is helpful on two fronts--on the one hand, in its careful descriptions of these responses, and, on the other hand, in its equally careful critiques and questions.

Spinks suggests that Christian worship takes the character of the mall in two ways: 1) as religious traditions and practices are put "in competition with all the leisure and entertainment industries" and 2) as worship practices and styles are increasingly manufactured to "suit...personal taste or spirituality, all enticing in different ways, and in competition with one another" (xxiii). 

While these may not be new observations, they are significant for the problems toward which they point. For example, if religious practices, including worship, are but one more form of leisure activity, what does this mean for Christian understandings of conversion or transformation of one's life? Can we be "converted to" and "initiated into" a leisure activity or form of entertainment? What might it mean to think about "leisure" as a way of life? What does this imply for those for whom leisure remains always out of reach, for those for whom the choice to go to worship or to the mall on Sunday morning is not possible because they are required to be at work at the mall on Sunday morning?

And, if worship practices are increasingly manufactured (I use the word intentionally) to suit personal taste, whether in music, spirituality, theological belief, what are the consequences for the body we call "church"? Might Paul's discussion of the variety of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 help reframe the individualism of taste in a way that helps us recover some sense of the diversity our individual gifts as for the benefit of, the upbuilding of, a community of believers? What might it mean to explore the diversity of our gifts (as well as preferences and tastes) not as competitors in the satisfaction of desire but as necessary complements to one another?

Spinks concludes his book with observation that "organic development of the liturgy, providing the liturgical tradition is open to change [his emphasis], will probably be more successful than liturgical genetic engineering where we are always intervening to make liturgy contemporary" (215). Yet, as he makes clear in other places in his book, such organic development requires a community of belief that both knows its liturgical tradition well and is willing to live with it, worship through it, over time--that is, over a generation rather than a month or season. In the end, worship that has any kind of truth or faithfulness cannot and will not come from those who do not believe, but from a community that knows its deepest desires and hungers will be satisfied by gifts of "finest wheat" and the bread/Bread of life.

Ron Anderson is Styberg Professor of Worship at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and president of The Liturgical Conference.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting this review. It was helpful in my decision to purchase the book.