Friday, November 7, 2014

Performance vs. Worship

Dazzled by the excellence of the music and the preaching in a worship service at Angelus Temple in Los Angeles (founded by the Pentecostal preacher, Aimee Semple McPherson), Todd Johnson, professor of worship at Fuller Theological Seminary, set out to examine the relationship between performance and worship. 

This caught my eye in a 2013 issue of Liturgy because the same question haunted the chapel worship at the seminary where I previously taught. One day a student asked me bluntly: “Where is the line between excellence that is a performance and excellence that is worship?” That student’s question contained a myriad of issues, but chief among them was and is the question of the purpose of worship. 

Prof. Johnson’s essay, “Redeeming Performance,” asks about purpose, as well, for he assesses his experience of the Angelus Temple’s “excellent” worship service on the basis of three questions:
1) What is to be performed? (2) Who is to perform what? (3) Is performance even an appropriate category to apply to Christian worship? 
These questions all lead to the ultimate conundrum: the purpose of worship. Here is some of what Prof. Johnson wrote. In this section he is describing the relationship between action and rehearsal. 
More recently I have considered the work of Shannon Craigo-Snell and her critique of Nicholas Wolterstorff's Divine Discourse. 7 In this essay, Craigo-Snell invites a reconsideration of Wolterstorff's musical metaphor—that one moves from interpretation of a text to its performance. Craigo-Snell shifts the paradigm to theatrical instead of musical performance and reconsiders Wolterstoff's conclusions on many fronts. One in particular is relevant to our discussion. In a theatrical performance (as well as most musical performances) one does not move from interpretation to performance without a lengthy season of rehearsal. After all, one of the graces (and challenges) of acting in a play is constantly digging into the script and the character for something more. If you as an actor become bored or stale or predictable, then your performance will likewise be boring, stale, and predictable. One's performance of a character—even on closing night—is never fully formed. It is always being rehearsed. 
So too, our redemption is not complete on this side of eternity, but is (hopefully) on a trajectory toward fulfillment only to be completed eschatologically. Therefore our prayers, preaching, music, and all offerings of our worship are all rehearsals of our faith, not performances in the sense of a finished product . . .  
These insights dovetail with Paul's description and corrective to Christian gatherings in 1 Corinthians 14. Here the task of liturgical leadership is not offering faithful performances of worship through prayer and scripture, but is instead the coordination of the gifts and offerings of the people, as worship is truly a leitourgia or a “work of the people for the people.” This raises a tremendous question for us pastorally: “How do we get our people to see our gatherings of worship not as performances done for them, but as rehearsals of their faith offered to God?” . . .  
The worship service I attended at Angelus Temple was as polished and professional a performance—musically, visually, and rhetorically—as one could find in the self-proclaimed “entertainment capital of the world.” A minority of churches can compare to the professionalism that Angelus Temple has maintained over its nearly century of existence. But in this century our culture has changed, becoming increasingly drawn to show and spectacle. . . . To this extent, seeing worship as a performance runs the risk of creating the expectation of entertainment rather than offering. We go to receive but not to contribute. . .  
[We need] to ask, “What do we want our people to do next to worship God?” And secondarily, “What resources ought we provide them to be able to make that invited action their own offering of worship, to the glory of God and the building up of the body?”  . . .  It is this dual movement of “toward God and toward one another” that we need to rehearse. . . 

Todd Johnson is associate professor of worship, theology, and the arts at Fuller Theological Seminary. 

Todd Johnson, “Redeeming Performance,” Liturgy 28, no. 3 (22 April 2013): 17-24.

No comments:

Post a Comment