Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down by Marva J. Dawn

Posted: March 4, 2012 in Book and Article Reviews, Worship

In reading through this book, I read parts IV and V: The Culture in Our Worship and Worship for the Sake of the Culture, respectively.  In chapters 8-10, Marva J. Dawn discusses three elements of worship and how our culture has infiltrated and threatens to destroy their message.  The three elements are: Music, Word, and Liturgy/Sacrament.  In the ongoing debate over “contemporary and traditional” services, the message of the worship has become less substantive and more “entertaining.”  As a result, people are not transformed… and, sometimes, not even informed.  Worship has become anthropocentric, and thus egocentric, rather than theocentric.

The result is shallow spirituality that have little or not historical roots.  We are the culture of historical amnesia.  However, interestingly, the churches that are not simply finding new ways to entertain but are rather using liturgy and biblical worship, find themselves invigorated and rejuvenated for their mission: proclaiming the Gospel.  However, Marva also argues that all forms of worship must be measured for their effectiveness in transforming lives, including hymns and liturgy.  “Contemporary” forms of worship can be useful, but they really must be blended.  Or, as Webber would say, they must “converge” to be holistic.

In the final two chapters, Dawn focuses on the appeal and temptation of culture on the Church.  Worship is to be radically counter-cultural, not simply an extension of culture.  However, by simply embracing the performance and entertainment as seen on television, we have essentially lost the very thing that makes the Church attractive.  The result is a Church that looks like the culture.  Thus, spirituality is an inch deep, with nothing substantial for people to take root.  The consequence has been an exodus of church-goers that find little relevance in life for the Church.  However, Dawn does want to say that this does not mean we cannot incorporate new things in worship.  But, such material must hold value for producing Christ-like disciples, not simply providing an emotional experience that can be interpreted as a spiritual encounter.



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