Worship Mythbusters: The Myth of Proposition over Experience in Worship

The Myth of Proposition over Experience in Worship

Why is it that in our evangelical church culture we seem to put the beauty of music, art and other expression of our faith and worship below reason? Where in scripture does this occur? In reading the Psalms and other poetry of the Bible we see imagery and drama as part of our expression of faith and yes, even theology.
This does not mean we put beauty and story above reason and proposition, however. There must be a better way of explaining the longing in our hearts when pulled to the mystical side that experience offers without repressing this part of our humanity. In other words, perhaps it is not an indication of a fallen nature or a danger of being captivated by that nature to be moved by the beautiful. It is human.

At the cre:ate 2009 conference, we had a lecture by Steven Guthrie, who delivered a lecture similar to his Worship Leader Magazine article earlier this year (Music and Lyrics, WL Magazine, pgs. 25-30). What Guthrie described was a man with two halves which he says is derived from Augustine. What we take from Augustine is a fear of the music drawing us to a “lower” nature. So, why not subjugate music to reason, which is a higher form of faith? We seem to face that in our worship expression often in the evangelical church.

Postmoderns, as Guthrie described to us at cre:ate flip the same logic of Augustine and argue for making the story, beauty and so forth higher than reason and proposition. May it never be! To deny the propositions such as the substitutional atonement and other pillars of faith to some fuzzy narrative is just plain stupid. We are talking about our eternal destiny here, not how we feel a movie moves us to a place of experience or how  Coldplay reveals a universal truth that we can explain away as relative. Proposition is still important.

I would suggest, as Guthrie does far better than I can, that we are not two people as he states the idea of having two halves. This is, as he says, an “unbiblical anthropology.” We are both people of reason and emotion. To pit parts of humanity against each other seems heretical, actually. How could we truly worship if “Spirit and Truth” are not employed and if we do not sing “with our mind” and “with our spirit” as Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 14.

At another cre:ate conference we talked with author Kurt Bruner about his book, The Divne Drama. Bruner’s assertion of a “both and” of “proposition and story” when talking about the gospel. The Bible is indeed made up both of narrative as well as proposition. Should we think these are ranked, or do we accept all scripture as “God-breathed” and authoritative?

For the sake of discussion, I wonder how many readers would agree with this idea or not agree. Should we put reason above beauty, story, mystery or are both sides of us who we are?

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Rich Kirkpatrick

Rich Kirkpatrick

Writer, Speaker, and Musician. Rich Kirkpatrick was recently rated #13 of the “Top 75 Religion Bloggers” by Newsmax.com, having also received recognition by Worship Leader Magazine as “Editor’s Choice” for the “Best of the Best” of blogs in 2011, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

48 comments

  1. The modernist elevation of proposition and the postmodernist elevation of experience are both idolatrous errors, and pretty much the same kind of error. The fact that Word was made flesh is our whole response to such error.
    One of our problems is that we tend to react to the error rather than simply submitting ourselves to the whole counsel of scripture. So we write songs that say, “I need to FEEL You, Jesus!” and throw out all of the propositional stuff that gives us the substance of the One whom we’re longing to feel.

    The answer, I believe, is that we have a responsibility to proclaim the truth, live the story, and sing about it all as we go along, good and bad. That’s why the Psalms are so helpful in our worship.

  2. The modernist elevation of proposition and the postmodernist elevation of experience are both idolatrous errors, and pretty much the same kind of error. The fact that Word was made flesh is our whole response to such error.
    One of our problems is that we tend to react to the error rather than simply submitting ourselves to the whole counsel of scripture. So we write songs that say, “I need to FEEL You, Jesus!” and throw out all of the propositional stuff that gives us the substance of the One whom we’re longing to feel.

    The answer, I believe, is that we have a responsibility to proclaim the truth, live the story, and sing about it all as we go along, good and bad. That’s why the Psalms are so helpful in our worship.

  3. The modernist elevation of proposition and the postmodernist elevation of experience are both idolatrous errors, and pretty much the same kind of error. The fact that Word was made flesh is our whole response to such error.
    One of our problems is that we tend to react to the error rather than simply submitting ourselves to the whole counsel of scripture. So we write songs that say, “I need to FEEL You, Jesus!” and throw out all of the propositional stuff that gives us the substance of the One whom we’re longing to feel.

    The answer, I believe, is that we have a responsibility to proclaim the truth, live the story, and sing about it all as we go along, good and bad. That’s why the Psalms are so helpful in our worship.

  4. The modernist elevation of proposition and the postmodernist elevation of experience are both idolatrous errors, and pretty much the same kind of error. The fact that Word was made flesh is our whole response to such error.
    One of our problems is that we tend to react to the error rather than simply submitting ourselves to the whole counsel of scripture. So we write songs that say, “I need to FEEL You, Jesus!” and throw out all of the propositional stuff that gives us the substance of the One whom we’re longing to feel.

    The answer, I believe, is that we have a responsibility to proclaim the truth, live the story, and sing about it all as we go along, good and bad. That’s why the Psalms are so helpful in our worship.

  5. David…good summary of what Guthrie calls “unbiblical anthropology”!
    I am not sure too many are reacting to the error, except postmodern reaction. Most evangelicals are bound to repress appropriate mystical expression of worship. (apropriate=within but not squashed by propositional matters).

    In my opinion, we DO need to feel, Jesus. 🙂

  6. David…good summary of what Guthrie calls “unbiblical anthropology”!
    I am not sure too many are reacting to the error, except postmodern reaction. Most evangelicals are bound to repress appropriate mystical expression of worship. (apropriate=within but not squashed by propositional matters).

    In my opinion, we DO need to feel, Jesus. 🙂

  7. David…good summary of what Guthrie calls “unbiblical anthropology”!
    I am not sure too many are reacting to the error, except postmodern reaction. Most evangelicals are bound to repress appropriate mystical expression of worship. (apropriate=within but not squashed by propositional matters).

    In my opinion, we DO need to feel, Jesus. 🙂

  8. David…good summary of what Guthrie calls “unbiblical anthropology”!
    I am not sure too many are reacting to the error, except postmodern reaction. Most evangelicals are bound to repress appropriate mystical expression of worship. (apropriate=within but not squashed by propositional matters).

    In my opinion, we DO need to feel, Jesus. 🙂

  9. I agree that we do need to feel Jesus. My point is that we begin to feel Him by finding out who He is, affirming who He is, and acting fully upon who He is, in every sense accorded us in Scripture, i.e. falling down, clapping hands, shouting, bowing, singing, kneeling, dancing, and most of all, obeying.

  10. I agree that we do need to feel Jesus. My point is that we begin to feel Him by finding out who He is, affirming who He is, and acting fully upon who He is, in every sense accorded us in Scripture, i.e. falling down, clapping hands, shouting, bowing, singing, kneeling, dancing, and most of all, obeying.

  11. I agree that we do need to feel Jesus. My point is that we begin to feel Him by finding out who He is, affirming who He is, and acting fully upon who He is, in every sense accorded us in Scripture, i.e. falling down, clapping hands, shouting, bowing, singing, kneeling, dancing, and most of all, obeying.

  12. I agree that we do need to feel Jesus. My point is that we begin to feel Him by finding out who He is, affirming who He is, and acting fully upon who He is, in every sense accorded us in Scripture, i.e. falling down, clapping hands, shouting, bowing, singing, kneeling, dancing, and most of all, obeying.

  13. Interesting thoughts. I’ve always enjoyed the phrase “emotions expressing truth.” God’s given us emotions as a means of expression. What higher calling that. To express the joy and wonder of knowing Him?
    As with most things, balance is key.

  14. Interesting thoughts. I’ve always enjoyed the phrase “emotions expressing truth.” God’s given us emotions as a means of expression. What higher calling that. To express the joy and wonder of knowing Him?
    As with most things, balance is key.

  15. Interesting thoughts. I’ve always enjoyed the phrase “emotions expressing truth.” God’s given us emotions as a means of expression. What higher calling that. To express the joy and wonder of knowing Him?
    As with most things, balance is key.

  16. Interesting thoughts. I’ve always enjoyed the phrase “emotions expressing truth.” God’s given us emotions as a means of expression. What higher calling that. To express the joy and wonder of knowing Him?
    As with most things, balance is key.

  17. Yea, Luke said the word: balance. When we’re off balance, we will fall. Balance is the key.

  18. Yea, Luke said the word: balance. When we’re off balance, we will fall. Balance is the key.

  19. Yea, Luke said the word: balance. When we’re off balance, we will fall. Balance is the key.

  20. Yea, Luke said the word: balance. When we’re off balance, we will fall. Balance is the key.

  21. I love Jesus…I love to sing songs to Him and about Him and about how I feel about Him…I think He’s down with that. Is that too simple?

  22. I love Jesus…I love to sing songs to Him and about Him and about how I feel about Him…I think He’s down with that. Is that too simple?

  23. I love Jesus…I love to sing songs to Him and about Him and about how I feel about Him…I think He’s down with that. Is that too simple?

  24. I love Jesus…I love to sing songs to Him and about Him and about how I feel about Him…I think He’s down with that. Is that too simple?

  25. Not too simple at all Craig!
    About balance…

    What I am arguing here is for a better theology about us as people.

  26. Not too simple at all Craig!
    About balance…

    What I am arguing here is for a better theology about us as people.

  27. Not too simple at all Craig!
    About balance…

    What I am arguing here is for a better theology about us as people.

  28. Not too simple at all Craig!
    About balance…

    What I am arguing here is for a better theology about us as people.

  29. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, with all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.Col 3:16

  30. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, with all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.Col 3:16

  31. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, with all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.Col 3:16

  32. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, with all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.Col 3:16

  33. Could it be that we (especially, as WL’s) don’t spend enough time in intentional planning and prayer so that our expression expresses both – that of reason, and that of feeling?
    Just as we put forth effort into choosing the appropriate balance of fast/praise, versus slow/worship (not necessarily do those go together) … we balance modern to traditional (for those of us blending things) … we should also balance “reasonal” expression with “emotional” expression.

    My $.02?

  34. Could it be that we (especially, as WL’s) don’t spend enough time in intentional planning and prayer so that our expression expresses both – that of reason, and that of feeling?
    Just as we put forth effort into choosing the appropriate balance of fast/praise, versus slow/worship (not necessarily do those go together) … we balance modern to traditional (for those of us blending things) … we should also balance “reasonal” expression with “emotional” expression.

    My $.02?

  35. Could it be that we (especially, as WL’s) don’t spend enough time in intentional planning and prayer so that our expression expresses both – that of reason, and that of feeling?
    Just as we put forth effort into choosing the appropriate balance of fast/praise, versus slow/worship (not necessarily do those go together) … we balance modern to traditional (for those of us blending things) … we should also balance “reasonal” expression with “emotional” expression.

    My $.02?

  36. Could it be that we (especially, as WL’s) don’t spend enough time in intentional planning and prayer so that our expression expresses both – that of reason, and that of feeling?
    Just as we put forth effort into choosing the appropriate balance of fast/praise, versus slow/worship (not necessarily do those go together) … we balance modern to traditional (for those of us blending things) … we should also balance “reasonal” expression with “emotional” expression.

    My $.02?

  37. Reason is like a network firewall: when it’s operating properly it screens out deleterious passions and allows constructive and God-honoring passions to come through. Without reason, and more accurately, without reason anchored by the teachings of Jesus, we wouldn’t be able to discern among the passions that flow through us. So in that context, Augustinian and Platonic Reason is higher in a hierarchical sense, but not necessarily more important, than passion. IMHO Reason was never meant to exclude or usurp Passion; the two coexist for different purposes.

  38. Reason is like a network firewall: when it’s operating properly it screens out deleterious passions and allows constructive and God-honoring passions to come through. Without reason, and more accurately, without reason anchored by the teachings of Jesus, we wouldn’t be able to discern among the passions that flow through us. So in that context, Augustinian and Platonic Reason is higher in a hierarchical sense, but not necessarily more important, than passion. IMHO Reason was never meant to exclude or usurp Passion; the two coexist for different purposes.

  39. Reason is like a network firewall: when it’s operating properly it screens out deleterious passions and allows constructive and God-honoring passions to come through. Without reason, and more accurately, without reason anchored by the teachings of Jesus, we wouldn’t be able to discern among the passions that flow through us. So in that context, Augustinian and Platonic Reason is higher in a hierarchical sense, but not necessarily more important, than passion. IMHO Reason was never meant to exclude or usurp Passion; the two coexist for different purposes.

  40. Reason is like a network firewall: when it’s operating properly it screens out deleterious passions and allows constructive and God-honoring passions to come through. Without reason, and more accurately, without reason anchored by the teachings of Jesus, we wouldn’t be able to discern among the passions that flow through us. So in that context, Augustinian and Platonic Reason is higher in a hierarchical sense, but not necessarily more important, than passion. IMHO Reason was never meant to exclude or usurp Passion; the two coexist for different purposes.

  41. Dan…But is being higher biblical? This still implies “separate” and there is no “biblical” evidence of that. The very point is that Augustine and our modernist way of thinking about anthropology is incomplete and skewed. Reason is very important, but its context is in an emotion-filled, spiritually created being. So, the “meaning” of reason is not understood without the other part of us just as much as reason may “moderate” passion. Passion moderates reason from us not seeking after God by faith when no reason can give us permission to do so.

  42. Dan…But is being higher biblical? This still implies “separate” and there is no “biblical” evidence of that. The very point is that Augustine and our modernist way of thinking about anthropology is incomplete and skewed. Reason is very important, but its context is in an emotion-filled, spiritually created being. So, the “meaning” of reason is not understood without the other part of us just as much as reason may “moderate” passion. Passion moderates reason from us not seeking after God by faith when no reason can give us permission to do so.

  43. Dan…But is being higher biblical? This still implies “separate” and there is no “biblical” evidence of that. The very point is that Augustine and our modernist way of thinking about anthropology is incomplete and skewed. Reason is very important, but its context is in an emotion-filled, spiritually created being. So, the “meaning” of reason is not understood without the other part of us just as much as reason may “moderate” passion. Passion moderates reason from us not seeking after God by faith when no reason can give us permission to do so.

  44. Dan…But is being higher biblical? This still implies “separate” and there is no “biblical” evidence of that. The very point is that Augustine and our modernist way of thinking about anthropology is incomplete and skewed. Reason is very important, but its context is in an emotion-filled, spiritually created being. So, the “meaning” of reason is not understood without the other part of us just as much as reason may “moderate” passion. Passion moderates reason from us not seeking after God by faith when no reason can give us permission to do so.

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