Tag Archive: Duke Divinity


I admit it.  I am guilty of worship snobbery.  I am a selective worshiper.  A worship elitist.  A liturgical snob.  Give me a well-put together service; a theologically sound, intellectually challenging, and enlightening sermon; and a choir second only to the heavenly chorus.  I am a worshiper who dines on what fancies me the most, often leaving the remainder of the worship palate untouched.

Each week I examine the Duke Divinity School worship schedule to see who is preaching, what choir is singing, and what worship tradition is being celebrated at each service.

My favorite professor is preaching on Tuesday, I notice.  I will be sure to be there.

Oh, the contemporary praise and worship team is leading the Wednesday service.  I’ll plan to watch “Glee” on Tuesday night, and skip worship on Wednesday to catch up on reading.

It’s an Anglican service on Thursday.  I don’t have the time to spare.  But I’ve always wanted to hear the preacher.  Perhaps I can eavesdrop when the preacher steps into the pulpit.

I fear that I am not alone.  When I go into different churches the demographics and homogeneity of various worship services are predictable (if not also stereotypical).    Young people congregate with other young folks at “contemporary” praise-and-worships services.  Those who have always worshipped in a traditional manner gather to worship “traditionally.”  Different styles of worship and worshipers rarely mix, even worshipping in separate buildings simultaneously.

In the name of being “selective” or “efficient” we prioritize one worship style over another.  We believe one preacher (the popular one we like) is more likely to speak God’s Word than the less well-known preacher we’re not willing to give a chance.  We cling to old hymns and dismiss the new choruses because surely goodness comes with age.

Why do we do this?

Of course, we have our preferences for worship, but why do we prioritize?  Or is that the right word?  Do we prioritize or idolize?  Idolization might be more accurate.  It seems we lift up one style of worship above the One who is to be worshipped.  We enter into churches, sanctuaries, chapels, or other holy places seeking something that pleases us.  We use worship as a means to satisfy our own desires.

When this happens worship becomes a commodity no different than the millions of other products we consume throughout our lives.  We shop for a worship service that is comfortable and accommodating to our preferences like we hunt down a pair of blue jeans that fits just right.  We profess allegiance to a worship style the same way we commit ourselves to a certain auto manufacturer.  We say, “I am contemporary worshipper” as easily, confidently, and trivially as we say, “I’m a Ford or Chevy person.”

When our allegiance to a particular worship style overshadows our allegiance to the One worshipped we’ve missed the point.  Worship becomes our idol; we bow down to the performance and presentation of the mortal over the immortal.  Our emotional and psychological needs – and not our need to praise and glorify God- take center stage.

Jesus’ urging to Mary and Martha may help.  Jesus said, “Only one thing is needed (Luke 10:38-42).  That one thing says the Psalmist: “To dwell in the house of the Lord…to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord” (Psalm 27:4).  We don’t need worship to be many selfish and pleasing things; only one thing is needed.  Worship is not bowing down to our own preferences and losing ourselves in our own worshipful delights.  Rather, true worship is getting lost in wonder, love and praise of the God whom calls and invites us to enter God’s holy and mysterious presence always, everywhere, and in any manner.

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Today in the Wall Street Journal Brett McCracken writes an opinion piece on The Perils of ‘Wannabe Cool’ Christianity. In the article he chastises pastors and churches who have attempted to make Christianity “cool” in their efforts to attract and keep young believers.  He summarizes, “If the evangelical Christian leadership thinks that “cool Christianity” is a sustainable path forward, they are severely mistaken. As a twentysomething, I can say with confidence that when it comes to church, we don’t want cool as much as we want real.”

In general, he’s right.  “Cool” Christianity is really no Christianity at all.  Jesus wasn’t “cool” or “hip.”  He hung out on the margins calling people to the radical practices of repentance, forgiveness, love, and grace.  Jesus surely had friends, but not many in the popular and fashionable crowd.

However, I take issue with one area of McCracken’s piece.  He highlights contemporary church leaders’ use of sex as a “hip” selling point for Christianity.  He mention’s Rob Bell’s “Sex God” and Oak Leaf Church’s (Cartersville, GA) website  yourgreatsexlife.com as signs that “sex is a popular shock tactic.”  Many churches, he believes, “are finding creative ways to use sex-themed marketing gimmicks to lure people into church.”

He then lumps Lauren Winner’s “Real Sex” into the cool and gimmicky sex tactics used by Christians to attract new, youngbelievers.

Huh?  Has he read Winner’s book?  If so, did he take the time to digest it?

“Real Sex” is hardly a hipster, young adult-friendly take on sex.  In fact, Lauren calls for something extremely un-hip and un-cool…she argues for chastity!  In “Real Sex” she talks about her sexual adventures during her college years in which she wasn’t a believer (Jewish background).  However, after her conversion she began to see sex/chastity in a new light.  Long story short, she argues in “Real Sex” that chastity for non-married persons is the most faithful Christian view of sex.

Winner’s call for chastity maybe a shocking view, but it’s hardly a hipster, cool take on the subject!

(Full disclosure: Lauren Winner is one of my professors at Duke Divinity School.)

For all the graduate students

This is for all those grad students out there.  Whether you’re in Law, Medical, Business, or Divinity (like me)…you can relate to Bart!  Hilarious!

Have you heard this sentiment recently?

“United Methodists can believe anything.”

Sometimes, the proclaimers follows his our her proclamation with, “And I love it that way!”

As a pastor, I hear this “fact” from many members.  Even more, I frequently encounter this attitude in the hallways of Duke Divinity School (where I am a student).

While, we (Methodists) are not typically known as theological giants, we certainly do not hold to a theology that allows for anything.  We have the Book of Discipline, the Articles of Faith, and orthodox Church creeds.  Even more, one might say that the UMC Social Creed and the General Rules also captivate the spirit of Methodist “beliefs.”

As Craig Groeschel points out, and Matt Judkins comments on, Methodists are often commended for their “social consciousness.”  While Methodists are to be lifted up for their work in the social sphere, relegating their theological convictions to the background casts aside the other half of the story.

We are Methodists, and we do believe in something…specific…Scriptural.

It’s time we recover (and promote) our theological depths…which are partially the impetus behind our social consciousness.

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