James K. A. Smith on CCM

by Oct 31, 2013ChurchLife, Culture, Music3 comments

While doing a little Internet poking around on James K. A. Smith, I stumbled across this choice quotation from the pleistocine era of the blogosphere (namely about eight months ago). Sorry I missed it:

Trevin Wax: How would you respond to the person who says the forms of worship are interchangeable, but the message must always remain constant? While admitting there is flexibility in forms from culture to culture, I think you’d want to push against the idea that the forms don’t matter.

James K. A. Smith: Absolutely. I think we buy into a form/content distinction precisely because we’ve reduced the Gospel to a “message.” So then we think we can just distill that “message” (the content) and then drop it into any “form” we want.

But as I argue in the book, forms are not neutral. Indeed, that was one of the core arguments of the first volume, Desiring the Kingdom: cultural practices that we might think are “neutral” – just something that we do – are actually doing something to us. They are formative. But what they form is our heart-habits, our loves and longings that, as we’ve already mentioned, actually drive our action and behavior.

So you can’t just go pick some “popular” cultural form and insert the Gospel “message” and think you have thereby come up with “relevant” worship. Because it’s more likely that you’ve just imported a secular liturgy into Christian worship. Sure, you might have changed the content, but the very form of the practice is training us to love some other vision of the good life. This is why I think a lot of innovation in worship, while well-intentioned, actually ends up welcoming Trojan horses into the sanctuary.

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3 Comments
  1. Van

    Interesting dialog with James K. A. Smith. I believe it may be a little bit of the pot calling the kettle black as Smith seems willing to import postmodernity into worship. Of course, Smith would probably argue that his postmodernity approximates a ethereal premodernity.

    Reply
    • Mark L Ward Jr

      Agreed, but sometimes I’m afraid we’re forced to take our allies wherever we can get them on this point. And in this case, he’s making the same point I hear our most responsible representatives making: there is a meaning inherent in pop forms (Bauder would add, rightly, that there’s a meaning in 1940s and 50s pop forms, too), a meaning that can’t be assumed to fit well with the messages we sing in church.

      I’ll stick my ethereal premodernity.

      Reply
  2. Dan S

    Great quotation.

    Reply

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