Thursday, 24 February 2011

The Middle East, Isaiah and good worship

I realise I've apparently not been aware of the historic events taking place in the North Africa and the Middle East. My Facebook friends will know, however, that I did sign up on the Cancel the Bahrain Grand Prix group. I hardly think the 143 of us made a great impact on the decision which was quite soon made! In truth the domino succession of protests starting from Tunisia has been extraordinary to watch, and to understand. The factors of militant Islam's presence in the region and Israel in the middle are what contribute to the sense of international moment to the pictures on TV. These are not mere domestic upheavals. They could involve us all.

At the height of the protests in Cairo and with a new government in Jordan, Andrew White, vicar of Baghdad, pointed out the intriguing prophecy of Isaiah 19. 23-25: 'In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Iraq (Assyria), and Iraq will come into Egypt, and Egypt into Iraq, and the Egyptians will worship with the Iraqis. In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Iraq, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the LORD of hosts has blessed, saying, "Blessed be Egypt my people, and Iraq the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance."' And he commented: 'Today it is beginning to happen. We do not know what will happen next. I can only say the words at the beginning of each service the “The Lord is here and His Spirit is with us." Keep your eyes on Isaiah 19.'

Vicky Beeching 
Talking of Isaiah, I've been thinking about churches and worship recently, and I came across an interesting chapter in Micah's Challenge written by Tony Campolo. It was about Isaiah 58. He points out that worship not only reflects but also shapes theology; and he asks: "Will this new kind of worship music mould our theologies so that our religion in the years that lie ahead will be likened to that of the people of ancient Israel, devoid of social justice concerns and, therefore, unacceptable to God? Will we have worship music that has Christians... with uplifted hands singing love songs to God, while failing to 'seek justice, correct oppression, defend the fatherless, and plead for the widow?'"

There is a great YouTube clip where Vicky Beeching, who studied theology under my brother in Oxford, introduces her new worship album, Heaven Invades. I think she has it just right. Vicky Beeching talks about worship


  1. I love that expression "I've been thinking of churches and worship....." Is this something new???

  2. Well, it's been given added point in my consciousness recently! I suppose partly as a result of being a punter rather than a professional!

  3. Do you know what Tony meant by saying that worship moulds theology? It seems to me that in the OT, theology or God's revelation produces praise, rather than the other way round. But I guess he could simply be talking experientially; that the words of the songs shape our thinking about God.

    He makes a good point about empty praise. Isaiah also has quite a bit to say about self-indulgence (5:8-17) and self-conceit (5:18-25). I wonder how the promotion of 'worship leaders', with thier glossy websites and tweeting, sits with that. It makes me uneasy.

  4. Al, I recommend you read ch 7 of 'Micah's Challenge' (ed. Marijke Hoek & Justin Thacker, 2008, Paternoster). I think his point arises out of two facts: 1. Words with music are memorable, and 2. Music has power to move emotionally/spiritually. I think he would be talking more about popular than academic theology. Isn't the case that the Psalms are quoted more than any other OT book in the New Testament? He instances reports "that, in the doctrinal arguments that eventually led to the Council of Nicaea, the final decisions of the council were settled more as a result of the hymns that were sung than by the discussions of the ancient church fathers" (p.88). I'm not sure I entirely believe it, but apparently Athanasius (maintaining the deity of Jesus) had better choir with better tunes than Arius!

    You're probably right that TC is talking experientially, but then experience is very good evidence. I've certainly found among churchgoers that they remember songs far better than sermons. It's a pity that so many are unaware of the profound theology contained in the best of them. I sometimes think they'd be a good starting point for teaching. For example, when people choose 'Abide with me' for a funeral, there's a great chance to talk about the gospel.

    Do take 10 minutes to look at Vicky Beeching's YouTube clip. She's one of those worship/song writers who use the social media a lot. And she explains why. I really don't think it's an ego trip in her case. In fact I get the feeling that she's there out of obedience and for service. She says early on that she tries to help people express themselves when they can't find the words to say to God. I think she's implying the evident truth that when we experience God's revelation we can't, most of us, find the words or way to express our praise, and that's where inspired poets and musicians can help us. And equally when we are in the pits we don't know how to tell our Father how much it hurts...

    Thanks for provoking me to think again! And, by the way, you're right that self-indulgence and conceit are temptations of every sort of 'up-front' leader in worship, not just musicians, which is why, I reckon, we should pray for their protection.