It’s been about 2 years since I read Mark Dever‘s Deliberate Church: Buidling Your Ministry on the Gospel. (The book is great; I highly recommend it.) His chapter on “Music,” in reference to music used in corporate worship, still sticks out in my mind. In this post I’d like to share with you a quote from the chapter as well as some of the reflections I had (including some of the notes I took in the margins) when I first read this chapter.
God has given us so much to be encouraged about in His Word! We should use the rich storehouse of Scripture to give us good things to say in our praise of Him, to remind us of the perfections of God’s character and the sufficiency of Christ’s work. We want to sing songs that raise our view of God, that present Him in all His glory and grace. We want to sing songs that put the details of Christ’s person and work front and center. We want to sing theologically textured songs that make us think about the depths of God’s character, the contours of His grace, and the implications of His Gospel; that teach us about the biblical doctrine that saves and transforms. Negatively, we want to avoid songs that encourage us to reflect on our own subjective emotional experience more than on the objective truths of God’s character and implications of the cross. We also want to avoid needless repetition of phrases in almost mantra-like fashion, as if seeking an emotional high were the purest form of worship (emphasis mine).
In the margins of this chapter I wrote the following statements,
Everything should direct to God, not music, man, emotions, etc. Nothing should distract [from] that goal.
We must not worship our emotions. We must worship God.
The goal of corporate musical worship is pleasing God, which will then encourage one another and leave us encouraged. We must not reverse this order, however.
We cannot neglect scripture and doctrine, especially in [corporate] worship of all things. That would be a terrible irony.
Psalm 29:2 gives a great imperatival description of worship–“Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name.” Worship is by definition about God. It’s about praising Him and ascribing to Him His wonderful attributes and character. Therefore, when emotions become the end goal in “worship” (i.e., we measure the worth of a time of cooperate worship based on the emotional-high we did or did not receive from it), we have idolatry–the worship of anything other than God, in this case, one’s emotions. When our worship (personal or corporate) is emotional and yet lacks any theological content (i.e., mention of God’s nature, character, or saving actions) to provide a proper reason for the existence of the emotions, here we have the self-worship of emotionalism.
Shai Linne sums things up quite well:
If you have doxology without theology you have idolatry.
A Word of Caution
All this having been said, I do not mean to suggest that emotion in corporate worship or private (musical) worship is a bad thing. Yes, a conjured up emotional-high not based in an actual worship of God is wrong; it’s mere self-worship, the worship of emotions, and idolatry. However, it’s not emotion that’s the problem. So, we shouldn’t swing the other direction and try to eliminate emotion from our musical worship altogether, like some group of “Christian stoics.” In fact, musical worship that lacks emotion falls very short of the Biblical model (for example, see the Psalms). We are emotional people, and so we need to worship God fully with every part of our being, including our emotions. In short, we are to worship God with our emotions (among other things), but not worship the emotions themselves.
 Mark Dever, Deliberate Church: Building Your Ministry on the Gospel (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005) 118-119.
8 thoughts on “The Self-Worship of Emotionalism”
About the repetition statement – would Ps 136 be rejected if it were written as lyrics today? Repetition can sometimes be used make a point and also commit something to the heart and mind. Why is repetition ‘bad’ in and of itself? Do we feel it just tends to distraction?
walking on thin ice here man….
@[636867967:2048:Tim Rhine], can you explain what you mean or to what you are referring?
@[100002460150075:2048:Jonathan Rhine], you make a good point–“Repetition can sometimes be used [to] make a point and also commit something to the heart and mind.” In the quote from Dever, notice he describes the repetition as “needless repetition of phrases in almost mantra-like fashion as if seeking an emotional high were the purest form of worship.” That is an important qualification. Neither he or I am saying repetition is “‘bad’ in and of itself.” I am not sure where one could ground such an idea scripturally.
Two Possible Extremes: either worship of emotional highs, or viewing emotion as an enemy. The only way to stay in the middle is to focus all glory to Christ.
Josh, you absolutely nailed it!
Kirk Miller Hey I’m just spinning off from your content. Thank you for your thoughts and scholarship
i think you people have way to much time to waste.
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