Category Archives: Consumer
Have you met Hollywood Jesus?
I have a confession to make…
Although I am a bible believing, openly professing Christian, I have not watched Mel Gibson’s, “The Passion of the Christ” (2004).
There, I said it! Right now I can see Christian mothers covering their baby’s ears, Amish communities turning their backs, and stalwart fundamentalists writing my excommunication letter. Of course I write all this in jest. But I do remember at the time of Gibson’s movie rendition of Christ’s life, death and resurrection being released how driven Christians were to see it. I have a vivid memory of one pastor presenting communion after he had seen the movie. He openly stated that people who had witnessed Gibson’s rendering of Christ’s crucifixion would now have a deeper understanding of how Jesus suffered for us. Apparently, the rest of us simply had to work with a watered down comprehension of the atonement. Perhaps it was this experience that caused me to ‘dig my heels in’ and choose not to watch the film. Please hear me correctly…I don’t think the film is bad or unwarranted (I can’t pass judgement on something I haven’t seen)…I just think the manner in which the Christian community consumes pop culture has much to be desired. Which brings me to my most recent observation of Christians meeting Hollywood Jesus…
In Australia we have a new miniseries showing on TV. “The Bible” is a ten part presentation of select bible stories and while it’s directors and writers openly state that it is not a complete transcription of the bible text (how could it be in ten shows) they readily state that they are doing their best to present the ‘spirit’ of the text. I have no problem with this. Indeed, I welcome it (and not only because some of the cool special CGI effects are really well done). My problem lies with our response to such programs. Simply, how is it that we can find ourselves, as a Christian community, consuming these programs in a non-reflective manner? Just because something is titled ‘The Bible’ or has the name of Christ as its moniker does not automatically quarantine it from assessment or debate. We must grow as a Christian community beyond our modernist ideals which are founded on ‘black and white’ judgements (i.e. “If you’re not for us, you’re against us!”) and engage in the postmodern world which exists in the variability of grey-scale. The Christian faith should not shy away from discussion and debate! Might I be so bold as to suggest that it’s only Christ that can add colour, shade and texture to an otherwise two-dimensional grey-scale world?
Furthermore, Jesus challenged his disciples (specifically Peter) to personally comprehend who he was; aside from that which others presented him as. In Matthew 16: 13b–17 Jesus asks,
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.
Again, I’m keen to ensure you understand I am not decrying Hollywood depictions of Christ outright – though there have been some truly appalling attempts! Moreover, I am seeking to remind us that any representation of Jesus will always fall short of a personal encounter with the living Christ. It is only when we allow the real Jesus to directly ask us, “but who do you say I that I am?” that we can truly make a declaration of faith. Meeting Hollywood Jesus simply doesn’t (and never will) cut it!
So does Hollywood (by this I mean pop culture at large) have a place in presenting Christ. Yes! But let’s be mature in how we consume and disseminate our rough and crude likeness of his image and nature. Let’s remember that now, in the 21st century, as it has been for two millennia that our best presentation of the gospel is in how we live our lives surrounded by a culture that does not know Him. “The Bible” (the miniseries) has a place…and who knows…I might even watch Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” one day. Regardless, I hope that the manner in which I live my life does not introduce friends and family to the Hollywood Jesus; but the Christ, the Son of the living God.
So let’s tackle the controversial subject of Performance in Worship. For some the subject immediately raises red flags of concern while others readily admit that performance is a necessary aspect of their worship; both in presentation and participation.
The Concise Oxford English Dictionary (2008) defines performance as “a person’s rendering of a dramatic role, song, or piece of music” (p. 1064). The definition elaborates on the term stating that performance is “the action or process of performing a task or function” (p. 1064). Given our context we will centre the discussion on the task of the church musician and singer (from hence forth ‘musician’); and in doing so acknowledge, according to the dictionary definition, that each Sunday (and besides) church musicians regularly perform songs in the role as worship leaders. Of course our consideration of the topic cannot stop at the sterile dictionary meaning. To do so would heavily dilute the cultural considerations which fuel the debate.
James White (2000) observes, “In worship, all are performers” (p. 115). According to the dictionary definition White is justified in his summation. Culturally however the issue is not performance – the issue is entertainment! Again, in contemplating the Contemporary Worship Singer’s task, does the individual orientate their performance towards entertaining the audience or is their intent directed toward ministering to the congregation? And herein lays the crux of the matter – entertainment vs. ministry.
Gary Gilley (2005), in his book This Little Church Went to Market, laments “The old cross slew men; the new cross entertains them” (p. 47). Of course in some instances Gilley’s appraisal is accurate. Nonetheless, the difficulty facing those who wish to discern the line between entertainment and ministry are often confronted with the dilemma of questioning another person’s intent. Advocate of Emerging Worship Dan Kimball writes “We want to honor God in all we do, but some worship gatherings do feel so much like a performance that it comes across as being inauthentic, even if the hearts of those leading it are authentic” (2009, p. 312). Indeed, how is authenticity determined when the individuals under scrutiny, in our case the musicians, are not able to sufficiently ascertain their own position? As Mark Evans suggests, it is difficult. Evans (2006) observes, “Similarly, how does the music team of a church distinguish their functionality, being simultaneously performer desirous of quality,… and ideally, humble servant leader of the congregation” (p. 13).
One cannot escape the cultural notion of ‘giving God your best’. For church musicians this means developing their craft to a point of excellence. Christian artists seek to do their best with the talents God has bestowed upon them. Sadly, as Marva Dawn suggests, it is what we then do with those honed skills which creates the tension. Dawn (1995) writes “sometimes congregations who feature lead musicians and singers are tempted to put them on pedestals, with the result that worshipers simply let them perform and no longer participate in communal singing” (p. 51). Warren Wiersbe (2000) agrees. He states, “If the worship service is platform–centered, then we will be only spectators at a religious performance” (p. 88).
So is the challenge of worship as entertainment found only on the platform? I don’t think so. It is my view that for decades (possibly centuries) the accusation of performance and entertainment has been laid at the feet of church musicians; all while congregational members wipe their hands of the role that they as fellow participants and, by White’s earlier definition, performers play in the theatre of worship. Of course our musicians and singers should be conscious of their heart’s sincerity when taking up the responsibility of leading their brothers and sisters in congregational singing. Additionally I contend that congregational members – participants in worship – should be mindful of the subtle, but ever-present, temptation to consume worship. Being a worship consumer transforms worship performed as ministry into worship consumed as entertainment.
The discussion of ‘where did the problem originate’ is now moot and falls into the category of ‘the chicken and the egg’. Every worship participant must take responsibility for their part to play. Ultimately we all have a responsibility in the corporate activity of worship. Whether we stand on the platform or stand in the pew our performance of worship should be presented with a sincere heart before God for the encouragement of all.
Dawn, M. J. (1995). Reaching out without dumbing down: A theology for worship for this urgent time. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Evans, M. (2006). Open up the doors: Music in the modern church. London, UK: Equinox Publishing Ltd.
Gilley, G. (2005). This little church went to market: Is the modern church reaching out or selling out? (2 ed.). Webster, NY: Evangelical Press.
Kimball, D. (2009). Emerging worship. In J. M. Pinson (Ed.), Perspectives on christian worship: 5 views (pp. 288–333). Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman Publishers.
Soanes, C., & Stevenson, A. (Eds.). (2008) Concise oxford english dictionary (11th, Revised ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
White, J. F. (2000). Introduction to christian worship (3rd ed.). Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
Wiersbe, W. W. (2000). Real worship: Playground, battle ground, or holy ground? (2 ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.