Harold Best: Unceasing Worship (with Audio)

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Editors Note: We experienced technical/audio difficuties in taping this interview, which are especially evident in segment one. We apologize for the inconvenience and trust you will listen through, because the content is definitely worth it!

Well good afternoon everybody. This is Dick Staub. You know, for many years our next guest was dean of the highly respected Conservatory of Music at Wheaton College. An organist and composer, when he speaks about worship people listen. His new book offers a biblical perspective on worship and the arts. It’s titled, Unceasing Worship. It’s published by InterVarsity Press. And we welcome Dr. Harold Best.

Q. Harold, great to have you with us today.
A. Thank you, it’s good to be with you.

Q. You know, at the heart of this book, if I came away from just one thing in the whole first half of the book, it is this idea of continuous outpouring. Talk about what you mean by continuous outpouring and how it is at the heart of your definition of worship.
A. Yeah. Continuous outpouring, let me repeat you, is at the heart of, I think, a theological concept and a biblical concept of worship in that we were created in the image of a God who is a continuous outpouring God, continuously outpouring God. He gives and he gives and he gives. He reveals and he reveals and he reveals, and he made us in his image which means that we have to act the same way. So we are continuous outpourers. And that characteristic that we have of continuous outpouring is that which allows us and God to be in a continuous relationship to each other. And so a Christ-centered definition of worship has to mean, to me, a life of continuous outpouring in response to a continuously outpouring God.

Q. Now, when we think about the necessary corrective, the idea that this is continuous, how does that help us understand that worship is not just Sunday morning and is not just the music within the Sunday morning service?
A. Yeah. It helps us because it translates all of life into a, it moves all of life into a higher dimension in terms of which, “Whatever we do we understand that we are doing it as unto the Lord, whether we live or whether we die, we live under the Lord, we die under the Lord,” Paul said. So if everything we do is under the Lord, that simply means, that’s just another way of talking about worship. Because when we go to church we can’t do anything more or less than to live under the Lord or die under the Lord. So the idea of always being in a condition of doing things unto the Lord simply fuels us and fires us up and equips us for a life of unceasing worship of which then Sunday is one of the parts.

Q. When you talk about the idea of outpouring ¢€œ
A. Yeah.

Q ¢€œ you know, that requires a very active relationship with the living God. And one of the things that you talk about, as a matter of fact, I was¢â‚¬¦ I chuckled when I read the chapter heading, “Nobody Does Not Worship,” because I imagined your editor saying, No, you should say, everybody worships. But when you say nobody does not worship and then you put it in the context of how worship was before the fall and after the fall, you suddenly get the real importance of understanding that we essentially are worshipping people, it just has to do with whom is the focus of our worship.
A. Yeah. You said it beautifully. You summarized it beautifully. We were created worshipping, not created to worship, but we were created worshipping. And when we fell we didn’t stop our worship, we exchanged Gods. That’s the way I tried to explain it in that first chapter. But our worship continued and that explains why we have a world full of false religions, a world full of false idolatries, it’s because we’re inveterate worshippers. When we come to Jesus, we don’t start to worship again but rather our worship ¢€œ which is fallen and flawed and misdirected ¢€œ our worship is washed in the blood of Christ and turned right side out and now we worship authentically in Christ.

Q. When you talk about the post-fall, authentic worship and you make a big issue of the image of God, and how that’s such an important aspect of our worship? Talk about that whole idea and why it is so central to worship.
A. Okay. The image of God is very important because that’s how we were made. And everything that we’re about, everything that is about us has to do with how we were created. As far as I can think it through, being created in the image of God means that we are to act the way God acts. And the difference between God and us is the difference between infinity and finitude. But that doesn’t at all cancel out the responsibility that we have for acting the way God acts. Now, if God is an outpouring, revealing, giving, relating God and we’re in his image, that simply means that we have to be giving, outpouring, relating and loving, exactly the same way he is. And that conversation that comprises continuous outpouring is the result of being made in his image. When we sin, the image gets smudged and misdirected and marred and it loses its polish and its beauty. When we are redeemed, then we’re restored gradually ¢€œ I have to put that word in ¢€œ gradually back into the image of God, pressing onward and upward and striving and wrestling and hungering and thirsting. That’s what it means to be living out the image of God and that’s what it means to be continuously at worship.

Q. Now, what are the implications when we think about the gathering of a group of people for corporate worship?
A. The implications are beautiful. One of the things I wanted to make clear in the book was this: In working out a theology of continuous worship I did not want to give the impression that corporate worship is no longer important. In point of fact, once a theology of continuous worship is articulated, then corporate worship becomes all the more important because we are in a condition of not depending upon the corporate worship service to bring us into a condition of worship. We’re not depending upon the music or the call to worship or anything like that, we are going to church to be in company with our brothers and sisters and we are already at worship. And the purpose of going to church is to continue our worship in the company of the communion of the saints, and together to sing, together to pray, together to listen, together to be taught. But being taught, listening, praying, singing, contemplating, all of those things should be going on all week long.

Okay. We’re going to pick up right there when we come back. Our guest is Dr. Harold Best. The book is Unceasing Worship, published by InterVarsity. We’ll be right back.

(Break)

Well this is Dick Staub back with you. We’re visiting this afternoon with Dr. Harold Best. He’s the author of Unceasing Worship. It’s a biblical perspective on worship and the arts.

Q. And one of the interesting things for those of you who think of Dr. Harold Best as a musician is the degree to which he engages theology in this book. As a matter of fact, the whole first half of the book is really trying to lay out a theology of worship and an understanding of worship. How has that become such an integral part of the way you view and understand worship, Harold?
A. Theology has become increasingly important to me. I won’t take long with this answer although it’s going to sound like it’s going to be long because I’m going to jump back 40 years to when the Lord really broke me and turned me from a life of Christian sloppiness into a life of deep-down, heartbroken repentance and love for him. At that point I began to try to construct everything for which is responsible, I tried to construct it around a theological model. And biblical truth, to me, is the wisdom stuff for everything that we do.

Q. Yeah.
A. Which means that everything we do has to be theologically underpinned and theologically explained.

Q. But you know what’s interesting about that, you, as I was, were raised in a pastor’s home.
A. That’s right.

Q. And people would assume that we would understand the theological connection to worship because we were raised in it. You’re saying¢â‚¬¦ As a matter of fact, I would suspect that one of the reasons we have a problem with worship in the church is that there is a disconnect between theology and worship.
A. Oh, there certainly is.

Q. So how did the lights go on for you?
A. The lights went on when I gave myself to, when I said to God, Please bring me to you, whatever it costs. The lights went on. And right after that I had a severe nervous breakdown and that was God’s way of breaking me. And at the same time I was sick emotionally and my mind just turned on an unfettered love for Jesus.

Q. Wow.
A. And the scriptures unfolded as a book of principles.

Q. Wow.
A. But it took that, when I said, Lord, bring me to you whatever it costs ¢€œ

Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œ 30 seconds before that prayer this is the thought that went through my mind, Harold, if you don’t get hooked up with Jesus the way you should be, one of these days you’re going to forget about him and not know it.

Q. Wow. So now, this is very important because it strikes me¢â‚¬¦ I happen to believe that evangelicalism is characterized a good deal by pride.
A. Yeah.

Q. We’re very satisfied with accomplishments, we’re big, we’re wealthy, we’re successful, blah, blah, blah¢â‚¬¦ But the reality is worship, in your experience ¢€œ and I think in virtually everyone’s experience ¢€œ really starts with brokenness.
A. Well, yeah. And I think that’s true. And I spend a good deal of time praying that the Lord will break the leadership of the church.

Q. Yeah.
A. But I immediately have to add to you and to the listening audience and myself, that my definition of brokenness or¢â‚¬¦ I’m sorry, what happened to me to break me is not a formula for everybody else.

Q. Yeah, exactly.
A. God’s brokenness is the work of the Holy Spirit taking a person apart and reassembling that person after the likeness of Christ ¢€œ

Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œ to the point where humility and meekness and abject repentance are the governors of whatever’s done. So you know, a person could be broken by becoming a billionaire ¢€œ

Q. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
A. ¢€œ if it’s authored by the Holy Spirit.

Q. Yeah. You know, one of the things that you take on pretty clearly is your belief that we ought to, in the worship experience, see a diversity of age and style. That is almost the antithesis of where the homogenous unit idea goes in the church growth movement. The idea is we should focus on specific age groups, we should tailor styles to specific age groups. Why is it that you react to that as a theologian and a musician and as a Christian?
A. Well, I react to it because musical style is one of a billion things in which human beings engage.

Q. Yeah.
A. And for us to take music and make it the arbiter of our worship methodologies is to really say music is so important that, whether I call it an idol or not, it has become that.

Q. Yeah.
A. Music is the fulcrum and musical style is the fulcrum for our concepts of what it means to grow a church.

Q. Yeah.
A. It simply means that we’ve become very good at making golden calves.

Q. You say the church desperately needs an artistic reformation that accomplishes two things at once. First, it takes music out of the limelight, puts Christ and his word back into prominence. Second, it strives creatively for synthesis of new, old, and cross-cultural styles. Wow. Talk about why you believe that.
A. Well, I believe it because God is the most eclectic being ever. He is the author of diversity and he is better at diversity than anybody alive is on this planet. We’re made in his image, we’re made in the image of a diversifier, we’re made in the image of someone whose infinite imagination can make things differently for eternity. For us to freeze ourselves into one or two dialects is, to me, a put down of what it means to be made in the image of God. So I just, I get so really angry when I see church leaders assuming that stylistic distinctions, which are becoming more and more pronounced in general culture, there are more and more niche markers ¢€œ

Q. Yeah, exactly.
A. ¢€œ and more and more subgroups and more and more sub-styles of music, I get frustrated or angry or whatever you want to call it when I see the body of Christ, who should be the most eclectic ¢€œ

Q. Yeah, yeah.
A. ¢€œ faith-ridden, faith-driven vocabulary expanding people, when I see them busted up into age groups over this thing called style ¢€œ

Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œ and growth, it just¢â‚¬¦ It’s silly.

Q. But you know what it is, and this comes out in your book is, it is the disconnect¢â‚¬¦ It is first of all, an imitativeness, which is not characteristic of people created in the image of God, and it is¢â‚¬¦ Well, you have this wonderful line, “engagement with culture and what it means to be human, to be redeemed, to think up and make art that would not have otherwise come to being in that way.” In other words, Christians ought to be creating a different kind of art with artistic integrity because of the way, the things we believe have absolutely become central in our life and are the driving force in everything we do.
A. Yeah.

Q. So the degree to which we are simply nicheing and, you know, we’ve got to have rap, we’ve got to have hip-hop, we’ve got to have this, and almost as if we need different channels on the dial in church ¢€œ
A. Yeah.

Q. ¢€œ is the degree to which we’re abandoning what Paul said which was, “In Christ there’s no east or west, no male or female, we become one.” We have this new central focus and it’s Christ.
A. Yeah. Yeah. I think one of the problems with those who have broken worship down into styles is that they are reacting ¢€œ let’s give them hypothetical credit for this ¢€œ they’re reacting against traditionalism, but here’s what they’ve forgotten. They’ve forgotten that in the traditional model the age groups were unified. That is, we didn’t split¢â‚¬¦ When I was a kid or in college we didn’t split worship up into those who liked gospel choruses and another worship group that liked hymns and another one that liked gospel songs, our age groups got together and did all of those things together. And sure, not all of us liked all of the music, but we disliked the music in communion with each and we like the music in communion with each other.

Q. Yeah, absolutely.
A. So traditionalism, even though it can be faulted in certain ways, never made the mistake of busting the age groups up because, you know, when you look at traditionalism fully, traditional church music has about 10 or 15 styles in it.

Yeah, I’ll tell you what. We’ve got to take a break. We’ll be back with more of Dr. Harold Best. You can spend more time with him by picking up a copy of Unceasing Worship, published by InterVarsity Press. We’ll be right back.

(Break)

Well this is Dick Staub back with you. We’re visiting with Dr. Harold Best. His book is Unceasing Worship: A Biblical Perspective on Worship and the Arts.

Q. Harold, we both know that the seeker sensitive church model is huge right now and it has a certain perspective on worship. And you have some comments including the fact that seeker sensitive worship really isn’t a new concept. But you also warn of some of the potential problems of seeker sensitive worship including the idea of dumbing down the idea of the image of God. What do you mean by that?
A. Well, I like the concept of articulated around the dumbing down terminologies. Marva Dawn has done that and I think in an eloquent way. And of course, dumbing down is a kind of¢â‚¬¦ I mean, you hear the word dumbing down in a lot of socio-historical studies and aesthetic studies in secular culture, and so on and so forth. But I felt obligated to take that concept further relating it to the image of God, not simply to cultural action. And to me dumbing down the image of God is almost blasphemy because what we’re saying is God did it wrong.

Q. Yeah.
A. Or God is not very smart.

Q. Yeah.
A. And what we’re doing is separating the beauty and the potential of what it means to be made in the image of God, we’re separating that away and¢â‚¬¦

Q. Well how do you see that in seeker-oriented worship?
A. Well, I’m not sure that all seeker-oriented worship dumbs down. I would rather take the concept of dumbing down and ask the question about dumbing down to the whole body of Christ.

Q. Yeah.
A. Irrespective of style.

Q. Yeah.
A. Because quite frankly, there are elements in liturgical and traditional worship that do their share of dumbing down.

Q. Yeah, yeah.
A. There are elements in contemporary praise and worship and church growth movements that smart things up.

Q. Yeah, yeah.
A. So the dumbing down issue ¢€œ and I hope I made that clear in my book ¢€œ is not really to be placed only at the feet of seeker sensitives.

Q. Yeah, absolutely. You know, when you talk about Christians and the arts, one of the first things you interact with is the idea of freedom and quality. And you essentially are establishing the idea that while sometimes people in the artistic community feel like being Christian limits their freedom, you’re saying, truly understood properly Christian artists are the freest of all.
A. That’s exactly right.

Q. But then secondly, you’re also saying that the concern about the lack of quality can, among the artistic community in Christian circles, end up making quality an almost idol. And so freedom and quality ¢€œ very common words in discussions about Christians and the arts ¢€œ you have some particular issues there. Talk a bit about how those have become so focused in your mind.
A. How freedom and quality have become focal points.

Q. Yeah. How did those become the issues for you, and what is it that you’re seeing that you think¢â‚¬¦
A. Well, let me begin with quality and go back to freedom.

Q. Okay.
A. The typical well-trained, classical musician ¢€œ and I am one of those ¢€œ my doctorate is from Union Seminary in church music performance and music composition ¢€œ we were trained literally, almost literally, to sacramentalize quality. Everything was quality.

Q. Yeah.
A. Quality, quality, quality.

Q. Yeah.
A. And it was pounded into our minds that one of the jobs of a church musician is to go in there and raise standards.

Q. Yes.
A. And so quality became the primary, the sine qua non, the thing that was always bugging us, Is this in good taste? No, it’s not. You should be embarrassed. That’s in bad taste. We became so qualitatively obsessed ¢€œ

Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œ that in a very real sense we became afraid to do anything but the greatest.

Q. Yes.
A. And then we became afraid because we didn’t want to embarrass ourselves by doing something that somebody else didn’t think was the greatest.

Q. Yes.
A. And so it became obnoxiously paranoid, at least to me.

Q. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
A. Now, at the same time, that didn’t destroy my love, my deep-down, passionate love for quality.

Q. Yes.
A. So what has happened to me over the years ¢€œ and most particularly in the last ten years ¢€œ is that I’ve had to conclude that quality, framed in those terms that I’ve just framed it, is an idol, and to get it out of idolatry is not to forsake quality, but to put it in its right place.

Q. Yes.
A. Now, the right place for quality is found this way. I love Jesus so much that I want to do things of quality ¢€œ

Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œ rather than to say, if I do things of quality God will really like me.

Q. Yeah. Well, I’ve talked to Ben Heppner, the operatic singer, about this issue because one of the challenges for a professional musician who has that drive towards quality is knowing how to be part of a local fellowship ¢€œ
A. That’s right.

Q. ¢€œ as a worshipping member who is asked to participate and so forth.
A. Yeah.

Q. And so you have Saint-Saens’s Oratorio with Ben Heppner, you know, singing tenor, and then you’ve got somebody who’s a totally untrained, nice voice but not professionally trained person, on the baritone role. How does that professional artist fit into the body of Christ? And how does the non-professional understand quality in a way that connects similarly to the professional?
A. The professional joins the body of Christ by going through the same kenosis that Jesus did, the emptying.

Q. Yeah.
A. The artist empties him or herself ¢€œ

Q. Yes.
A. ¢€œ and takes a towel and a sponge and washes the feet of brothers and sisters ¢€œ

Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œ with his or her stewardship, his or her ability. By the same token, drawn into that communion, the layperson who might sing everything flat, or whose voice might be not very good, that same person is drawn into the communion ¢€œ

Q. Yes.
A. ¢€œ with Ben because art is not the issue.

Q. Yes.
A. Art is not the final filter.

Q. Yeah.
A. Art is not the sine qua non. The worship of Jesus is.

Q. Yeah.
A. And they are drawn into communion with each other because both of them are washing each other’s feet, and both of them are responsible to be pouring perfume over the feet of Jesus.

Q. You know, one of the most incredible chapters in this book is where you’re dealing with what creative people learn from creation.
A. Yeah.

Q. And this has to do with creative people but also those of us who are called to be appreciators of art.
A. Yeah.

Q. Because you kind of chide, I think, the Christian community a bit for being so hyper-committed to realism, for instance, when in fact you say what we call strange or abstract art may be closer to God’s way of creating.
A. Yeah.

Q. In other words, there’s a whole bunch of things here that you’re saying Christians need to understand who God is as an artist in order to understand the great diversity and range that we ought to appreciate as consumers of art.
A. Yeah. Or to put it another way, what I’m trying to say ¢€œ and I hope with a certain degree of humility ¢€œ Christians are not very biblical. And because if we were biblical and we looked with hungry eyes back at the first chapters of Genesis ¢€œ

Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œ and let’s put aside the creation/evolution thing for a minute and look, by faith, at that great story in Genesis 1 ¢€œ

Q. Yes.
A. ¢€œ we would have to do a lot of readjusting of a lot of our perspectives about how things are made, how things hold together ¢€œ

Q. Yes.
A. ¢€œ and how things become attracted.

Q. Absolutely.
A. And God, as I said in the book, is the first abstract artist, because when he created the first strawberry, he didn’t have one to imitate.

Q. Yeah.
A. So the angels, looking at that, couldn’t say to him, Oh yeah, I know what that is. That’s another strawberry because I’ve already seen one.

We’re going to pick up there.

Best: But they had to, they sort of scratched their heads, I imagine Gabriel and his buddies were standing around saying, What is the Blessed Father doing now?
Staub: Yeah, absolutely. And the giraffe, you mention.

We’re going to be back with some more comments from Dr. Harold Best. His book is Unceasing Worship. Stay there, we’ll be right back.

(Break)

Well this is Dick Staub back with you. By the way, that music that you’re hearing in the background, ladies and gentlemen, is composed by Marty O’Donnell, who was a student of Dr. Harold Best. And Marty classically trained as the composer and sound designer in residence at a company called Bungee that did a game named “Halo,” and won Rolling Stone magazine’s composer of the year in the game world last year. And it goes to the point we were just discussing that if you really study who God is as a creator you come to realize that there is great variety of artistic expression in the kingdom of God, and Marty is kind of living that out.

Q. Now, we were just talking about your advice to the professional musician as it relates to being part of the body of Christ locally. And the last chapter in this book ¢€œ we’ll skip ahead to and then we’ll come back ¢€œ talks about faith, hope and love within the context of quality. Real quickly, summarize what it is you wanted to get across there.
A. Okay. We don’t have enough time to work through the complete triad of faith, hope and love, but so let me talk about love. One of the things I’ve been kind of wrestling with is the respect that I have for academic philosophical aesthetics. I mean, those are very important to understand what beauty is, how beauty works, what good taste is, what high quality is and so on and so forth, from a philosophical and aesthetic standpoint. I haven’t rejected that, but I’ve put it kind of off to the side for a minute in order to talk about loving music, not just loving great music. But I’m very taken with the idea that it’s my responsibility, as a human being, to fall in love with the sheer fact of the arts ever before I try to decide what’s good, bad, and indifferent.

Q. Yeah.
A. And because that makes my love for the arts unconditional.

Q. Yes.
A. Once my love for the arts is unconditional and I’ve learned to love perhaps the unwashed part of art ¢€œ

Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œ what I think is the ugly part, I’ve learned to love that ¢€œ then I’ve earned the right to make choices.

Q. Yes.
A. ¢€œ that are qualitatively based. But I think what a lot of us musicians have trained ourselves to do is to be selective in our love. And that is not biblical.

Q. Yeah. Well, this ties into the thing I wanted to talk about next, which is you have something that was extremely useful to me. You have a chapter on the spectrum of creativity.
A. Yeah.

Q. Shallow to deep, simple to complex, strange to familiar, ornamental variational versus developmental, and entertaining to engaging. And you picture this spectrum and then you make this just totally radical, and I think true statement that Christian completeness involves learning to understand and appreciate everything in that spectrum.
A. That’s right.

Q. In other words, we don’t just lock in on one and say this is God and God’s art ¢€œ
A. Yeah.

Q. ¢€œ we have to come to understand that created in the image of God these artistic expressions all are giving us some little insight at some level. And you, for instance, you point out that Paul McCartney’s song ¢€œ I think you used Yesterday ¢€œ is very simple but nevertheless very useful. So it’s not just complexities of value, we have to understand how this spectrum works. Talk a bit about that.
A. Well yeah. I really¢â‚¬¦ I hope this doesn’t sound arrogant, but I’m really proud of that model that you’ve just mentioned because I’ve worked on it for the last decade or so. And what the attempt that I was trying to make was to get rid of these image-ridden words like high culture and low culture ¢€œ

Q. Yes.
A. ¢€œ and multi-culturalism and folk culture and ethnic culture and all the politically correct and aesthetically damning and pragmatically approving auras that these labels suggest and to try to get into the sheer fact of artistic creativity and human creativity, seeing that all creativity runs the gamut of shallow to deep and simple to complex, ornamental to developmental, entertaining to engaging, familiar to strange, and that if we looked at all art that way, you know, here’s a simple piece of art, it’s shallow, but shallowness is not mediocrity anymore than shallow water is dirty water.

Q. Yeah.
A. And then to intermix all of those things. I can take a simple piece of music and think deeply about it or I can take a deep piece of music and let it be shallow to me.

Q. Yeah.
A. And I just find that this is very exciting because it breaks the barriers down among things like ethnic, folk, high, low, and multi-cultural. And of course, multi-culturalism is one of the most perverted, politically correct messes that we’re dealing with right now.

Q. Now, one of the messages that I got from your book ¢€œ and forgive me if I’m extrapolating from my own perspective ¢€œ but I have come to the conviction that as Christians we operate in a variety of roles with culture, we have an ambassadorial role to take the gospel communicate, we have an alien and exile role where we do have dissonance with the culture that we’re in, but we also have this artistic role and this appreciation of art role. And I believe evangelicals have misunderstood our role in the kingdom of God to be kind of limited to this alien or ambassadorial, to the point that we have not created art or understood art as a legitimate, not only legitimate but central issue to humanity.
A. Yeah.

Q. And in so doing we have this huge gulf between our faith and faith, I think, as God would want us to experience it. And this issue of the spectrum is a big piece of that because we have, we’ve become, without appreciating art, we’ve become kind of judgmental and extremely limited in our view of art.
A. That’s right.

Q. Am I extrapolating or is that kind of¢â‚¬¦
A. No, I don’t think you are. We’ve become judgmental and limited in one way. Let’s go back to a few minutes ago, we’ve become limited in one way by breaking things down into age groups.

Q. Yes.
A. And what we’re doing is limiting people and saying, you’re not capable of understanding beyond your little box.

Q. Yeah.
A. So I’m going to keep you there and then we’re going to grow you up ¢€œ ha, ha, ha ¢€œ into the stature and fullness of Jesus in that box.

Q. Well, you talk about this reductionism. You say, here’s an embarrassing and saddening truth. We’re locked in a dilemma over two miniscule and static practices, traditional and contemporary.
A. Yeah.

Q. When we get really adventurous we blend the two. I mean, you’re showing that we have become so reductionist, which is the opposite of being in the image of God.
A. Yeah. Yeah, that’s right. And if we can’t solve that problem, then we should do away with music until we can solve it. Do you know the story that lies behind that praise and worship song, The Heart of Worship?

Q. No.
A. It goes this way ¢€œ and I hope there’s time to tell it ¢€œ Matt Redmond wrote that. Matt lives in England, a wonderful Christian man. His church was, it was growing by leaps and bounds, the music was very important as to the reasons why it was growing, and Matt and his colleagues took a very courageous decision and said, we have created an idol with our music.

Q. Yeah.
A. We are going to cease and desist all music in our corporate worship until the Holy Spirit clears us of our conviction about idolatry. And essentially we’re going to put each other out of work.

Q. Yeah.
A. And so the music stopped, the church continued to grow. And then after much prayer and discernment they decided to bring music back in. And Matt wrote The Heart of Worship as a response to that where he says in the middle of it, “It’s not the music, it’s you.” Do you know that line?

Q. Yeah.
A. That is something that a lot of churches need to do.

Q. Yeah.
A. They need to cut out the music and give the Holy Spirit a chance.

Q. Well you know what’s happening, Harold, is you and I are hearkening back to our common Christian Missionary Alliance roots where A.B. Simpson, a colloquial musician nevertheless, wrote himself, “Once it was the blessing, now it is the Lord.”
A. Isn’t that a great line.

Q. In other words, once it was the music, now it is the Lord.
A. Exactly.

Q. It’s totally back to rediscovering those roots.
A. Exactly.

We’re going to pick up there when we come back. You can spend more time with Harold Best by picking up a copy of his book, Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts. Just unbelievably packed with ideas, well-articulated, provocative and useful. We’ll be right back.

(Break)

Well this is Dick Staub back with you. We’re visiting with Harold Best. He is the author of Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts. Harold, of course, for many years was the dean of the Conservatory of Music at Wheaton College, one of the finest in the country. And it’s so refreshing to hear Harold Best. I think of him as a mentor who has spent years understanding the arts, understand the artistic temperament, understanding issues like quality and excellence, putting them in a theological construct that allowed him to think them through biblically. And now here we are on the verge, I think, of an age of rediscovering the arts within the Christian community. And if ever there was a time when we needed wiser voices from those who have gone ahead it is now, and I think Harold Best has provided so much useful advice in this book. And people like Michael Card pointed out that he struggled alone all his life trying to understand what it is God wants of him as it relates to worship and artistic creativity, and Harold Best was a voice that clarified so much for him.

Q. You were just talking about this continuum, this spectrum, Christian completeness, which I think is just refreshing and innovative and I think a true way of looking at it. You also get into the issue of popular culture and mass culture and when you and I talked about doing this interview you told me, you know, you wanted me to be particularly attentive to that chapter because of the work that I do in the area of popular culture. And in fact I found that you were nailing some of the issues of mass culture because popular culture simply takes its place on that creative spectrum.
A. That’s right.

Q. Mass culture has, inherent within it, some elements that are antithetical to Christian art. Talk about what those elements, particularly if they go unchecked, of mass culture that you think are important for us to understand.
A. Okay, yeah. Let me just precede it very quickly by saying that I’m no longer bothered as much by the things of culture as to the reasons why culture uses the things of culture the way it does. So mass culture to me is, rather than a set of artifacts, it’s an ethos that at least comprises these things experientialism versus true experience. What I call self-enclosed shallowness where people are content going from one shallow thing to another shallow thing ¢€œ

Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œ without ever going into debt. So it’s self-enclosed and paradoxically it’s provincial. The third is the loss of a truth center ¢€œ

Q. Yeah.
A. ¢€œ the point where we no longer have an authoritative beacon that says, This is the way, walk ye in it.

Q. Yeah.
A. And then connected to that is the near destruction of human language with this thought in mind, that we no longer speak precisely about things. We have taken our vocabulary of transcendence and applied it to very simple things, like a pizza is awesome. That was an awesome ice cream sundae. This is incredible, that’s extraordinary, everything is unique.

Q. Yeah.
A. You go to a concert and everybody gets a standing ovation.

Q. Yeah, yeah.
A. So we have no words leftover truly to describe the transcendent parts of our lives, mainly God. But pizza is awesome. And then we say God is awesome. We have done huge damage ¢€œ

Q. Yes.
A. ¢€œ everywhere. So¢â‚¬¦ And I¢â‚¬¦

Q. You know what’s funny? The late Rich Mullins, you know, he wrote Awesome God.
A. Yeah.

Q. And I was talking to Rich and we were interacting with that idea because Rich was a guy that had, I think, a deep walk with Christ.
A. Exactly.

Q. And yet he wrote Awesome God, but when he used the word awesome, he used it in its fullest and most original sense. And yet I said, Does it ever¢â‚¬¦ Do you ever get tired of going in front of an audience and performing that song knowing the way they’re taking this word awesome and that it’s an awesome hamburger, an awesome God? And Rich said, Well, I never wrote anything that I thought I would get tired of performing. In other words, I wrote it as an act of worship to God ¢€œ
A. Yeah.

Q. ¢€œ and I take it in that sense. But I could tell in our conversation, that he understood exactly what we were talking about right now. This stripping language of any depth of meaning by misapplying it. And you point out that that comes from politics, advertising, all the ways that we use language as manipulative instead of deeply expressive.
A. Yeah.

Q. How do you fix that?
A. Well, you fix it in the pulpit. You fix it in¢â‚¬¦ The church is the only fixer, as far as I’m concerned, in this culture.

Q. Wow. Now what do you mean by that?
A. Well, I mean that we have to, as Christians, become severely responsible for restoring language to its full dignity. We are responsible when we talk about Jesus, when we pray to Jesus, when we preach about Jesus, when we teach about Jesus, when we translate about Jesus, we have to be poets.

Q. Yeah. But how do we deal with that in an anti-intellectual community that likes reductionism?
A. I guess by getting crucified the way Jesus did.

Q. You know, see the problem that we have, the one other piece that I would have added to your list there in mass culture is the degree to which it’s driven by technology and marketing.
A. Yeah, yeah.

Q. And technology and marketing¢â‚¬¦
A. I would like to rewrite that part of the chapter because I think I left some things out.

Q. Well, but the point is, that evangelicalism has become so effective at the use of technology and marketing that we have not recognized, we’ve embraced them uncritically without recognizing that we are, in fact, now kind of we have conformed to a cultural model that has severe limitations in its ability to fully express the depth of God and the quality of language that God deserves.
A. Yeah, exactly. I want to go back to Rich Mullins for a minute.

Q. Yeah.
A. I agree with you about the depth of his walk with Christ.

Q. Yeah.
A. The little that I was able to speak with him it became very clear that this was a man of God in a very profound way.

Q. Yes.
A. The problem with Awesome God is that it’s a shallow piece of music.

Q. Yeah.
A. And the lyrics are shallow even though they use words that are superlative, like awesome.

Q. Yes.
A. So this is a perfect example of no follow-through in Christian popular culture to depth with regard to the same subject.

Q. Yeah.
A. Namely, the awesomeness of God. So it’s a perfect example of self-enclosed shallowness.

Q. You know¢â‚¬¦
A. And I think Rich would be, if he were alive, would be one of the first ones to admit that popular is shallow.

Q. Yes.
A. And he would also be one of the first ones to admit that we need depth connected to shallowness.

Q. Yes. Did you happen to see the movie The Passion?
A. The Passion of the Christ?

Q. Yes.
A. I have not seen it and I’m trying to decide whether to see it or not.

Q. Well, I went to it. And whatever else it is, I think people will agree it conveys a level of depth of love and so forth.
A. Yeah.

Q. I walked out of that theater and turned on my radio and one of my kids had been driving my car and they’d been listening to contemporary Christian music, and the first thing that struck me was the absolute shallowness of the lyrical content and musical artistic content in comparison to what I had just witnessed as an artistic, deeply emotional, gripping experience. And it was so apparent that the music and the language of contemporary Christian music often is an absolute failure. And it’s training a whole generation to think superficially about God.
A. Yeah, it’s true. And the danger of it is that it’s actually keeping young people from going deep and giving them a false impression of depth.

Q. Yeah.
A. Its shallowness.

Q. Yes.
A. And I want to go back to The Passion. I know we can’t get into a discussion about this. I want to make it clear to the listening audience that I’m not an anti-Mel Gibson person nor an anti-Passion person. I have not yet decided to see it because I don’t know whether I can handle the depth.

Q. Yeah.
A. That’s the main thing.

Q. But what you’re talking about now is that here you are after all these years, a man who has committed himself to understand God and art exercising personal discernment, which is ultimately what every one of us is called to do in our understanding of worship and art.
A. Yeah.

Q. And relationship to it.
A. I hope so.

Yeah. This has been fascinating. And folks, I simply want to urge you to spend more time with our guest. We’ve been visiting with Harold Best. The book is Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts. Again, published by InterVarsity. Available online and at your local bookstore.

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