The Presbyterian Theologian, the Moslem Girl, and the Anglican Choral Evensong

From time to time, in addition to the expressed purpose of this blog to deal with biblical theology, I also want to call the readers’ attention to interesting articles I come across.  This article has to do with what happens when a Presbyterian theologian sits down beside a Moslem girl wearing a hijab at an Anglican choral evensong.  By the way, when you read the article, the author makes reference to a particular feast day on which this evensong was being held.  I did some research, and found out that the Friday he refers to would have been June 28, which, in the Roman Catholic and Anglican calendars, would have been the feast day of St. Irenaeus.  For The Recapitulator blog startup date, I chose the feast day in the Greek Orthodox calendar.  In any case, please check the article out; I think you’ll find it to be very interesting.  You may find it here.   When you read it, let me know what you think.  And, actually, there is a biblical-theological connection.

August 28, 2013

15 thoughts on “The Presbyterian Theologian, the Moslem Girl, and the Anglican Choral Evensong

  1. The article brings up some interesting points. One that I will definately agree with is that there is a distinct lack of scripture reading in Evangelical Chruches as opposed to Liturgical Churches. I think we would do well to read whole chapters, or at least large blocks of text each Sunday as opposed to using individual verses to punctuate a point.

    I was raised in the Catholic Tradition until I was 16 and attended mass every Sunday. As a result, I had a good general knowledge of the Bible as it had been read to me every Sunday. I think this system is superior to simply encouraging congregants, especially the young ones, to read the Bible on their own during the week.

    • One thing I might add is that the Scripture that is read during the service needs to be integrated with the rest of the service; or rather, the rest of the service needs to take its cues from the Scripture that is read. I was once in a church that decided that every Sunday entire consecutive chapters of Scripture would be read in successive services; but there was no attempt to refer to those chapters in the rest of the service. Soon, the practice was abandoned–and rightly so.

  2. The Kings College Chapel in Cambridge service sounds like a beautiful experience.

    People can let the liturgy carry them into God’s presence, especially when the center piece is Scripture itself!

  3. So, short of becoming liturgical, what is the way forward? An effort to preach through entire biblical books and to faithfully expound the particulars in the context of the broader biblical story, has been the method I have employed in an effort to grow and help others grow in biblical literacy and to be shaped by the biblical story.

    • I fully agree with you; and I greatly appreciate the work you have done over the years in faithful preaching of the biblical text. With regard to your question, I wonder if the issue is not so much being or not being liturgical, but rather, whether we will do the liturgy well or badly. All churches have liturgies (I remember one of my former colleagues at Taylor telling a member of his church who was denigrating liturgy that he could always tell the exact point during the singing of a contemporary chorus when this member would raise his hands and when he would put them back down again). The issue is how well planned the liturgy is, and how connected the liturgy is to the preaching of the word. Does the liturgy, whatever style that liturgy might be, reinforce the preached word, or is there almost a total disconnect between the liturgy and the sermon? Does the liturgy prepare the congregation for the preaching of the word? Is the service an integrated whole? Or to put it in terms of this subject matter of this blog, how well does the liturgy contribute the telling of the story of the history of redemption?

  4. Prior to being ordained in the Anglican Church of Canada I went through a number of liturgies identifying scriptural sections. I was amazed at the amount of scripture I had been reciting since childhood. I actually had a lot of the Bible memorized, I just did not know the chapter and verse references! Quite a revelation to me!

    • Very interesting, Susan. A question for you. In addition to the memorization, do you thing the liturgical reading of Scripture also helped you to connect the dots, to understand the whole biblical story?

    • I was hoping it would be so. Any suggestions on who this “thought-provoking”ness could be employed in designing worship services, especially churches which are not so traditionally formal in their liturgy?

  5. Very thoughtful. I have wondered, in light of our lack of rigour in presenting the “whole story” in our not-as liturgical or non-liturgical churches…when we finally get to Easter season, or have a message on the need for salvation… Aren’t there many who could have attended church for years and still not even know why Jesus needed to die, or why they need salvation, from what, and to what…? Just a thought I’ve had. Thanks.

    • I believe you are correct, Heather. Of course, this can even be the case in liturgical churches, especially when, as Trueman observes, there is a disconnect between the liturgy and the preaching; i.e., either the preacher doesn’t actually believe what the liturgy teaches, or doesn’t believe it passionately. In what you refer to as the “not-as-liturgical or non-liturgical churches,” the problem rather is that often the preacher believes the biblical gospel, but doesn’t make the gospel or the person of Christ the center-point of the preaching ministry. So what happens is that the preacher, in a desperate attempt to be “relevant,” ends up preaching to “felt” needs, rather than preaching to real needs. John Leith, in his book, The Reformed Imperative, refers to the fact that the church has been called to deliver a message that no else is delivering. If the church doesn’t deliver this message, then the church has no reason to exist. The only message the church has is the gospel and “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt 28:20).

  6. Would reading all the assigned lections for the church year make us more biblical?
    Would tightening the evangelical “non-liturgy” make us liturgical?
    Is there, really, a liturgy to make us “feel the presence of God”?
    The Anglican BCP, the Lutheran Book of Worship, the Presbyterian Directory of Worship can be followed as mindlessly as the evangelical unwritten (but ironclad) customs.
    So this isn’t, really, about liturgy (though I know from childhood how wrong it is to “worship from a book”); but what is it about, really?

    • Thanks for the thoughtful questions and comments, David. My replies are as follows:

      You ask: “Would reading all the assigned lections for the church year make us more biblical?” It might not make us more biblical, but I do believe that it would make us more attentive to the text. I am actually not in favor of lectionary readings intended to guide the preaching year; it is too restrictive, and actually ends up promoting a canon within the canon. However, at the very least, the use of the lectionary would result in more attention paid to the biblical text than normally occurs in the average evangelical church service.

      You ask: “Would tightening the evangelical “non-liturgy” make us liturgical?” I, myself, am not concerned with whether the church becomes liturgical or not. Rather, my concern is that since we are all going to end up doing some kind of liturgy anyway, why not strive to make it a good liturgy.

      You ask: “Is there, really, a liturgy to make us “feel the presence of God”?” My answer here may well go against the modern evangelical understanding; but I do not see “feeling” the presence of God as being one of the goals of the worship service. But I do understand that part of the worship service is about invoking his presence and attempting to carry things out in such a way that he is pleased and decides to stay for the service. And I believe that close attention paid to the things he has said in his word make his presence more likely: “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word” (Isa 66:2). God’s presence is mediated by his word.

      You are certainly correct that the more formal liturgical instruments “can be followed as mindlessly as the evangelical unwritten (but ironclad) customs.” But I would still contend that as far as the content is concerned, it is far less mindless than the alternatives.

      You’ll have to clarify what you meant in that last sentence. Was that tongue-in-cheek? Or do you think it is wrong to worship from book?

      Thanks again, David.

  7. That is quite a beautiful story about not always needing to re-invent the wheel. It seems that especially in an “ever-changing world” (though the more things change…), the wisdom of those who have gone before us, especially when pointing to the beauty of He who has gone before us is far more helpful than the reflection that the preacher thought of while eating his mini-wheats this morning (someone like me in Canada in 2019). The issue of stilted worship and formalism is still a real one and of course this is a continuum, but we are quick to error to the side of removing all formal liturgy and then think we are being “spiritual”. Thanks for posting this when you did, it gives a helpful reminder today.

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