Reaching Out without Dumbing Down: A Theology of Worship for This Urgent Time

Reaching Out without Dumbing Down: A Theology of Worship for This Urgent Time

In Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down, Marva Dawn writes to help local parishes and denominations think more thoroughly about worship and culture so that they can function effectively in contemporary society.

Dawn recognizes that the vitality and faithfulness of our personal and corporate Christian lives and the effectiveness of our outreach to the world depend on the character that is formed in individuals and communities.

How can churches best reach out to society without dumbing down this essential character formation?

Dawn discusses music, preaching, and all the accouterments of worship and offers practical suggestions for choosing the best tools and forms to deepen worship life, nurture faith development, and increase believers outreach throughout the universal church and to the world.

Reviews of the Reaching Out without Dumbing Down: A Theology of Worship for This Urgent Time

Although she commends both traditional and contemporary worship, it is clear she prefers and advocates for the former over the latter. She also makes the key point that so much of contemporary worship is obsessed with happy, joyful praise; it isn't that praise shouldn't be joyful, but Dawn advocates balancing worship with songs of lament - after all, many of the psalms are laments. I myself have come to prefer traditional worship and liturgy far more than contemporary praise. Although Dawn doesn't disparage ALL contemporary worship and advocates blended worship, it is clear that she favours traditional worship. Every age should be able to offer praise and worship to God and so we cannot suppress contemporary worship because it doesn't suit our aesthetic preferences (it should, of course, be well-done). Contemporary songs like "In Christ Alone" are very fine hymns and hopefully will be included in worship for many decades to come (the modern obsession with change admittedly makes this difficult as we don't even sing worship songs from the early 2000s anymore). Dawn accuses contemporary worship as appealing to feeling without recognizing that the rich beauty of hymnody and traditional liturgy ALSO evokes feeling. If we admit that space affects our sense of worship/reverence (e.g. 7/11 versus a cathedral), why do advocates of traditional worship only criticize music that evokes certain emotions? Dawn also asserts that worship should be in the vernacular (although she also advocates worship in other languages to display the diversity of God's people, pg. I don't expect all children to be enthralled by traditional worship; it may be a long trajectory until they can appreciate it but for the time being they need worship that impacts them (and think about how much energy they have! I think they were write to do so; I see great value in the BCP and in kneeling during the service to symbolize humility and reverence towards God. But as a Lutheran, I think this also leads Dawn to favour traditional worship in ways that Christians from other denominations may not. Sometimes it seems as if Dawn is trying to smuggle an appreciation for the classics (e.g. Bach, Brahms) and traditional worship into what it means to be a mature and well-formed Christian and I am not convinced of that. I am not convinced that those who sing the "Nunc Dimittis" are holier than those who sing "Better Is One Day." I think those who prefer contemporary worship simply lack the aesthetic appreciations that are so well reflected and embodied in high churches but I don't see this as inherently bad. All in all, Dawn makes an excellent case for retrieving traditional worship for the postmodern church.

Of the nearly two-dozen books she has authored or translated, many deal with the theme of worship and its place in contemporary American Evangelicalism. Dawns overall goal is to assess the state of worship in the contemporary climate and then to suggest a balance of traditional and contemporary styles that would meet the needs of the church. Dawn opened by offering a critique of what she understands contemporary church culture to be. After describing the current culture of evangelical worship, Dawn went on to set forward a solution to many of the problems. Dawn later wrote on the role of community in the church as a corrective to the failings of modern worship. Despite the breadth of the explaining power she gave to that analysis, Dawn seems to have largely based her thought on only three writersNeil Postman, Wade Clark Rook and David Wells. One influence that does not present much prominence in the formation of Dawns critique of culture and her prescription to the contemporary music situation is Scripture. This is unfortunate since much of suggested corrective includes the nurturing of the church in Scripture (120-121,142). An instance of Dawns preference of using ideas outside Scripture to form her thought comes in her discussion of the importance of remembering the heritage set before the contemporary church (133). The value of this for pastors is that Dawns book can lead them to recognize some of the issues that are on the table concerning the tensions involved in modern worship. Dawn can lead pastors to investigate the deeper cultural issues that come into their congregations. Recognizing this turns the focus from the music and redirects the pastors attention toward dealing with the larger cultural issues of radical individualism, subjectivism and the perception of congregants who may only be wanting to be entertained. Even if a pastor disagrees with Dawns critique, the value is in the pastors refocusing on larger cultural conditions instead of merely musical issues.

By Andrew Fox author of Change Through Challenge: Divided into five sections this book was an engaging read, partly because of the subject and partly because of the chapter titles. The overall emphasis was to close the gap, bridge the impasse, unite the division and bring an end what the author refers to as worship wars.' In my opinion this sensitive subject was handled brilliantly without allowing our Christian worship to be contextualized by the culture itself, while at the same time, functioning within the culture. This book is similar to Webber's Ancient Future Worship' as a means of reaching out into the culture with a clear and articulate Gospel. Part one asks why the book is needed using provocative examples like scientists performing a medical procedure without anyone raising moral objections, as congregations switch worship practices without anyone asking theological questions. Therefore we can make use of any cultural form but must examine it in the Biblical context; therefore, Jesus created a healthy tension for us. Part two Examines culture surrounding worship explaining how television and the media have shaped our worldview and its affect on worship. Looking through the lens of the boomer and postmodern generation explanations are given as to why worship wars' are unintentionally encouraged in an unhealthy tension of what is right.' Technology makes us more efficient but does it make us ethically right? Similar to Webber the author asks who is worship for?' The answer given is that God is the object and subject of worship. Expressions like reverence, awe, mystery, lament and repentance' are used to contextualize authentic worship as a culture in itself. The author calls for substance not style as a main emphasis of worship. If the whole architecture of a church building is focused on the preacher then it could be communicating he alone' (the preacher) can experience God for us vicariously! The first is driven by self but the second is appreciative of community with each other and with God. When a congregation attempts to go with the popular culture it wants to connect with community on its own terms titillating the instincts of worshippers while at the same time loosing the integrity of its message. Part five concludes the book by coming full circle back to the title reaching out without dumbing down.' Alarming statistics are given as a measuring line to realize that our worship experience must go deeper without being dumber.

Dawn doesn't explicitly define "worship." She is definitely pro-liturgy, so Free Church readers will need to navigate carefully in some places.

This book is written to bring the focus of worship back to its' rightful focus: the glory of God, which forms the believer, and ultimately creates genuine community. Worship, then can become increasingly irrelevant, fails to speak to the deepest parts of life, and presents a picture of God that is more formed on who we are than who God really is. But if God remains the focus, worship has the power to transform, to change who we are, to form us. Her call to return to the centrality of God in every aspect of worship is an urgent need in the church, and as she says, will form the believer and develop community in the church around the God that ultimately will sustain us through life. To finish I want to throw out a few quotes that have kept me thinking, and I'll keep it brief, but I think it is helpful to get a feel for the author's own writing: "To be in the world but not of it requires the Church both to understand the surrounding culture and to resist its idolatries" (p. But worship also offers forgiveness, healing, transformation, motivation, and courage to work in the world for God's justice and peace - in short, salvation in its largest sense" (p.

Seems like the traditionalists, at least in the Protestant churches I'm familiar with, have already "lost" that war.

The first time I read this book, it was a pivotal moment in our reading history...I learned that worship is thoughtful and began to enjoy the richness of hymnody and liturgy.

This is an interesting Christian book of theology that has a thesis that is solid.

  • English

  • Religion

  • Rating: 3.90
  • Pages: 327
  • Publish Date: July 10th 1995 by Eerdmans
  • Isbn10: 0802841023
  • Isbn13: 9780802841025