Sunday, April 15, 2012

Make a joyful noise...???

In his book, Five Smooth Stones, Eugene Peterson first got my attention.  Among other things, he wrote that under the seductive spell of Neo-Baalism, American pastors have been "transformed into a company of shopkeepers with shopkeepers concerns - how to keep the customers happy, how to lure customers away from the competitors down the street, how to package the goods so that the customers will lay out more money..."   

Another gem from that book is this quote:  "There are others who do not desert the place of worship, but in staying, they do something worse: they  subvert it.  They turn it in to a place of entertainment that will refresh bored and tired consumers and pump some zest into them; or they turn it into a lecture hall on the assumption that what they know, they then do; or turn it into a platform for launching good works, shooting rockets of righteousness behind the enemy lines.  Attention is subverted from what God is doing to what we are doing."  

I was interested, then, in an interview which described his continued concern with the market driven nature of Christianity now many years after that book.  Apparently, things have not improved, in his estimation.  Things have gotten far worse.

Q: In your memoir The Pastor, you [Eugene Peterson] talk about your concerns that the Christian church is becoming too market-driven, and that Christians need “a sacred imagination strong enough to reject and resist the relentlessly secularized and ghettoized one-dimensional caricature that assigned American pastors to jobs in a workplace that markets religion.”

A:  What concerns me is that it kind of turns the gospel and the Christian faith into a consumer product. And instead of training people in acts of worship and to listen to God, we’ve trained pastors and professors to listen to people, more or less using their judgment and their desires and their imaginations to shape the way the gospel comes to them. But this is a huge reversal of the kingdom of God. We don’t define it; it defines us.

The larger the church, the more that kind of marketing thing takes over. You suddenly have a large staff of pastors that have to be paid, and a huge parking lot to maintain. You’re constantly thinking about the bottom line. That’s not a good way to develop a biblical imagination, or a listening imagination.

What we used to call common worship, with people worshiping together in a common way, has now been replaced by noise. Can you imagine doing lectio divina in a congregation of 10,000 people? You can’t. It’s impossible to do that. Silence, waiting, patience—those are all cultivated responses of the spirit when we’re dealing with the transcendent. I think we’ve been robbed of something that is very basic to a healthy spiritual life.

Noise.  Now that is a blunt but accurate assessment of so much that is called worship and music in modern day Christianity.  We have turned our churches into contemporary restaurants or coffee shops in which a sound track plays for those who wish to listen, where favorite beverages are always at reach, where many things going on at the same time (including but not limited to our precious time with the smart phone currently in fashion), and, if there is time left from our relentless pursuit of our pleasure, happiness, or entertainment, we will God have a word or two.  Noise.  It is not just the fact that sound is happening but it is, in and of itself, a description of that sound.  Noise.  In the end it is forgettable, unfruitful, and, sometimes, harmful.  Like a hundred conversations and phone fixes happening all at the same time, we pack the hour with enough to make sure that folks get what they paid for but we leave them with little of eternal significance.  It is not the volume but the content.  Noise.  Not what the Psalmist had in mind, not by a long shot, "Make a joyful noise unto the Lord..."

Maybe this is not primarily a Lutheran problem or even a primary problem for Lutherans, but to say we are not influenced by this is to promote a lie...


Anonymous said...

Eugene Peterson believes that pastors
are to be theologians and not some
used car salesman. He wants pastors
to meditate on the Word of God in
their study. Pastors are to have a
study not an office. When a pastor
becomes a CEO worried about the
bottom line of finances, then he has
lost his calling as shepherd of his

David Gray said...

Maybe Geneva isn't as bad as Rome...