Marva J. Dawn’s views on worship are reminiscent of other authors I have quoted before on the topic of worship, such as Vanhoozer and Piper. She writes: “We must therefore be constantly asking how our worship reveals God and what kind of people we are becoming, because the perspectives and understanding about God and the specific attitudes and habits of being that are created by all the elements of worship services affect how we think, speak, and act as we worship in the rest of life” (119).
For Marva, the question is not attractiveness but usefulness. She discusses this in relationship to liturgy. “We must not ask, Is this liturgy attractive? But always, What kind of character does this nurture? Does our liturgy focus on feelings rather than on God’s character, which evokes those feelings?” She adds, “If so, it will nurture a faith that depends on emotions rather than a faith that can cling to who God is in spite of human experiences of sorrow or estrangement” (249).
What about the relation between experience and worship? Should we seek to 'experience' worship? In discussing worship Leonard Sweet in his book Postmodern Pilgrims believes experience is indispensable for the postmodern generation. He affirms that "Postmoderns literally 'feel' their way through life. Want to create change? Give postmoderns a new experience they haven't had before" (43). It seems that Sweet stresses innovative art-forms and interactive preaching and images to “create” worship experiences, while Marva – although not against using those things – would argue to make sure that those experiences reflect God’s character and are not confused for experiencing God himself. It is looking upward and intensely to God, and obeying his word, that will ultimately bring about inward change in believers. Even Sweet agrees that "Experience is not the final arbiter of truth. Experience cannot be trusted except it has been transfigured by Scripture and Tradition. Besides, there comes a time when it's not time for experience, but for obedience" (46).
Marva J. Dawn invites us to ask how the way we worship God is faithful to scripture, and to further ask what kind of believer we are becoming as a result of how we worship God. Good thoughts for us to keep in mind as we worship daily and in our faith communities each week.
I close this week with a quote found in Dawn's book on the definition of worship written by William Temple: Worship is "The submission of all our nature to God. It is the quickening of the conscience by His holiness; the nourishment of the mind with His truth; the purifying of imagination by His beauty; the opening of the heart to His love; the surrender of will to His purpose - and all of this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable" (Temple, Readings in St. John' Gospel, 68, quoted in Dawn, 80).