Friday, April 4, 2008


If you haven’t been introduced to the writings of Eugene Peterson, here is a good sample of his work with which you should be pleased to make his acquaintance. It comes from pages 145–146 of his 1980 John Knox Press publication entitled Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work.

Pastors are subjected to two recurrent phrases from the people to whom they give spiritual leadership. Both are reminiscent of Baalism, enough so as to earn the label “neo-Baalism.” The phrases are: “Let’s have a worship experience” and “I don’t get anything out of it.”

The phrase “let’s have a worship experience” is Baalism’s substitute for “let us worship God.” The difference is between cultivating something that makes sense to an individual and acting in response to what makes sense to God. In a “worship experience,” a person sees something which excites interest and tries to put religious wrappings around it. A person experiences something in the realm of dependency, anxiety, love, and a connection is made with the ultimate. Worship is a movement from what a person sees (or experiences or hears) to prayer or celebration or discussion in a religious atmosphere. Subjectivity is encouraged.

The other phrase of “neo-Baalism” is “I don’t get anything out of it.” When it refers to participation in the Christian community it is accepted as a serious criticism and a valid excuse from further engagement in something which personal experience testifies is irrelevant and uninteresting. The assumption that supposedly validates the phrase is that worship must be attractive and personally gratifying. But that is simply Baalism redivivus [renewed; reincarnated], worship trimmed to the emotional and spiritual specifications of the worshiper. The divine will which declares something beyond or other than what is already a part of the emotional-mental construct of the worshiper is spurned. That worship might call for something beyond us is shrugged off as obscurantist.

And so the one indispensable presupposition of Christian worship, the God of the covenant who reveals himself in his word, is deleted. A Freudian pleasure principle is substituted and worship is misused to harness God to human requirements. Worship is falsified into being a protective cover for self-seeking. That the self-seeking is in the area of the psychic rather than the sexual does little to improve the results over old Baalism. We may be entertained, warmed, diverted, or excited in such worship; we will probably not be changed—and we will not be saved. Our feelings may be sensitized and our pleasures expanded, but our morals will be dulled and our God fantasized.

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