Well, it has been interesting to hear of the younger fundamentalists defending rap in the church. People tell me that I should not be surprised.
I sat through a session on music in culture in a fundamentalist church not too long ago when it struck me with force where these proponents of “high” music were in error. It was so remarkable, I turned to the pastor next to me and said, “These guys have a low view of God!” It is ironic because they’re talk was constantly about how worship must uphold a high view of God. As John Frame argued, to promote your style as “higher” is tantamount to placing a sheet of paper on the ground and bragging that you are closer to the sun than everyone else.
Pastor Bixby confirmed that he had Scott Aniol in mind (Kevin Bauder and John Makujina also spoke at this conference, if my memory serves). I found his “low view” comment somewhat confusing.
First allow me to address the implicit charge that those who find it necessary to articulate the proper ways to worship by necessity have a low view of God. This is not convincing.
Let us imagine that you go to England to appear before royalty. Their demand that you address Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth with dignity and decorum–is that because they have a low view of the Queen? Does it matter how you address her?
Consider another example. We know that the bare words, “Hello there” seem fairly innocuous. But what if those words are addressed to your wife by another man and he says it with a “seductive tone”–Hello there. Would your insistence that men not address your wife in this fashion stem from a low view of your wife?
I know I am surely exasperating your patience at this point, but I have one more example. When you insist that your children address you or your wife with respect, is this because you have a low view of fatherhood or motherhood? In fact, what is respect? Can we dare to call certain actions of children to their parents (above not caring for their elderly parents [1 Tim 5:8]) disrespectful? Are we presuming on Scripture when we name certain actions not explicitly set forth in Scripture disrespectful?
Did God have a low view of himself when he consumed Nadab and Abihu?
Second, I want to address this idea that all worship is essentially equally low compared to God since everybody is pretty much on the same level anyway, and that it is therefore a fool’s errand to critique other’s modes of worship. This charge is seen in Pastor Bixby’s citation of John Frame above.
We all recognize the transcendence and greatness of God. He is wholly other. But I do not believe that Frame and Bixby’s proposed conclusion, that all expressions of worship are equally “distant,” is the right one from this doctrine. It seems that this position would promote a kind of apathy in approaching God, but that is only the tip of the iceberg.
What about preaching styles? What about the person who preaches like it’s a stand-up routine? What about the preacher who expells flatus or belches and performs other disgusting and revolting acts while he preaches? We are all meagerly attempting to preach the oracles of God–who is to say that these antics while preaching are taboo? If one said that one “style” of preaching was better than another, would it not be “tantamount to placing a sheet of paper on the ground and bragging that you are closer to the sun than everyone else”?
Could this “transcendent” line of reasoning also apply even to theological truth itself? In fact, theological liberals, who are no friend to orthodox Christianity, have made just this observation. John Hick believes that “the God-figures of the great theistic religions are different human awareness of the Ultimate.”* He says,
Not only Christianity, but also [the] other world faiths, are human responses to the Ultimate. They see the Divine/Sacred/Ultimate through different human conceptual “lenses,” and they experience the divine/sacred/ultimate presence through their different spiritual practices in correspondingly different forms of religious experience. But they seem to constitute more or less equally authentic human awareness of and response to the Ultimate, the Real, the final ground and source of everything.**
In other words, if we cannot say one form of worship is better than another, why should we not say that one expression of truth is no better than another? Do any of us really fully know the transcendent God? Can of us comprehend him? Then why should we deem one theological axiom as any better than another? If you were to say your “theology” is “higher” would it not be “tantamount to placing a sheet of paper on the ground and bragging that you are closer to the sun than everyone else.” I know the standard objection here will be that evangelicals hold the Scriptures to be authoritative. Yet I think my point still stands, for theology is the fruit of Biblical exegesis and hermeneutics, a step beyond the explicit Scriptures themselves. The moment you say that your interpretation and theological conclusions are true over another’s, you are guilty of the same error of which Pastor Bixby accuses us. In other words, who is to say that Athanasius was closer to the sun than Arian?
In sum, this “they have a low view” argument simply does not work.
*John Hick, “A Pluralist View,” in Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 39