August 12, 2020

Alastair and Joe Thorn: On Liturgy and a Church for All of Us

litrguy.jpgOne of the most frustrating conversations I have with my evangelical friends is explaining my strong feelings about the value and importance of using an intentional, Biblical liturgy as the major content of worship as opposed to creating “worshiptainment” events starring Brother Billy Bob and Skip the worship leader.

Many of my friends and co-workers share my background in Southern Baptist evangelicalism, and they equate liturgy- even the Lord’s Prayer or the Apostle’s Creed- with Roman Catholicism and “dead” worship. For them, my preference for liturgy is simply choosing to be boring and liberal. It’s difficult to explain just how wrong they are, and how “conservative” and vital liturgy has become in my journey.

Of course, if you love liturgy- especially the common liturgy of English worship as expressed in the Book of Common Prayer or in the worship of Reformation churches still in touch with their “catholicity”- then you know that liturgy is at the heart of the battle to keep our churches and ourselves Christian in a secular, postmodern, vacuous age where entertainment, consumerism and coarse popular culture increasingly prevail in worship.

Now Alastair at Adverseria has penned some thoughts on Liturgy that beautifully express what it means to give up “our way” of saying things and embracing a “common, public” speech in worship. Alastair’s blog is consistently one of the most eloquent and stimulating anywhere. This post demonstrates why.

The post jumps off of an interview with Garrison Keillor that appeared in Christianity Today.

As a follow-up, read Joe Thorn’s post on “Worship Incarnate,” a solid thinking through of just how much “seeker sensitivity” really needs to be part of our worship.

Much of what I had to say about the importance of the church’s decision to have its own “language” appeared in the IM essay, “Fighting Words.”


  1. ddickens says

    I find it interesting that you contrast some sort of “common” words with someone sort of “personal” words.

    I find in practice the matter to be effectively the opposite. That is, what you call “common” I call “insular”. I believe Christianese is one of the great barriers to evangelism and authentic worship. If you want “common” then use the words the World understands.

    I’ve often thought I’d love to do my own translation(?) of the New Testiment eliminating all the exclusively Christian terms. I think I’m completely UNqualified to do this, but since no one else is doing it… it makes me despirate to fill the void.

    Ask any old-school CofCer and they’ll tell you that even such words like “Sin”, “Church” or “Baptism” cause far more problems than they solve by being used in the place of plain speach. I won’t even start on “Sanctification” or purposefully obscure terms like “Supralapsarianism”, which I believe were invented and perpetuated by persons who use them to think they are closer to wisdom (and God) than people who can’t.

    By all means, be Universal! Abandon Christianese.

  2. Warren Dodson says


    I am not sure that our use of individual Christian terms is the problem. First, do we really have an alternative? What words would we use in place of “sin,” “church,” and “baptism”? What words would capture the multiple layers and strong inter-dependence of these words? No, the problem I think you correctly note exists is not with the words themselves but with our failure to communicate the biblical story-line that provides the context within which the words have meaning. There is no “better” word for what Jesus told us to pray for than that the Father’s “kingdom” come. When an outsider wonders what we are talking about, a synonym or definition will not close the gap of understanding. In fact, as the present debates within Presbyterianism show, they will likely just close the mind. (That is not to say that definition has no value, but simply that it does not have all value.) No, we must keep telling the big story, weaving in the unavoidable Christianese that both gives meaning to the story and receives meaning therefrom.

  3. Yes, it’s the big story people have to understand and no matter how relevant we try to be to “outsiders” it’s not within our power to make them understand. The Holy Spirit does that. We should be telling the story authentically with eloquence, not cliches, and we should be living it.

    If we read the New Testament, it seems to me we find the church was for believers. Believers didn’t bait non believers to come to the infotainment service so the preacher could get them to believe–they went out to nonbelievers and witnessed to them. I think seeker sensitive orientation is one of the major reasons churches aren’t effectively building up and equipping believers.

  4. ddickens says

    I agree that it isn’t necessary to use alternate terms to communicate “church” to outsiders. But the use of a term which clearly has many different meanings to different people (and in different contexts) presents a problem.

    There are many good reasons for and ways of being separate from the world, I’ve never been comfortable with this way of insulating our most precious ideas.

    Even in the best of the CofC tradition (we won’t talk about the worst), even when we speak “plainly” of things which aren’t “plain” there is still a mountain for the non-Christian to climb even to listen.

    “church” is nothing more than “believers who gather together” in one context and “the larger group of all believers in the world” in another. You don’t have to be this wordy or awkward, but communication depends on a set of shared symbols. If they don’t understand what “church” means, then talking about the “church” isn’t meaningful to them.