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Worship forms regulated by Scripture

This entry is part 6 of 6 in the series

"Biblical Authority and the Aesthetics of Scripture"

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aesthetics-of-scriptureThis is the final post in a series I’ve been writing over the past couple months in order to more thoroughly develop an idea I presented in By the Waters of Babylon, namely, that the aesthetic forms in our corporate worship should be regulated by the aesthetic forms of Scripture.

In this series, I have argued that both an understanding of the nature of truth and belief in the doctrine of verbal, plenary inspiration demands that we view the aesthetic forms of Scripture as authoritative–they should provide boundaries for the kinds of aesthetic forms we employ in contemporary worship. The cultural forms we use in our worship today should mean the same thing as the cultural forms of Sciripture meant to their original audiences. This requires that we understand the meaning of those biblical forms in their original contexts and that we understand what various cultural forms mean today.

Thus, worship forms are not chosen simply on the basis of what is popular in the current culture, but rather on the basis of what those forms mean and whether or not they correspond to the aesthetic meaning of the forms of Scirpture. This just scratches the surface of what I think needs to be a continued discussion, and it is something I hope to further develop in the days to come.

There are some scholars, by the way, who are beginning to have discussions like these, although they are mostly looking at how the aesthetics of Scripture affect interpretation, translation, and preaching. Nevertheless, they are trying to carve out an evangelical position that doesn’t fall into the traps of higher critical cultural-linguistic philosophy or what one author calls the “dedramatized propositonalism”1 that characterizes most forms of the historical-grammatical philosophy. For those interested, I would direct you to the work of Kevin Vanhoozer, Leland Rykan, Tremper Longman, and Abraham Kuruvilla, among others. These scholars are asking not just what does the Bible say, but also what does the Bible do, and how can we faithfully interpret and communicate that.

I would like to extend that biblical authority even to our worship: If we believe that Scripture must regulate our worship, and if we believe that God inspired every word of Scripture, then we must be sure that how we express God’s truth aesthetically today is similar in meaning to how Scripture expresses God’s truth.

And this is not to say that with this perspective we will easily come to consensus and finally prove a conservative approach to worship. There is a lot of work to be done here, and there are some difficulty questions for even conservatives to answer.

Nevertheless, despite the review of my book cited in the first post, I do believe this is a way forward for conservative Christians. Far from appealing to esoteric philosophy or even tradition, and contrary to charges of ignoring Sola Scriptura, conservative Christians should root our convictions regarding worship aesthetics in a commitment to regulate our worship by the inspired, authoritative Word of God.

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About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

  1. Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine, 87. []