What is influencing fundamentalist worship today?
What I am stressing is for cessationists to be aware of the influence of the continuationism of these men and ministries upon the worship of evangelicalism and fundamentalism
As I consider the landscape of fundamentalism today,1 some characteristics of its worship encourage me, while others concern me. The primary influences on modern fundamentalist worship reveal the reasons for this mixed assessment.
Three Influences Shaping Worship Today
In my estimation, three sources have influenced modern fundamentalist worship most:
- John Piper
- Wayne Grudem
- Sovereign Grace Ministries
The influence of John Piper’s writing and sermons on fundamentalism is unquestionable. Michael Riley makes this case in “On the Ministry of John Piper,” written for the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship in 2005. Riley writes,
Other than John MacArthur, it is unlikely that any modern evangelical author has been more influential and respected in Fundamentalist circles than John Piper.
While Piper has not written a book on worship, his theology of worship is riddled throughout his books and sermons, and his particular theological emphases have direct application to worship theology. For instance, Piper is insistent on the God-centeredness of God, and by implication, the God-centeredness of worship.2 Piper’s consistent exegetical preaching and strong doctrinal center have also influenced fundamentalism, and in particular the centrality of these in the worship of God.
Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology3 has been a significant source of theological influence on fundamentalists. This assertion is somewhat more difficult to prove than Piper’s influence. Basically, Grudem’s ST has become very attractive to fundamentalists who are becoming more Calvinistic soteriologically or even fully Reformed. Since Grudem is Reformed, and since his ST is probably one of the most readable on the market today, Grudem’s ST is quite popular among especially the younger generation of fundamentalists who are embracing Calvinism or fully Reformed theology.
Grudem’s influence on worship theology is evidenced by the fact that his ST seems to be unique in its focus on worship and extended discussion of the theology of worship. Grudem has an entire chapter on worship (unique among ST’s), each chapter ends with a hymn, and Grudem is deliberate about relating theology to worship throughout the work. It is certainly possible that someone could benefit from some of the theology of Grudem’s ST without being influenced by his theology of worship, but that is highly unlikely since the relationship of theology and worship permeates the work.
Sovereign Grace Ministries
A more recent influence upon modern fundamentalist worship is Sovereign Grace Ministries. This influences comes primarily through two sources: Bob Kauflin and the music published by SGM.
1. Bob Kauflin
Bob Kauflin is Director of Worship Development for SGM. He teaches his theology and practice through his blog, his book Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God,4 and through various conferences and teaching venues. Kauflin and his writings are often praised, cited, and recommended by fundamentalists, and so it is no far stretch to assume that he has a significant influence on the worship of fundamentalists. Kauflin encourages gospel-centered worship and theologically-rich hymns, both good emphases in my opinion.
2. Sovereign Grace Music
SGM produces quite a bit of music, all performed in a pop/rock style, and much targeted to be sung by congregations. They also promote the modern hymns of Stuart Townend, Keith Getty, and others. Their songs are known to be theologically-rich and gospel-centered, and this has been attractive for many fundamentalists who desire their worship services to be God-centered and doctrine-filled. Most fundamentalists “clean up” the songs, using only the text/tune combinations alone, while some are perhaps using the pop styles and/or promoting the SGM recordings themselves.
These songs were probably made most popular among fundamentalist first through the recordings of the Steve Pettit Evangelistic Team and then through there promotion and recording by many fundamentalist colleges and seminaries.
This influence on fundamentalist worship is clearly evident since most of the fundamentalist colleges sing and record these songs, and many fundamentalist churches readily sing them as well.
Unifying Characteristics of These Influences
As I observe the influence of these three sources upon the worship of modern fundamentalism, I notice two primary unifying characteristics of these sources that would have influence upon worship theology:
- A God-centered view of worship
- A continuationist understanding of the Holy Spirit’s work
A God-centered view of worship
In contrast to an understanding of worship that centers on people in evangelism or discipleship, John Piper, Wayne Grudem, and Sovereign Grace Ministries all strongly stress a God-centeredness that should permeate life and especially worship. This is clearly evidenced in their theology, their emphases, their biblical exposition, their song texts, and their writings. It has certainly influenced their theology of worship, and no doubt has impacted the worship theology and practice of fundamentalists as well. I definitely think that this influence has been quite good. Many fundamentalist churches have focussed their worship services more on God, His Word, and response of the affections toward Him than perhaps in the past. Certainly these influences have come from other sources as well,5 but I think it is safe to say that the three sources above are probably the most significant and universal in this regard.
This influence, in my opinion, is wonderful. For too long many fundamentalist churches have been plagued by man-centered church theology that has bleed into their church services. For many churches, their “worship” has been little more than anthropocentric revivalist meetings or evangelistic meetings. Whatever influence Piper, Gruden, and SGM have had to direct fundamentalist churches toward God-centered theology and worship is something for which I am very grateful.
A continuationist understanding of the Holy Spirit’s work
What is also interesting and important to note is that all three of these sources of influence have a continuationist understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit. Both Sovereign Grace Ministries and Wayne Grudem clearly identify themselves with Third Wave Pentacostalism, and John Piper does by implication in many of his writings. All three understand the sign gifts to be in operation today, and while all three understand baptism of the Spirit as happening simultaneously with conversion, they see Spirit filling as an experiential empowering that often evidences itself in external, physical phenomena.
This continuationism clearly impacts their theology and practice of worship as well. One’s view of the Holy Spirit has direct impact on how he views worship, and would certainly impact his methodology of worship.
For example, Wayne Grudem articulates a theology of worship that assumes a kind of “special, experiential presence” of God in worship.6 Kauflin sees the job of a worship leader as one of “motivation” toward a certain worship experience7 and physical expressiveness in worship as an essential component.8 Piper has made very helpful contributions in terms of stressing the importance of the affections in worship, but he also clearly connects the affections to physical feelings.9 Each of these are examples of how continuationism has influenced their theology and practice of worship, in my opinion.
Yet even if someone disagrees that these particular citations evidence an influence of continuationism, it would still be a bit naïve to assume that their theology of the Holy Spirit has had no impact on their theology and practice of worship.
This particular influence, in my estimation, is problematic, and should be for fundamentalist cessationists.
Excursus 1: Reformed Theology
Immediately apparent from my list above is the absence of Reformed Theology as a unifying characteristic with impact on worship. To be sure, Reformed Theology is a unifying characteristic of these men. However, it is not a unifying characteristic of their influence upon fundamentalist worship because there is no direct impact of Reformed Theology on the styles of music one chooses for worship. ((Words in red have updated 9/18/09 after some helpful comments from readers.))
Instead, I think the function of Reformed Theology in this whole discussion is that the Reformed Theology of these men (or at least their Calvinism) is what has attracted some fundamentalists to their writings. The Calvinism brought them in, and then they were further influenced by other convictions of these men, including their God-centeredness (a good thing, in my opinion) and their continuationism (a not-so-good thing, in my opinion).
Some fundamentalist leaders, observing the popularity of these authors, their music, and their theology, have assumed that it is the Calvinism of these men that has lead many fundamentalists to change their worship theology. However, I must repeat, there is no direct impact of Reformed Theology itself on the styles of music one chooses for worship. ((Words in red have updated 9/18/09 after some helpful comments from readers.)) Historically there have been both conservative and progressive Calvinists, Arminians, Dispensationalists, and Covenant Theologians, and there is nothing inherent in these theological convictions that leads to the adoption of particular styles of music.
In other words, in my opinion, it is right for these fundamentalists leaders to trace the change of worship theology (good or bad) in many fundamental churches back to Piper, Grudem, and Sovereign Grace, but it is not because of their Calvinism.
Excursus 2: Fundamentalists and Worship
What is also apparent from the discussion thus far is an absence of fundamentalists as influences on fundamentalist worship today. It is not as if I am ignoring fundamentalists, or even that those fundamentalists who are changing their worship theology and practice are ignoring fundamentalists. The truth is that there really has been very little theology of worship written and taught by fundamentalists. It’s almost as if worship has been considered an “extra-curricular activity” in the minds of most fundamentalists. In other words, to get a thorough theology of worship, the only place to go has been these conservative evangelical writers whose God-centeredness and continuationism flavor their theology. There have been several books written about music, of course, but very few biblical theologies of worship.
I should note a few exceptions here, however. Michael P. V. Barrett’s book, The Beauty of Holiness: A Guide to Biblical Worship ((Greenville, SC: Ambassador-Emerald, 2006.)) is an excellent treatment of the subject. Gary Reimers has also done some thoughtful teaching on the subject,10 and Bob Jones Seminary just published his book, The Glory Due His Name: What God Says About Worship, this week. I should also mention Dean Kurtz recent book, , and outstanding biblical theology. These sources haven’t received the consideration they deserve, however.
All this to say that I do believe there needs to be more writing on worship theology from a separatist, cessationist perspective.
Much good can be said about the influence of these three sources on the worship of evangelical/fundamental church worship. There is definitely a more theological-mindedness in worship today, many churches are moving away from a “seeker” mentality, and a vertical emphasis is returning. These good trends can be attributed in large part to the contributions of these men. We can praise these men for their God-centeredness and commitment to sound, exegetical theology. We can certainly benefit from this kind of teaching, and I do believe that it has had a good impact on fundamentalist worship today in some respects.
But what is clearly apparent to me is that the biggest influences in worship today are continuationists. I believe that a lot more careful consideration needs to be given to how the continuationism of these men has also influenced worship theology and practice. We would be naïve to assume that it has no impact. It is beyond the scope of this essay to argue against continuationism. I am simply emphasizing that cessationists need to at least recognize this potential influence on their theology and practice of worship.
I, for one, am not against reading or being influenced by individuals or ministries with whom I have theological, philosophical, or methodological disagreement. In other words, I am in no way calling for a fundamentalist censure on these men and their ministries. Far from it. As I mentioned above, I do believe that these influences have been good in some areas.
What I am stressing is for cessationists to be aware of the influence of the continuationism of these men and ministries upon the worship of evangelicalism and fundamentalism.
Finally, I also believe that there is a great need for fundamentalists who are both Calvinistic and cessationists to think more and write more on worship theology and practice.11 It is dangerous, in my opinion, that practically the only Calvinists writing on worship are also continuationists. If the only place Calvinists can go for a theology of worship is to continuationists, it is no wonder that there is a strong connection between Calvinism and progressive worship today.
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.
- By “fundamentalism” I mean those churches and institutions that have traditionally maintained a separatist position regarding theological error and pop cultural forms. [↩]
- Piper argues this, for instance, in God’s Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards (Wheaton: Crossway, 1998) and The Pleasures of God: Meditations on God’s Delight in Being God (Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2000). [↩]
- Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995. [↩]
- Wheaton, Crossway, 2008. [↩]
- For instance, fundamentalists under the influence of Dave Doran and Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary or Kevin Bauder and Central Baptist Seminary have witnessed emphases similar to those of Piper, Grudem, and SGM, particularly the God-centeredness. However, a relatively few fundamentalists have been influenced by Doran or Bauder compared to the almost universal impact of Piper, Grudem, and SGM. [↩]
- See Grudem, pp. 1007-1008, for example. [↩]
- See Kauflin, p. 121ff. [↩]
- See Ibid, p. 169ff. While Kauflin is quick to admit that physical expressiveness does not prove someone is worshiping, he nevertheless insists than a mature Christian will express himself physically in worship. He does not explore sign gifts in his book, written for a broader audience, but he admits that he does believe that they are still operative today, and even talks of receiving direct prophetic revelation in the form of song. [↩]
- See Desiring God, p. 89ff., for example. Piper clearly says, “The definition of these “affections” (or what most people today mean by feelings) is . . .” [↩]
- You can find his series on worship here: http://www.cornerstonebaptist.info/sermons.htm. [↩]
- I should note that Michael Barrett’s book would be one example of this, and evangelical Reformed cessationists have done a bit of this as well. For example, Give Praise to God: A Vision for Reforming Worship, edited by Ryken, Thomas, and Duncan (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2003). [↩]