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Worship euphoria?

Matt Costella notes here a recent study that finds megachurch worship to create similar physiological responses to that of drug use:

The University of Washington just released a fascinating study which concludes that megachurches provide the same biological “high” and euphoria as that produced by sporting events and concerts. The only difference? Those who get “high” from the emotional experience of being in a worship service at a megachurch attribute their experience to something spiritual or divine.

This certainly raises important questions that need to be considered regarding whether all emotional/physical response is equal, or whether there is a fundamental difference between what Jonathan Edwards called “religious affections” and mere chemical responses to stimuli.

I raise this important issue in Worship in Song:

In modern thought, emotion is generally considered neutral. The only criterion of worth for emotion is the object toward which it is expressed. This relatively novel thinking, however, must be corrected to distinguish betweendifferent qualities of emotion. Not all emotion is created equal, especially for expression to God. A man should notlove his wife in the same way that he loves his dog. Additionally, there is a great difference between emotion that is merely physical feeling and emotion that involves the whole of man.1

Consequently, our worship, and the elements we use in worship, must be those that carefully nurture the religious affections rather than simply creating a physical “euphoria”:

Because the very nature of worship is spiritual response to truth, the music used should develop deep affections for God, not simply emotional passions. Those affections will result from the way the text is written as well as the composition of the music itself. If the text has no solid, concrete basis for the music and if the musical style communicates emotional, sentimental feelings, it is not appropriate for congregational worship.2

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. Worship in Song, 52 []
  2. Worship in Song, 197 []