Ten years ago, at a gathering at Lambeth Palace, an “alternative worship” service was vividly described as follows:
“On the first visit to a service, the main impression is visual. Screens and hanging fabrics, containing a multiplicity of colours, moving and static images continuously dominate the perceptions. There are other things: the type of music, often electronic, whose textures and range seem curiously attuned to the context of worship, smells, the postures adopted by the other worshippers…. As the mental picture begins to fill up with details, there is a growing appreciation that considerable technological complexity is sitting alongside simplicity and directness. The rituals—perhaps walking though patterns, tieing [sic] a knot, or having one’s hands or feet anointed—are introduced with simple, non-fussy directions. The emphasis is on allowing people to do what will help, liberate, and encourage their worship rather than on the orchestration of a great event…. Where something is rather obscure, its purpose is to invite further reflection, perhaps teasing the worshippers to look deeper beyond the surface meaning…. For many of those who stay, they have never before had an experience of Christian worship like it. It is as though they have come to a new place which they instantly recognize as home.”
Then, as now, the Rev. Dr. Paul Roberts pleaded for a renewed appreciation of the artistic sensibility in worship, not for art’s sake alone, but as part of a “vibrant missionary engagement” with postmodern aesthetics—embracing its “richer, multi-layered, and more fluid textuality—envisioning meanings and appreciating multivalence through a variety of media.”1
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I was raised in a mainline evangelical church,1 but it wasn’t until I became an adult that I made a personal and strong commitment to God. The church of my childhood years was associated with a traditional and reserved Calvinistic heritage. However, the church of my young adult years, in the 1970’s, was strongly influenced by the more demonstrative and charismatic orientation of the Jesus People movement on the West Coast of the United States. Later, in my middle adult years, I found myself drawn to yet another church within a traditionally Wesleyan context. Even though the specific sequence of changes varies, friends and colleagues who have followed parallel paths usually agree that our respective theologies are much fuller and richer because of the spiritual journeys we have taken over our lifetimes.
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It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses.
—from “The Weight of Glory”
When he was president of the Oxford Socratic Club during the 1940s and 50s, C.S. Lewis featured weekly discussions on “repellent doctrines.” By these, he meant traditional Christian teachings that seemed puzzling or implausible—teachings on suffering, miracles, hierarchy, and the like. Lewis thought these doctrines conveyed truths that modern people most needed to know but were least likely to recognize: “We must never avert our eyes from those elements in [our religion] which seem puzzling or repellent; for it will be precisely the puzzling or the repellent which conceals what we do not yet know and need to know.”1 For many Christians today, deification would be such a doctrine. Deification (also known as theosis or divinization) sees salvation not merely as divine pardon but rather as a process of spiritual transformation that culminates in mystical union with God. As Lewis understood it, human beings could one day enter into the very beauty and energy of God and become “true and everlasting and really divine persons.”2 In his book Mere Christianity, which can be seen as a manifesto on the subject, Lewis argues that the whole purpose of Christianity is to turn people into what he variously calls “new men,” “little Christs,” “Sons of God”—and “gods and goddesses.”
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How does one create a hero at a time when heroes have fallen out of favor? Much of the literature of the twentieth century shows an ambivalence about this question. During the bloodiest century the world had ever known, a time of ever increasing disillusionment, the conventional hero became an increasingly rare figure in literature and the “anti-hero” increasingly popular. Against this background, J. R. R. Tolkien envisioned a character who embodied an old-fashioned ideal of heroism—but not at all in a conventional way.
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