I’ve been reading through Kevin Roose’s book The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University. If you have an interest in learning about evangelicalism and fundamentalism, this book, written by a Brown University student who enrolled at Liberty University for a semester, is a great volume to read. Informed by George Marsden’s more historical Fundamentalism and American Culture, this is a fun and witty memoir of someone who decided to “act the part” of a Christian fundamentalist for a semester.
I was especially struck by Roose’s contrast between the simple, Quaker worship meetings of his youth and the contemporary worship at a local megachurch. He writes:
You can see why I didn’t go to [Quaker worship] meeting[s] much. As a kid groomed on cartoons and video games and Little League, an hour of motionless silence was excruciating. At Thomas Road, on the other hand, there’s almost too much stimulation. The stage lights, the one hundred-decibel praise songs, the bright purple choir robes, the tempestuous bellowing of Dr. Falwell – it’s an hour-long assault on the senses. And all you have to do is sit back in your plush, reclining seat, latte and cranberry scone in hand, and take it all in. It’s Church Lite – entertaining but unsubstantial, the religious equivalent of a Jerry Bruckheimer movie. And once the novelty wears off, once the music becomes familiar and the motions of praise become pro forma and mechanized, you start to realize that all the technological glitz and material extravagance doesn’t necessarily add up to a spiritual experience. [emphasis added]
Today, from my perch in the Thomas Road choir loft, my mind wandered back to the little brown house with stone steps. I think I’d appreciate the minimalist Quaker worship more now than I did as a kid. It didn’t have Jumbotron screens or a five thousand-watt sound system or a cafe in the lobby, and it wasn’t run by a world-famous televangelist with millions of followers. But at least it felt real.
The Unlikely Disciple, pg. 199.
Bravo, Kevin! You have nailed it to the wall.
It is only tragic that it takes someone posing to be an evangelical to point out something that the “experts” themselves either can’t understand or chose to suppress – i.e., that the excitement of contemporary “worship” is more driven by consumerist impulses than genuine gratitude or spirituality.
If you’re drawn toward exciting, contemporary worship settings, know this – we all are! But this is not because it is right; not because it is proper; not because God is truly putting a burden on our hearts to pursue worship of him in this way … it is because all of us prefer to worship ourselves! All of us are idolaters who fashion gods in our own image!
If we like video clips, well then God must want us to watch those while worshiping him. If we like rock music, God must like it too. If we like to sit in church with our feet up, drinking a cafe mocha, then there can only be one reason for this – God must want nothing more than for us to sit in church with our feet up, drinking a cafe mocha! Whatever we like to do, God likes to do it too, right?
After all, we’re too genuine to be self-centered, right? Idolatry is only practiced by people out there, isn’t it? What we want to do just feels so right – how can you argue with that?!?!