One of the assignments I have to complete as part of the Metro Worship Academy is a book review. Students were given a select list of texts on worship to read and review. I chose Lamar Boschman’s Future Worship because it is one of the key texts which have shaped my own views on worship practice. So I am killing two birds with one stone: I’m recommending an important book to those who read this blog (particularly if you are a worship leader) that will help you understand the intersection of worship and culture. And I’m also completing an assessment item at the same time. Win!
I have long considered Lamar Boschman one of the pioneers of the modern praise and worship movement. Not only did Boschman model church worship expression through his worship leadership, he also provided, as a teacher, the much needed Biblical blueprint that laid the foundation for the movement.
I first read Boschman’s Future Worship (Ventura: Renew Books, 1999) some years ago. Reading it again recently, with many more years of ministry experience under my belt, I was confronted by just how many of Boschman’s predictions about the coming shape of worship in the new millennium were beginning to be realised.
Blending references from theologians, philosophers and futurists (just so you know that this is going to be a meaty book), Boschman begins with an indictment on the current state of worship in many churches: overly plastic, image-conscious and performance-based worship that has fomented consumerism, dislocation and spiritual disconnectedness. In his wry style, he states:
Today, worship is too often a cacophonous, raucous, aerobic dance class. People stand on platforms and command you to do stuff that you would never do in any rational moment of your life… like turning to the total stranger next to you and screaming, MY NAME IS BRADLEY AND I’M A JESUS POWER RANGER! (pp 41-42)
But yet, there is hope. After all Future Worship is not just about the present, it is about learning the lessons of the past so we can paint a glorious future.
And so, the theme of birth pangs and contractions dominate: the idea that perhaps, the disillusionment and unsettledness is the result of the conflict between a dying era and one that is struggling to be born. Boschman states (at 48):
While most people may not describe that succinctly or eloquently, most are aware of a prevailing and bewildering sense of confusion and ambiguity. What they may not possess, however, is a sense of perspective about it: these things are merely the beginnings of birth pangs…. A new world is being born.
For students of worship, Boschman puts the modern worship movement in its historical context like no other book on worship (except perhaps say Robert Webber’s Worship Old and New). Boschman provides a sweeping analysis of communications media (from the oral tradition, to the printed word, to the electronic age and finally to the new digital revolution) and how they have shaped the development of the church’s worship expression and its core values. He tells us how we got to where we are. And then, importantly, he tells us to look beyond the familiarities of the past towards new frontiers of possibilities.
In the past 20 years, church (and its worship) has changed. Churches are becoming more “post-modern” and “emergent” even though they may resist those labels.
But the key point in Boschman’s analysis is that the new digital age is facilitating a convergence of the best elements of the preceding ages. He states (at 164):
A crucial part of this unhindered Church of the future is the principle of convergence – the recognition and blending of various strengths of worship found in the oral, print and electronic ages of the Church.
Personality cults are beginning to fade into the background as even the most insignificant of voices are given expression and validity through the digital platform. Communities are reaching beyond denominational, racial and geographical lines as members of the body of Christ connect and network across cyberspace towards truly realising the vision of a church universal. The rigidities of time are being overthrown. Even ancient kinships (as Boschman puts it) are being rekindled.
This is the new worship revolution. As another prophetic worshipper once put it, it is where “all the streams flow as one river / To wash away our brokenness” (Martin Smith, “Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble”).