Why do churches fight ?Worship Wars?? Why do discussions about how to conduct worship often split into two vitriolic polarities over ?traditional? versus ?contemporary? styles or into two opposing camps, such as organists/ guitarists, baby boomers/elders, returnees/loyalists or clergy/musicians? These ?worship wars? prevent us from being the Church. In Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down, Marva Dawn writes to help local parishes and denominations think more thoroughly about worship and culture so that they can function effectively in contemporary society. She roots her discussion of worship issues in a careful assessment of significant aspects of the present technological, boomer, post-modern society and names criteria by which to judge the various cultural influences. She then sketches essential attributes of worship. Dawn recognizes that the vitality and faithfulness of our personal and corporate Christian lives and the effectiveness of our outreach to the world depend on the character that is formed in individuals and communities. How can churches best reach out to society without ?dumbing down? this essential character formation? Dawn discusses music, preaching, and all the accouterments of worship and offers practical suggestions for choosing the best tools and forms to deepen worship life, nurture faith development, and increase believers? outreach throughout the universal church and to the world.
In attempting to reach the before mentioned goals, the author begins with an introspective look at the church’s methodology through sociological means. The book begins with an analysis of the Technological, Boomer, Postmodern Culture that has produced a television and technologically driven society that has dumbed down the culture. In addition, there is a critical perspective of the church as “market driven”, which shows the shift of focus from the careful exegesis of the Word of God to the determination of what worship participants desire within a service (24). The author then attempted to list and evaluate some of the idolatries seen within our churches: God of efficiency, idolatry of money, idolatry of tradition, idolatry of numbers and success, etc. She quotes Horstman in what seems to encapsulate the thrust of the whole text. “We simulate real life by eliminating risk and commitment, and end up mistaking what is real for what is only artificial. We exist, that is, encased in a giant cultural condom (49).” Horstman was describing the artificialness of society in making shopping malls look like the outside environment and the creation of online sexual environments that posed as authentic relationships. The reality in many of the churches today is that this is not just a reflection of culture, but rather a reality of the church and its congregation.
Dawn continues to proceed within the text to evaluate the authentic worship of the church and the church’s role in spiritual formation of the believer. In the chapter, God as the Center of Worship, the author proposes that authentic worship is when God is both the subject and object of worship (80). This is shown to be in direct contradiction with some congregations when worship leaders and pastors are placed in an unsuitable role within worship. The chapters following discuss the importance of the church’s spiritual formation through the character formation of the believer, the development of authentic biblical community and the proper exegesis of the Word of God. As for the latter point, Dawn states, “When we give people an inferior gospel, we also fail to train their capacity for judging truth and for seeking the best expressions of it (151).” In the final parts of the author’s text, she studies more intently the music, Word, rituals and outward focus of the church in regard to reaching the secular culture.