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The Table Video

Kelly M. Kapic

Worship that Affirms Our Humanity

Professor of Theological Studies, Covenant College
January 31, 2014

Kelly Kapic (theologian at Covenant College) discusses the Christian conception of worship along three lines:
1. God doesn’t need your worship.
2. The fullness of worship is delight in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
3. God is not embarrassed by our physicality and creatureliness; we ought to worship holistically, in mind, body, spirit; in community with others.


Thanks for clicking on this video from the table conference on the topic of Mind Your Heart. In this video, you’ll hear from Doctor Kelly Kapic. A professor at Covenant College, he’s a theologian there and he’s gonna be talking about the role of worship in Christian spirituality. Particularly, how does worship change us psychologically. We hope you enjoy the video.

Let’s see how long you can last with me to be the last in an afternoon session. You’re brave souls. Worship. When we think of the term worship, when you think of it, what goes through your head? Right? Or maybe more interestingly, how do you emotionally and physically respond to that word. Worship. A lot of your reaction will depend on your background, your experience and your expectations. And it may surprise you but I’ve become very convinced of this, that for some Christians, the call to worship can actually make us just feel tired. Unable. Frustrated. Even cynical. This can be especially true where conceptions of worship have started out with exciting promises that end up becoming emotionally manipulative. Anti-intellectual and disconnected from concern with the real physical world. I’d like to spend our time together, we could do this for weeks on worship. But I would like to focus on a simple truth. We are invited to worship God as human creatures. And this should affirm our humanity rather than undermine it.

Worship at its best does not call us to be superhuman nor does it call us to undermine our humanity. We respond to the Triune God in worship, not by ceasing to be creatures, but by unhesitatingly, coming with our creaturely needs, desires and long ones. As creatures, we were made for the creator. And in Him alone can we find rest and nourishment and what the ancients called happiness. To understand our worship as human creatures, I wanna think about three things. Overflow, Trinitarian and holistic. Overflow, Trinitarian and holistic. Overflow. My family likes water parks. Truth is we don’t get to go very often. But when we do, it’s not the big water slides that we love, as great as those are and the wave pool, as cool as that is. You can psychoanalyze this but what my family loves is the lazy river. [audience laughs] Love it! If you haven’t ever seen one, they usually encircle the entire park. It’s a fake river with many entry points and a very, well a strong current. Not a violent current. But a strong current. You just jump in, you grab an inner tube, you float along. Sometimes our family swims with the current. Sometimes we just float. Very often we talk, we splash, we laugh. Occasionally, we wrestle with the current. It’s awesome. It’s not really lazy if you know what’s going on there. So keep that in mind.

This brings me to some really good news for you. And for me. Although it probably won’t sound like good news at first. But I promise, it really is if… Are you ready? God doesn’t need your worship. God doesn’t need your worship. Take [chuckling] a deep breath and believe me. God is not like a dysfunctional, codependent parent, whose identity and happiness rest on the constant reassurance from the child that they love the parent. God is not an empty bucket that needs us to fill Him up cause He just keeps leaking. One of the reasons I think we struggled to worship, even though we’re not often conscious, I don’t think we’re conscious of this. If you say hey, you don’t have to fill God up or like that’s stupid. No. But scratch below the surface. We think God somehow needs our worship. We imagine that worship is not something we simply do but it’s something God must need. As if He feeds off our worship. Like food and drink, and without it, He will starve and die. If you think of the lazy river with its strong current, it’s like getting in and thinking that we need to make the current happen. And without getting distracted on this, I actually think Evangelical churches, where we often don’t have much of a liturgy or tradition, are particularly susceptible to this problem. That’s a longer conversation, if I’ve made you mad. It’s like it’s our job to keep things going. That’s not joyful, that’s exhausting.

Similar assumptions distort what appears to be this endless task of pumping God up to keep Him going. Now I don’t wanna get tangled up in technical details here but I do wanna introduce you, very briefly to an old Christian term about God. Speak about the Aseity of God. The Aseity, a “from”, se “self”. What it means is that God has self existence. God has self existence. That means for example, that God does not need to create in order to become full. But rather out of His fullness, He created. Now again, I don’t know your experience but you may think, you know theologians, seriously nuke ’em. We don’t need ’em. [giggles] Listen, all good theology, is pastoral. Let me just give you a taste of why this matters. Why it fits here.

Think about love. Did God need to create in order to become loving? You ever thought about, did God need to create in order to become loving? John tells us quite simply, God is love. Here is something amazing that takes us to the heart of the Christian faith and to the heart of worship. It’s a distinctly Christian notion. We believe the Triune God did not need to make something outside of Himself in order to be loving. He didn’t. God is and always has been full of love as the Father loves the Son in the Spirit. The Triune God lives in ceaseless communion and love within Himself. So God does not create us in order to become loving, but God creates us out of the overflow of His love. That may sound like a small difference. It makes all the difference in the world. Worship therefore, is not what we do in order to secure God’s love, but it is the fitting response as we encounter the overflow of the God who is love. And that’s actually wonderful news. It’s only when we start to recognize the wonder of the creator and redeemer, the one who loved us before we loved Him, that we’re liberated to worship. When we forget this and somehow think God depends on our worship, we subtly, very subtly fall into the trap of thinking the Creator is dependent on the creation, rather than the other way around. God doesn’t need our worship in order to be God. But, He perfectly delights in our worship because He is God. And in turn, that gives us delight, overflow, Trinitarian.

Second, as a general theological pattern, the church throughout the ages reminds us of the Trinitarian structure of our worship. Our worship is directed to the Father, through the Son, in and by the Spirit. It’s out of God’s fullness as creator, redeemer and sanctifier that we respond in worship. Let’s briefly consider this Trinitarian worship and how it affirms and grows out of our humanity rather than denies it. We’ll work backward, by the Spirit. In our world, as you know, it’s been alluded to by others as well. It’s actually fairly trendy these days to be spiritual. It’s gets cool to be spiritual right? But I dare say many of these calls to spirituality belittle our psychological and physical creaturely finitude. Such spirituality can sometimes tell us to go beyond our minds, to deaden our wills, to numb our affections, to try and escape our bodies. But the Christian conception, is one in which we never forget that the Spirit is the creator spiritus. The Spirit of creation. The Spirit is the one who hovered over the Tohu Vohu, over the darkness and void of Genesis one, delighting to bring order to the creation. This same Spirit, is the one who took the dust and made the human creature in God’s image and likeness, awakening us to God’s empowerment and care. Only by the Spirit, are we made capable of communion with the Holy One. By the Spirit, human creatures are distinctly enabled, now catch this, in and through our creatureliness, to worship God and to walk in His ways, through the Son. There is no greater affirmation of our humanity, than the fact that the Son of God became incarnate. Became fully a man. Just as the Spirit was active in the original creation, so the Spirit moves over, hovers over Mary. Making it possible for the Son of God to assume human nature, to take on full humanity. Becoming like us in all ways but sin. Another interesting conversation. Not for now. I think even though almost all Christians and Evangelicals who say, was Jesus fully human? Everyone says yes. Very rarely do we fully embrace the full humanity of Jesus. But it is in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus that were confronted with the wonder of God. In and through Jesus, our God has come near. He has understood our pain. Not just as God, but as man, as human. He has faced our sin and He has exhausted it on the cross. He gives us hope by His bodily resurrection. [a member of the audience coughs]

Following the Ascended Christ, our eyes now look to the heavens. Not as a way to escape this world but longing for the Son’s return. When the kingdom on earth will fully and finally establish lasting Shalom, in a renewed creation. But see Jesus isn’t just who we worship, He is also the lead worshiper. That’d be fun to talk about. The one filled with the Spirit beyond measure who perfectly delights in His Father and sings His praise. Our fellow Brother and High Priest invites us, not only to enter into the chorus of praise, but because we’re united to Him by the Spirit. We can be confident that all our worship, even in its weakness, even in our struggle with sin, it is nevertheless pleasing to the Father. To the Father. Made alive by the Spirit and secured through the Incarnate Son, we rest in the Father’s unfathomable love. Yet let us never forget that the movement of God to us, was from the Father, through the Son and by the Spirit. You see, God so loved, He sent His son. It’s very common in some of our circles to think the Father is full of wrath and anger, and the Son loves us. No. [giggles] Biblically, God so loved He sent the Son, the Father’s not filled with wrath but with love. And He is not upset with us being human creatures but His jealous love hates all that sin has done to us. Corrupting us in our good humanity and destroying the life-giving relationships that should exist among His creatures.

Again and again in the Scriptures, we, read it’s out of the Father’s love He sends the Son. It’s out of God’s love that the Spirit fills us with His love. Restoring us to communion with God and neighbor. We worship a God overflowing with every good thing and He wants us to jump in, to participate through worship. In the fullness of the delight of the Father, Son and Spirit. Finally holistic. Our worship should be holistic. When God created humanity, He made creatures fit to commune with Him and with the rest of creation. Most especially with other humans. Declared good. Good. Good. Human creatures were designed to receive His love and to respond to His Holy presence. Let’s not miss the obvious here. God is not embarrassed by our embodiment. By our finitude. By our earthiness. He made us this way and it’s been a persistent threat in the history of the church to believe that God despises our physicality. That spirituality and worship requires us to move outside or beyond the flesh and blood. Listen, when Paul says walk according to the Spirit and not of the flesh and John did a nice job of trying to show you a different way to read this, Paul is not talking about physicality versus non physicality. That’s a grave misreading. We can’t get into that here. But I do want to tell you, the God of creation is the same as the God of re-creation. And this truth should inform our understanding of worship.

He calls us into fellowship with Him. And He does so as the creator calling His creation to return to her first love. To become free from the corrupting powers of sin and Satan. But in this call, beloved listen. He is not asking you and I to cease to be creatures. When we worship God, we’re not called to deny our humanity, our finitude and our weakness. Instead we’re called to worship God in and through these realities. Sin has affected us holistically, in our minds, in our wills in our affections, in our bodies, in our relationships. So now God’s grace must work through all of our creaturely faculties. But see God doesn’t despise His fallen creation. He seeks to redeem it. Let us never forget, the God of creation is the same as the God of re-creation. God does not belittle our minds but promises to transform them. He does not deaden our affections but promises to wake them afresh to His compassion and love. He does not mock our wills but promises His grace to do good work in and through us. He does not bemoan our bodies but promises the resurrection from the dead. He does not demean our need for relationships but calls us sons and daughters, liberating us through adoption into His family. You see faithful worship, acknowledges that our God is already full. And out of His Triune fullness, He invites us to soak in the overflow of His love. Faithful worship should stimulate our minds, nourish our affections, liberate our wills, foster an awareness of God’s Kingdom as it is coming even now in and through our world. So beloved, I invite you to jump in the lazy river. To jump in with joy. You do not have to make the water. You do not have to create the current. You don’t even have to design your own raft. You don’t have to do the liturgy this week. You don’t have to create your own I mean. Sorry. [audience laughs] What we do need to do is to get in. Believe that our Triune God is overflowing with love and that we can enter in and He wants us to, even in our weakness and sin. For he knows, that only in Him will we find our rest in the waters of life. Amen.

Thanks for watching everyone. If you wanna watch other videos from the same session, check ’em out right here. And if you really wanna follow all the videos that are coming out of the Center for Christian Thought, make sure you subscribe to our channel.