Ed Stetzer: Doxology and Theology

Ed StetzerTo say worship is a subject of great interest in the church would be an understatement. Worship is an integral part of our lives as Christians. That’s why I’m thankful for worship leaders like Matt Boswell.

Matt serves as pastor of ministries and worship at Providence Church in Frisco, Texas. He leads Doxology & Theology, a community of worship leaders commited to promoting “gospel-centered worship by connecting and equipping worship leaders.”

Matt has also written a book by the same name, and I’m glad to have him here to answer some questions about the book and the intersection of worship and theology:

Ed Stetzer: Why do you believe one of the greatest needs of the church is theologically driven worship leaders?

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Matt Boswell: One of the greatest needs of the church is men who lead congregational worship with a guitar in one hand, a Bible in the other, and know how to use both weapons well. The majority of churches devote half of their service to the leadership of a musician. The musicians who lead churches this way are shaping local congregations theologically, philosophically, and impacting churches for better or worse. Congregational worship is a forming practice. If our worship is to be gospel-centered and God-glorifying and church-edifying, those who lead congregational worship need to serve from a robust theological foundation. In this light, it is important that worship leaders be qualified biblically to lead congregations from a place of understanding.

ES: In your new book Doxology & Theology, you put great emphasis on worship leadership and theological aptitude. What are the ramifications for the church if worship leaders don’t bring both to the congregation?

MB: Worship leading is a theological practice. God cares deeply about how His people worship Him, and so it stands to reason that He also cares about who leads His people in worship. What we find from a cursory view of Acts 20:17-38 is that overseers (episkopous, v. 28) or elders (presbuteros, v. 17) are mandated with the sacred task of shepherding the people of God. These terms of leadership are interchangeable throughout the New Testament, and [they] are given the unique role of teaching the church (1 Tim. 4:11-16). It is through this lens of leading and teaching that the modern practice of the worship leader must be seen. From choosing the songs of a local congregation to leading in public prayer and praise, the worship leader is a perfunctory shepherd and teacher. To underestimate the shape and influence that we have entrusted to the role of worship leader would be a mistake.

ES: Are you seeing a renewed hunger for worship leaders to deepen their understanding of biblical worship? To what do you attribute that hunger?

MB: There is a resurgence of worship leaders who are eager to grow theologically. Last fall we had nearly 500 worship leaders for a conference in Texas called Doxology & Theology. There were Baptists and Presbyterians, Lutherans and Methodists all gathered together to explore how Scripture shapes our worship. In the book, I propose that Christian worship is built upon, shaped by and saturated with Scripture. In the coming years, we will continue to see a generation of worship leaders hungry to grow theologically. The reason is that we understand the landscape of biblical worship is far more vast than singing songs.

ES: Why must there be a marriage between theology and doxology?

MB: Theology without doxology leads to legalism. The study of God is meant to fill our hearts and minds. Doxology void of theology leads to existentialism. Theology is meant to produce worship. Doxology without theology leads to sensationalism. With the humanistic, neo-orthodox and liberal renaissance in view, evangelicals realize that we cannot serve as the foundational litmus test of truth, but that truth exists perfectly in the character of God and is revealed to us through his perfect Word. We are a profoundly doxological and theological people.

ES: How can we distinguish between and guard ourselves against a man-centered view of worship rather than a God-centered view?

MB: This is one of the most important conversations of our day. Many worship gatherings focus primarily on the implications of Scripture and on the morality of man rather than lift the gaze of people to beholding the glory of God. We focus our gaze upon the performance and morality of man rather than raise our eyes to the glory of God. By beginning with looking to God, it is only then that we are able to rightly (biblically) address the nature and needs of man. God-centered worship is the framework for healthy churches.

ES: Why do you believe that Psalm 96 shapes doxology, theology, the worship leader and the mission of the church?

MB: Psalm 96 is a microcosm of some crucial perspectives that Scripture gives us pertaining the contours of worship. First, we see in it that theology informs doxology. Our praise of God is built upon His revelation to man. Second, theology shapes doxology. Themes of redemption, atonement, substitution lie at the center of our worship. Third, theology propels doxology. Fourth, our right understanding of God results in the worship of His people both gathered and scattered. In this reality, we understand that the nations of the world are listening to the worship of the church and being invited to join in the song. Throughout the Scripture we see a rhythm of revelation and response, of theology and doxology.

ES: Explain how God-centered worship is a proclamation and why we must worship with an eschatological eye.

MB: God-centered worship is also proclamative. We haven’t been called to keep the mysteries of the gospel to ourselves. We have been summoned to “say among the nations, the Lord reigns.” We should never boldly proclaim into a microphone that which we wouldn’t have the courage to share with our neighbor. What we truly believe about the gospel is evidenced by how concerned or unconcerned we are for those apart from its grip.

Worshipping with an eschatological eye means that as the people of God, we worship in light of eternity. Our unwavering confidence is fixed on the day when Christ will return, God will dwell among His people and we will worship Him forever. When we gather together as the body of Christ, we are rehearsing for the worship of eternity (as well as participating in it even right now, as “citizens of heaven” [Phil. 3:20] who are seated with Christ in the heavenlies [Eph. 2:6]).

ES: You urge worship leaders to see their role in the context of the entire body of Christ. Is there danger in worship leaders defining themselves beyond that?

MB: My concern is that far too many worship leaders define themselves only by their function. We must also remember that “worship leader” is a man-given title. The title “worship leader” is not an identity; it is a temporary assignment. The role should not be overemphasized or underemphasized but seen in the context of one small piece of the body of Christ. Our position before God is secured in what Christ has done for us, not in the ministry we do for Him. The more we allow the truths of the gospel to form our identity, the more apt we will be to serve without fear or the tendency to perform.

Ed Stetzer is the president of LifeWay Research. This post originally appeared at ChristianityToday.com/EdStetzer.

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