Substituting today for Jim Bratt is Josh Banner. Josh is the Minister of Music and Art and a teaching professor in the ministry minor at Hope College.
I have watched snatches of the event as it’s been streaming on 268generation.com the past few days. Some old friends of mine led the worship music for one session. It has been fun to see their faces and hear a few of their new songs. Yet my feelings about the proceedings are complicated. The truth is I’ve been conflicted about the Passion worship movement since I attended an early event in Ft. Worth back in the ‘90s. These same friends of mine were leading worship for some 13,000 in attendance, a number that was shocking at the time.
It was my first experience worshipping with a worship leader’s face projected on several 50-foot screens hung from the ceiling around the room. Charlie, my friend who leads worship, wears a goatee that protrudes several inches off his face. When projected on the screen, his scruffy chin whiskers must have been 15 feet in height. It was a surreal experience to see the face of someone so familiar transformed into something so incredibly public.
More than a decade later, concerns about the cult-of-personality should be so glaringly evident. Apparently they aren’t. Video screens are everywhere—in the lobbies and worship spaces of larger churches today.
The cult-of-personality around worship leaders and celebrity preachers is only part of my concerns. Yet tearing apart an arena rock worship music extravaganza is easy. Add sensationalism, emotionalism and sentimentalism to the cult-of-personality and it is easy to check the Passion movement off your list of things to bother paying attention to.
I am prone to disparaging certain sections of evangelicalism. I am guilty of gross cynicism, of being dismissive and condescending. Yet the Passion movement continues to pique my interest if only because it has such a large reach. Whether some of us like it or not, the Passion movement and its counterparts like Hillsong of Australia and Jesus Culture of Redding, California—these movements are shaping the spiritual lives of hundreds of thousands of Christians around the world.
So I log onto the live stream of Passion 2013 conflicted. My charismatic self is drawn in. I imagine that if I were in attendance I could lose myself in the enormous, collective worship catharsis. I listen to Louie Giglio encourage the gathered to wait in God’s presence. I want that. I want to experience the tangible presence of the living God.
My reformed self is overwhelmed and distracted by the spectacle. Why are there so many people singing and dancing with hand-held microphones on such a large obstacle-course looking stage? Can these smiling faces and raised hands sincerely be that eager to worship? I don’t want that. I don’t want to force a smile and participate in a circus.
My charismatic self hears Louie Gigilio rehearse the story of Passion 268. How he’d learned about thousands of young South Korean Christians filling the Olympic stadium in Seoul. How he and his ministry began to pray that this kind revival might spread in America.
My reformed self wonders, if a large revival is happening, if millions of young people decide to follow Jesus, which churches will teach these young Christians how to go to school and work, wake up in the morning and keep track of the details of their lives with integrity and wisdom?
My charismatic self wants to witness God do something beyond anything I could ever ask or imagine.
My reformed self wants to rest in the witness of what God has already done in and through the church that is beyond anything I could have ever asked or imagined.
My charismatic self considers that with such a large number of voices, this might indeed be a glimpse of what heaven’s eternal worship will be like.
My reformed self hopes that there will be no video screens in heaven.