Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Rick Warren Meets Gregory Dix: The Liturgical Movement Comes Knocking at the Megachurch Door

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Rick Warren Meets Gregory Dix: The Liturgical Movement Comes Knocking at the Megachurch Door

Article excerpt

The movement commonly called "the emerging church" arose out of the evangelical megachurches, where members-especially younger members-increasingly sought an affective, symbolic, and non-dogmatic style of worship. The emerging church arises out of postmodernism's suspicion of truth claims and its trust in experience. This has led to a liturgical style that embraces experience but, as some within the movement acknowledge, lacks theological grounding. As they have turned to the early church for models of authentic common prayer, emergent Christians are building a liturgical style that is often described as "ancient-modern." Episcopalians, like emergent Christians, value enacted over confessional theology yet claim a theological tradition that situates the liturgy within what Phyllis Pickle calls "a grand framing story." An "ecumenical" conversation with emergence holds great promise, will happen primarily at the parochial level, and will require Episcopalians, especially clergy, to be not only rooted in the great sweep of the Christian Tradition but also open to the insights of postmodernism.

America's Critique of Liturgical Renewal

By the mid-1980s, liturgists had begun to question and even to doubt the ability of modern Americans to celebrate the liturgy. For more than a century, an international, interdenominational coalition had clung to a hope not just that the liturgv would be reinvigorated. but that a reinvigorated liturgy would inevitably reinvigorate the church. It seemed by the 1980s that both assumptions had been naive. In every denomination, some members, if not many, were resisting the new liturgical forms, and liturgists were not entirely unsympathetic.

The twentieth-century liturgists were the children of nineteenth-century Liturgical Movement pioneers. They envisioned a future that reappropriated the best of the past, especially of a time well before Anglicans, Roman Catholics, and Protestants made liturgy a field of battle, and even before it had been clericalized and complicated during the Middle Ages. They looked mostly to the patristic era, where they found a liturgy that was a crucial force in forming a vigorous young church.

The work of the Anglican Dom Gregory Dix, especially his The Shape of the Liturgy, and the scholarship of others of his time shaped generations of liturgists who in turn shaped the new rites.1 Because of these scholars and pastors, the general contours of the early liturgies, especially the third- and fourth-century liturgies, are unmistakable in all of the rites that were crafted and promulgated in the mid- and late twentieth century. The 1979 Book of Common Prayer is no exception. By the mid-1980s, however, the hope that a renewed liturgv would renew the church had turned for many to skepticism and even fear that the new rites were weakening the churches and driving worshipers away.

The Liturgists' Critique of American Culture

Perhaps in self-defense, liturgists sought explanations for the failure of the new liturgies beyond the liturgies themselves. Robert BeIlah's wildly popular Habits of the Heart came at the right time for liturgists. It exposed the pervasive individualism of modern American culture and its destructive impact on every aspect of public life. In the chapter on religion, Bellah used a woman named Sheila Larson as the exemplar of what American culture had done to religion. "Sheila Larson is a young nurse who has received a good deal of therapy and who describes her faith as 'Sheilaism.' 'I believe in God. I'm not a religious fanatic. I can't remember the last time I went to church. My faith has carried me a long way. It's Sheilaism. Just my own little voice."2

Sheilaism, Bellah and his colleagues argued, was a symptom of the slow collapse of the hierarchical structure of American society, the de facto disestablishment of religion (so that one's religion was no longer a consequence of anything but one's choice), and the frequent use of religious language without reference to any religious institution. …

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