Whole-life worship–an unhelpful concept (1)

Introduced by a well-meaning young believer to some of David Crowder’s thoughts, I was recently reminded of how common the “whole-life worship” idea is.  It has been assumed and/or advanced by countless Christian songwriters and authors, and is pervasive—not only in pop Christian culture, but also in some more reputable, and perhaps dated, Christian writers.  A 1990 work of J.I. Packer, and his reference to Puritan interpretation, is referred to in this clearly well-intended, although overstated and often misstated, sermon transcript that I found in a quick search.

Another example:  Mike Root’s Spilt Grape Juice, a 1993 look at the assembly, is one I believed to have traveled the no-worship, all-horizontal path.  I never read it, but here, a reviewer differs with Root “on the subject of Godward, vertical praise being abrogated in the New Testament.”  The reviewer acknowledges that “Worship in all of life” is Root’s mantra and demurs, as I would.

It’s not as though whole-life worship is a bad idea, in essence, but two aspects cause me to take exception to its ramifications.  First, speaking from a pragmatic, realistic point of view, the notion of giving oneself wholly to God at every moment is, at best, captivating but unattainable.  I’m reminded of a most respected brother who, in a Christian musical enterprise in which we shared, was reluctant to arrange the Avalon song “Testify To Love” that used over-the-top expressions such as “with every breath I take I will testify to love.”  (Later, he politely gave in to filial pressure and did arrange it, but that’s beside the point.)  These kinds of thoughts call us higher; on the other hand, they can depress us even as they expound on lofty, unattainable ideals.

For every women’s conference that encourages sisters to look at all the dishes and consider that each one washed is an act of worship … for every Promise Keepers “totally sold out” and “go all out for God (and your wife and kids)” event … for every youth function that has featured speakers encouraging youth to do every single thing for the glory of God, we could find 99 believers who’ve been inspired and then have nearly expired trying to live up to all that.  Again, it’s a great idea, and one to which God seems to want us to aspire (but not to attain fully)—or else Rom. 12:1-2 and Col. 3:17 and 1 Cor. 10:31, etc., wouldn’t have been scribed.  Essentially the “everything for God’s glory” as a raison d’etre is a high, worthy calling, but it is ultimately frustrating for us sinners, and it does not quite touch the actual idea of worship.

While I believe that (vertical) worship must not be confined to the assembly but, rather, should surface regularly—i.e., on all days of the week in the heart and voice of the Christian—considering every deed to be Christian worship is neither logically warranted nor helpful.  This idea has the potential to leave many in its idealistic wake, and it also obscures the meaning of certain passages such as Romans 12:1.  For more, please check yesterday’s post and the one before that, and …

Please continue with me tomorrow.

7 thoughts on “Whole-life worship–an unhelpful concept (1)

  1. Marshall 05/25/2011 / 9:40 am

    I have visited some groups (sects) who eliminate the “vertical” (or, restrict this for a select few). Appreciate this note.

    Can you tell us how/why “the notion of giving oneself wholly to God at every moment is, at best, captivating but unattainable.”?

    Some may infer “unattainable” as a challenge against the Spirit’s virtue/presence in Jesus Christ; and further, to deny the work of God’s Grace & Spirit in us today.
    What do you say of “pray without ceasing”? Attainable?
    If no, is God asking His children to walk the unattainable?


    • Brian Casey 05/25/2011 / 9:54 am

      Probing, thoughtful questions, all. Thank you for looking in here.

      Do remember that I allowed for aspiration aspect. In other words, even though we will never “arrive” at complete sacrifice to God, it is still in some sense a valid aspiration. “Carrot” to hold out before us seems to imply frustration, so I’ll avoid that image here. 🙂

      In Wesleyan (not so much Methodist) circles, the notion of progressive sanctification would apply here: I suspect they would say, “Why, of course. The Spirit of God moves progressively in the life of the believer and moves him/her ever onward toward complete sacrifice.” Me–I say it just ain’t gonna happen, so I’d rather add a dose of human realism. While I would want to acknowledge a spiritual improvement over time, I guess I’m a “why didn’t you fill a smaller glass instead of worrying about whether it was half full or half empty?” kind of guy. I mean no irreverence toward God’s Spirit in my life or yours–surely, one can be more sacrificial today than he was last year if things are on the right path–but complete sacrifice, while we exist in a human sphere, seems impossible to me. Am I too bound by human experience? Pray for me to be “caught up into the third heaven,” and I would probably morph these thoughts, although I’d want to continue to be gracious toward those who’d only made it into the first or second heaven to date!

      As for “pray without ceasing,” yes, I’d say that’s even more unattainable than total whole-life sacrifice. It seems more specific, more precise — and therefore even more impossible than a vague notion of “sacrifice.” But implicit within my current feeling on unceasing prayer is the suspicion that if you asked Paul what he meant, he would respond with some sort of “Oh, wow–of course I didn’t literally mean that all anyone would ever do is pray.” My best guess at this point is that inspired hyperbole means something, but it doesn’t mean what it says /verbatim./ I haven’t studied the “pray without ceasing” passage, let alone the entire letter, enough to hazard a more thorough, more exegetical guess on that one. What do you think?

      Thank you for the careful, gracious wording of your challenge — “some may infer … as a challenge against the Spirit’s virtue …”


  2. Marshall 05/26/2011 / 3:35 pm

    Brian, I’m thinking less about sacrifice (or prayer) as a rationale idea or reasonable plan. Since Christ has come in the flesh, and further since I have met people along His path who demonstrate a fully-sacrificed life (though I do not idolize them), therefore I am compelled by faith & testimony. Additionally, having known people who remain in an attitude of prayer; in communion with God in Christ hour by hour.
    So then, what I previously thought to be unattainable, has come to be attainable.
    [Philippians 4:13]
    The fabric of the New Testament seems woven to undoing of what was impossible with men?


    • Brian Casey 05/26/2011 / 4:07 pm

      Marshall, I think I’m a chameleon. If someone tells me God can’t do something (which is not what I’m saying, although it might seem like it), I’ll respond with a faith statement. If someone tells me he’s “thinking” more spiritually than rationally, well, I’ll change colors and be rational.

      It must be very encouraging to have met people you’ve met. I don’t know why you wouldn’t idolize them! I haven’t met (m)any of them. I see holes and inconsistencies where you see grace living in humans. I must confess that I don’t understand the grammar or syntax of your last sentence, but the overall import seems clear, and yes, the faith side of me must agree with the principle: God /can /do what is “impossible.” I just don’t see Him doing it very often.


  3. Jacquin,ju-wayne 06/07/2013 / 5:49 pm

    I just want. To know how can I get involve or join the crew cause I am so desperate I go. To churh but I want more of his glory


  4. Reality Check 10/10/2019 / 12:03 pm

    “I never read the book but I disagree with it anyway.” Amazing.


    • Brian Casey 10/10/2019 / 12:48 pm

      What’s amazing? Not following you. If you’re unhappy with my having commented on the review and the concept instead of the book, I would suggest that it’s not uncommon to comment on a review. I take issue with the general idea of whole-life worship (which could be thought of as more of a semantic issue than a conceptual one, but I’m not always so sure), and I had had enough conversations that mentioned that book that I felt it was fair to presume a generality about it.

      Now, 8 years later, with the benefit of more scholarship and writing experience, I would say it differently, if that makes any difference. 🙂


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