Quentin Schultze. Baker, 2004. 103 pages. $10.99.
In the past five or so years thousands of churches of nearly every liturgical tradition and style, size, denomination, and setting have begun using electronic media in worship. The rapid rise of presentational technologies has made a big impression and created some confusion as well. Electronic media has our attention, but have we stopped to ask whether such media is appropriate for worship? What are the limits? What are the criteria for theologically responsible use?
Calvin College communications professor Quentin Schultze raises these important questions in his latest book, High-Tech Worship? In the first two chapters, Schultze wonders on the one hand if we really understand what presentational technologies do and how they work, and on the other whether we really understand what is happening in worship. Pastors and church leaders are generally confused about both; we need to sort this out before we can wisely adapt electronic media for worship.
Chapter 3 suggests four levels of response to innovation: reject, adopt, adapt, and create. Rejecting presentational technologies out of hand or adopting them wholesale are uncritical responses, while adapting them thoughtfully or (best of all) creating them “in-house” are preferable. Chapters 4-7 offer practical suggestions on what to avoid in using presentational technologies, fitting technology into worship, and developing ministry teams. The book concludes with six suggestions for those planning to use presentational technologies: learn about liturgy, borrow from low tech as well, move slowly, consider the quality of the fellowship, adapt old to new and new to old, seek sincere and beautiful worship.
High-Tech Worship? is brief and to the point, clearly organized, and thoroughly researched. If the book has a general tone of caution, it is not hesitation with presentational technologies as such, but how we use them. Schultze is a firm but fair and friendly critic who is able to apply the swift kick pastors and church leaders need to avoid the easy way of imitation and take the tougher but more responsible and God-honoring way of working these things out reflectively and prayerfully.
At the end of the book, Schultze hints at a crucial issue: the need for aesthetic responsibility that matches our concern for biblical and theological integrity. “Our presentations can be fragrant offerings to God. Beautiful worship is meant for all believers. . . . Presentational technologies offer new ways of ‘capturing simple elegance’ and ‘dignifying the ordinary.’” Much of what worries Schultze about the bad use of electronic media is its reflection of poor aesthetic judgment and lack of creativity rather than a breakdown of theological integrity. I take his cautions as encouragement to study and learn from good art, rather than present imitations of the commercial, pop look of stuff that just happened to be first to market.
The good news is that regular people in average-sized churches can and do make good digital liturgical art that reflects both artistic and theological intelligence. High-Tech Worship? will go a long way to helping churches offer more such fragrant offerings in worship.