Turning worship into a clown show

Published August 9, 2023

WORLD Opinions

The recent parting of ways between the Southern Baptist Convention and Saddleback Church focused on the status of women with regard to pastoral leadership and ministry, but a recent video clip of the Southern California church’s senior pastors, Andy and Stacie Wood, suggests that the problem is much deeper than the presenting issue. Leading worship while dressed as characters from the Toy Story franchise suggests theological problems that go way beyond debates about the nature of Paul’s teaching on eldership.

At the heart of the Saddleback project is the idea of seeker sensitivity, of making the church a relaxed and comfortable place for outsiders. The underlying motivation is no doubt a good one. We do not want churches to be unfriendly and unpleasant places. If God is a hospitable God, one who loves the widow, the orphan, and the sojourner, then the people who bear His name today, as in the days of the desert wanderings, should be so too. And yet there are a number of very real dangers here, of which the short video clip is emblematic.

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Carl R. Trueman taught on the faculties of the Universities of Nottingham and Aberdeen before moving to the United States in 2001 to teach at Westminster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. In 2017-18 he was the William E. Simon Visiting Fellow in Religion and Public Life in the James Madison Program at Princeton University.  Since 2018, he has served as a professor at Grove City College. He is also a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a contributing editor at First Things. Trueman’s latest book is the bestselling The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. He is married with two adult children and is ordained in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

Carl R. Trueman is a fellow in EPPC’s Evangelicals in Civic Life Program, where his work focuses on helping civic leaders and policy makers better understand the deep roots of our current cultural malaise. In addition to his scholarship on the intellectual foundations of expressive individualism and the sexual revolution, Trueman is also interested in the origins, rise, and current use of critical theory by progressives. He serves as a professor at Grove City College.

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