Encountering the Divine: Worship and Music

Kraig Scott, Distinguished Faculty Lecture, 2002


I am honored and happy to stand before you. And I hope that tonight, as we address a very important topic, that our time together could serve as a springboard for further discussion. But then I think of the many formal talks we have all heard. How many graduation addresses or wedding sermons do you remember? On the other hand, I can recall one such address I heard as a high-school student, and it was by someone sitting in this room. I do not remember if it was the Baccalaureate service on Saturday or the graduation address on Sunday, but I remember Alden Thompson spoke in June of 1979, and I still remember some of what he said. He talked about pendulums and the tendency in human affairs for a situation of one extreme to give way to a situation of the opposite extreme. We often use a similar model in music history where periods of classicism alternate with periods of romanticism. His idea has stayed with me since my high school days, and informs some of my thoughts tonight. 

The invitation to deliver this lecture came with a suggested subject: Music and Worship. Now I have given this subject much thought and great energy over a period of many years. It would be safe to say that I have well-developed ideas concerning music and worship. But hitherto I have always successfully evaded all invitations to publicly share my opinions. Now, tonight, after considerable deliberation, I have decided that I am still unable to do it. So I have decided that this evening I will not talk about music and worship.

Instead I will talk about worship and music.

I cannot approach the topic any other way, for I believe that the order means everything. Just as I hope for my doctor to combat illness rather than treat symptoms, tonight I would rather discuss causes than effects. I believe we must begin with the principles of worship, not the standards of music. 

For most of the past sixteen years I have spoken to this community at least twice each week through the medium of music in the setting of worship. My comments tonight grow out of this accumulated experience. Nevertheless, my comments do not refer specifically to the College Church, or to what transpires on the campus of Walla Walla College. I address larger concerns tonight, concerns for the church generally, and how we as a church worship. The issues are much larger than any one congregation, much larger than any issues in sacred music and, indeed, much larger than the Adventist denomination.

In tackling this topic we will do three things tonight: 1) Define the issues surrounding worship, noting especially how our view of God impacts worship, 2) Examine the fate of worship in the context of our present culture, and 3) Propose some concrete suggestions to enhance our worship.

I Part one, in which we Define Issues Surrounding Worship.

I recall serving on a committee many years ago at an Adventist church. We had a mandate to investigate the congregation’s worship service and, if we deemed it necessary, refashion it as we would. We began with long discussions on the nature of worship, asking what it is. I recall my discomfort with much of what I heard, but I was young and reticent to speak up. More importantly, although I didn’t agree with much of what I heard, I was unsure just why. I wish I had known then what I know now. What is worship? We might do well to begin with a dictionary definition. The first definition in The Random House Unabridged Dictionary reads:

--n. 1. reverent honor and homage paid to God or a sacred personage, or to any object regarded as sacred.

Relationship forms the key to this definition, and also to the subsequent definitions listed. Worship refers to the relationship between a human being and the object of worship, whether that object is God, a British magistrate (as in Your Worship), or an activity such as business success (as in excessive worship of business success). In none of the definitions does worship refer to the relationship of one worshiper to another worshiper. No, worship is about the object or being that we worship. For the Christian, worship is about God. Defined this way, we see that worship is an engagement with the sacred, an encounter with the Divine.

I sensed discomfort in those long ago committee meetings because the very first discussion began with a focus on the people doing the worship rather than on the God we want to worship. When the focus of worship turns to humans, any human, we set ourselves up to run into trouble. The experience of that committee years ago sent me on a quest to learn more. For the next two years I spent my morning devotions learning about biblical examples of worship and researching how the Bible uses the word. I looked for recorded instances of humanity encountering Divinity, paying special attention to the resulting behaviors and words. That Bible study informs my convictions about worship and therefore provides a background for what I share tonight. But although our topic is spiritual and we will look at several passages from the Bible, we have not gathered tonight for a Bible study. So back to my first point: worship is about God. 

I am not suggesting that we disregard all human aspects of worship—that would constitute an extreme pendulum swing. I am only suggesting that first, last, and always, God must form the center of our focus; that in thinking about how to shape a worship service we must first ask questions about God, not questions about ourselves or our friends or any other human. We must begin by asking questions such as “Who is God?” “What is God like?” and “What does God require?” We will go astray if we begin with questions such as “Who are we?” “From what cultures or circumstances do we come?” and “What do we want?” 

I believe that the first great scholar of the Adventist church, J. N. Andrews, had it correct when he wrote that the “true ground of divine worship, not of that on the seventh day merely, but of all worship, is found in the distinction between the Creator and His creatures. This great fact can never become obsolete, and must never be forgotten.”[1]

Yet just here we come face to face with one of the glorious dichotomies of God. Though He is the mighty creator and we are His lowly creatures, He loves us and calls us to an intimate association. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins . . . We love him because he first loved us” (I John 4:10, 19 RSV). God loves us, and calls us to love Him in return. We respond to His great love by worshiping Him. His love to us is a gift – our very ability to worship is a gift from Him. And what do we do when we worship God? We offer gifts back to Him.[2] Thus we see that God is both the Subject and the Object of our Worship. We cannot worship, we cannot love until He first loves us. But once He has made our love possible, we in our worship pour back to Him all of the adoration that He Himself made. God is the prime mover, the instigator, and the originator of our worship and of our very ability to worship. But simultaneously He is also the One whom we worship. As Subject He is the source making worship possible. As Object He is the being to whom we bow. David recognized this in the fifty-first psalm when he cried, “O Lord, open Thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth Thy praise” (Psalm 51:15 RSV). When we understand this truth[3] about worship – that God serves as both the subject and the object of worship – we see why there is no room left to focus on humans. God must forever be our focus.

If God is to be both subject and object of our worship, we should first spend some energy discovering what we can know of this God. Of course, we can only begin to scratch the surface of knowing God, for through all of eternity there will remain more to learn. Yet God has revealed Himself to us in the Bible, so we may confidently begin with this book. I love the various pictures of God we find there. For instance, in Zechariah 9:9 we read “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.” A New Testament commentator adds the word “meek.“ So this picture of God is one of lowliness and meekness. On the other hand we read in Hebrews 12:29 that “our God is a consuming fire.” 

From this Old Testament depiction of God as meek and lowly and this New Testament depiction of Him as a consuming fire we can already see that, whatever our understanding of God, a simple, flat depiction of His character will miss the mark. Throughout the ages humanity has erred when subscribing to a flat, extreme depiction of God emphasizing either the consuming fire on the one hand or, on the other hand, portraying his love as too indulgent to ever act against a sinner. No, God reveals His character to us as complex and multi-faceted—a combination of seemingly contradictory traits. If we ride the pendulum to either extreme we will harbor an erroneous view of God, just as we will if we ignore either direction of the pendulum. We must rather hold to a continuum capable of bringing together and holding in tension the various Biblical pictures of God.

What, then, do our worship services say about the One we worship? “Is God shown chiefly in judgment or in grace, in power or in mercy? Does our God come to us primarily in law or gospel, in rules or compassion?”[4] Do our services accurately depict Christ’s humility and servanthood in such a way that worshipers will respond with both an answering love and a willing offering of themselves to such a servant Master? Do our services accurately portray Christ’s majesty and Kingship in such a manner that at the mere mention of His name “every knee [will] bow . . . and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord”? (Philippians 2:10-11, RSV) If our worship omits any of these Godly attributes we have diminished and blasphemed Him.

I agree with Marva Dawn that most weaknesses of worship “arise when we forget the constant dialectics of God’s character. Holiness without love incites terror; love without holiness invites libertinism. Worship that focuses on God’s transcendence without God’s immanence becomes austere and inaccessible; worship that stresses God’s immanence without God’s transcendence leads to irreverent coziness.”[5] Martin Luther understood this dialectic well, as demonstrated in his explanations of the Ten Commandments that begin with the words “We ought to fear, love, and trust Him . . .”[6] As a youngster I remember often hearing a religious radio broadcast to which my mother frequently listened. The speaker of this program, entitled “Haven of Rest,” always began his prayers with an address I have come to adopt: “Eternal God, our kind and loving Heavenly Father.” He explained his desire to properly address the Creator and Ruler of the universe, while simultaneously invoking the tender relationship God desires to have with each of us. For the same reason I love the following Moravian prayer.

All-knowing God, we are in awe of your creative capacities, from the mysteries and complexities of the genome to those of the galaxies, from cells to stars! Yet more amazing is that you want to know us each personally and intimately, and that you have provided the means to know you! You love us and value us. Help us to love and value one another as children of God. Amen.[7]

So at the start I am arguing that we make God the focus of our worship, and I am arguing that our worship must portray God as completely as possible. A swinging pendulum motion cannot produce a healthy spiritual life for it alternates from one extreme to the other rather than locating a point of balance, a point of dialectical tension capable of simultaneously dealing with opposing views or facts. I believe that the Adventist church has already seen several such swings. Tonight I emphasize the need to honor God’s transcendence because I believe that in the church right now we have swung far to the other end of the pendulum. We live in a time when our society and also our church has forgotten, or chosen to neglect, the transcendent aspects of God’s character. In our feel-good society we don’t like to talk of judgment, consequences, or the ‘Otherness’ of God. Neither do we like to acknowledge the human condition of sinfulness, nothingness, and insignificance. But human beings need worship that portrays a God both immanent and transcendent, just as we need worship that reveals ourselves as unlovely, yet supremely loved by the God of Gods.

In his classic study The Idea of the Holy, Rudolf Otto explicates the term mysterium tremendum. ‘Mysterium’ he uses with reference to God. With this word Otto intends to depict God as “wholly other” from humanity, a being so far beyond us that we cannot comprehend even the distance that separates us. He writes,

the truly ‘mysterious’ object is beyond our apprehension and comprehension, not only because our knowledge has certain irremovable limits, but because in it we come upon something inherently ‘wholly other,’ whose kind and character are incommensurable with our own, and before which we therefore recoil in a wonder that strikes us chill and numb.[8]

On the second member of the term, ‘tremendum,’ Otto notes that while ‘tremor’ is simply the element of fear, ‘tremendum’ implies a “specific kind of emotional response, wholly distinct from that of being afraid, though it so far resembles it that the analogy of fear may be used to throw light upon its nature.”[9] Otto contends that this element of awe, somewhat akin to fear, stems from a troublesome word or phrase, found in both testaments, which can be translated “Wrath of Yahweh.” Otto acknowledges that some people find disturbing this idea of God’s wrath, but points out that the term appears in both the Old and New testaments. “‘Wrath,’” he writes,

is the ‘ideogram’ of a unique emotional moment in religious experience, a moment whose singularly daunting and awe-inspiring character must be gravely disturbing to those persons who will recognize nothing in the divine nature but goodness, gentleness, love, and a sort of confidential intimacy, in a word, only those aspects of God which turn towards the world of men.[10]

Otto explains that a true consciousness of God inspires us to a sense of awe and fear and a realization of God’s ‘absolute unapproachability’. But God also possesses all might, all power, and all majesty. When we grasp this truth about God we are likely to be overcome with a sense of His ‘absolute overpoweringness,’ a realization that brings with it a “feeling of one’s own submergence, of being but ‘dust and ashes’ and nothingness.”[11]

Otto stands on solid biblical ground. 

My flesh trembleth for fear of Thee, and I am afraid of Thy judgments. Psalm 119:120, RSV

Or consider the Psalm attributed to Moses, the man of God:

For we are consumed by thy anger; by thy wrath we are overwhelmed. Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance. For all our days pass away under thy wrath, our years come to an end like a sigh. The years of our life are threescore and ten, or even by reason of strength fourscore; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. Who considers the power of thy anger, and thy wrath according to the fear of thee? So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:7-12, RSV

God Himself directed Moses to

Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live upon the earth, and that they may teach their children so. Deuteronomy 4:10, RSV

Nor is such language limited to the Old Testament. Thirteen of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament contain language admonishing us to fear God. Here are some examples of verses containing either the Greek phobos (fob’-os, Strong #5401) or phobeo (fob-eh’-o, Strong #5399). These words convey a range of meanings including pure fear (alarm or fright), deep reverence, awe, humility and submission. 

From Luke 1: He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation. (Luke 1:49-50, RSV)

From 2 Corinthians 7: Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect in the fear of God. (2 Corinthians 7:1, RSV)

From Ephesians 6: Slaves, be obedient to those who are your earthly masters, with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as to Christ. (Ephesians 6:5, RSV)

From Philippians 2: Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13, RSV)

Hebrews provides one final example deriving from a different Greek root, eulabeia (yoo-lab’-i-ah Strong #2124). This interesting word properly means ‘caution,’ that is to say ‘religious reverence’ or ‘piety’ and, by implication, ‘dread.’ Whereas the King James Version translates it “fear,” the Revised Standard Version renders it “awe.”

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe [or “with reverence and godly fear”]; for our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:28-29, RSV) 

Perhaps someone is remembering 2 Timothy 1:7 which, in the King James Version reads, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” In fact, this use of the word ‘fear’ derives from a different Greek root altogether, one that appears only this single time. That Greek word, deilia (di-lee’-ah, Strong #1167), means timidity and the Revised Standard Version translates it this way. The word possesses neither any reference to ‘fear and trembling’ nor to ‘religious reverence and piety.’ So 2 Timothy 1:7 inveighs against timidity and cowardice in preaching the gospel; it does not even address our obligation to fear and reverence God. 

Throughout both testaments, then, we are instructed to fear God. Rudolf Otto was on to something. But we must studiously avoid riding the pendulum to an extreme. While Rudolf Otto demonstrates that ‘tremendum’ certainly may contain some aspects akin to fear, I do not suggest that it implies a craven cringing before God. Recall that many of the Revised Standard readings render this concept ‘awe’ or ‘reverence.’ Perhaps ‘meek’ or ‘meekness’ would prove an equally good translation. Charles Hembree defines meekness this way:

. . . meekness is not weakness, but strength. . .

. . . The figures we commonly associate with humility—Jesus, Lincoln, Gandhi, Einstein—were not men of timid natures, but men who, while recognizing their weakness, also remembered their destinies and acted accordingly. . .

What is often misunderstood concerning meekness is that to which this quality relates. Meekness is our attitude toward God, not man. It is vertical, not horizontal. This is why really meek men like those mentioned had such great and free spirits. If meekness related to man, then we would bend at a stronger person’s will.

Meekness is understanding perfectly our worth before God and knowing His forgiveness.[12]

In educational circles the past several decades have been replete with strategies for nurturing self-confidence and self-esteem in young students. Now I am not arguing against having a healthy self-concept. But a proper understanding of mysterium tremendum leaves no room for the aggrandizement of ‘me.’ No, when we properly understand mysterium tremendum a healthy self-concept will look like meekness and humility. A healthy self-concept will include contriteness of soul, confession, and sorrow for sin. The great hymn writer Issac Watts understood this, and understood, too, the mysterious dynamic that occurs when we fasten our eyes on Christ. As, day by day, we become more Christ-like by keeping our focus upon Him, we will in our own eyes become ever more sinful in comparison to the increasing luster of His holiness. I believe Issac Watts had this in mind when he wrote the hymn “At the Cross.”[13]

Alas! And did my Saviour bleed? /And did my Sovereign die?

Would He devote that sacred head / For such a worm as I?

Was it for crimes that I have done, / He groaned upon the tree?

Amazing pity! Grace unknown! / And love beyond degree!

But drops of grief can ne’er repay / The debt of love I owe;

Here, Lord, I give myself away; / ‘Tis all that I can do.

These are the words from the old Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal of 1941. The same hymn appears in our current hymnal with a slightly altered text. Listen again to the first stanza, this time from our current hymnal of 1985.[14]

Alas, and did my Savior bleed? / And did my Sovereign die?

Would He devote that sacred head / For someone such as I?

The author of this poem died in 1748. But sometime between 1941 and 1985 his choice of the word “worm” gave way to the benign “someone.” “Would He devote that sacred head / For someone such as I?” or “For such a worm as I?” Again, “worm” as a human descriptor is biblical, see for instance Psalm 22:6 and Isaiah 41:14.

So, I have made a brief argument to keep God as the subject and object of worship, I have made a call for services that portray God as accurately and completely as possible, and I have tried to point out our current particular needs: first, to remember God’s transcendence and omnipotence and second, to acknowledge the natural human reaction to such majesty—a response of meekness, humility, reverence, a sense of awe tinged with fear, mysterium tremendum. 

I find it significant that our increasingly non-Christian culture encourages the opposite attitudes and behaviors. Could it be that our culture has unduly influenced our worship practices? Let us consider this possibility together.

II Part Two, in which we

Examine the Fate of Worship in the Context of our Culture

We begin with a description from one of my wife’s favorite authors, Mary Catherine Bateson, an anthropologist at George Mason University. In the following quote she recalls some events from 1968, the time when liturgical renewal was just beginning in the Catholic Church, the denomination in which twentieth-century worship renewal began. Her description could fit virtually any catholic setting around the world in the late sixties, but at the time she happened to be living in the Philippines. She writes,

I learned about boredom in the college chapel of the Ateneo de Manila…. With the beginning of summer, one of the younger Filipino Jesuits took over the service. He created a stir [by introducing many changes]… He got students to bring guitars, and soon the chapel was crowded at noontime, full of enthusiastic folk-singing students, gathered in a circle around the altar. Almost every day he introduced some novelty, interspersing comments or slight alterations in [the] wording [of the traditional liturgy]. Then one day in the crowded chapel, with sun streaming through the side windows, I noticed absentmindedly that nothing particularly different was happening: the same old phrases, the same old simple chords. Suddenly slack and indifferent, I thought, But this is dull, why on earth go through this same boring thing day after day… 

Boredom is so familiar that we rarely recognize that we are trained in it, addicted to a consumerism of the spirit, jaded to need ever more vivid diversions. Activities we once did not expect to find full of novelty and stimulation get recast as entertainment—and then become burdensome when entertainment flags.[15] 

Bateson’s primary point here is not religious services, and she certainly is not talking about guitars. Rather, she argues that our culture’s love of novelty trains us in boredom, addicts us to consumerism and the need for ever more vivid diversions. 

So how might our culture jade us? In the following discussion of popular culture I invoke television primarily as a proxy for culture at large. Given television’s pervasive influence, I think it is a fair equation. So, too, does Neil Postman who has written prolifically on this topic. A critic, communications theorist, and Chairman of the Department of Communication Arts at New York University, Postman has produced a series of books on the subject over a forty-year period. Declaring that, “Television is our culture’s principal mode of knowing about itself,” Postman concludes,

. . . how television stages the world becomes the model for how the world is properly to be staged. It is not merely that on the television screen entertainment is the metaphor for all discourse. It is that off the screen the same metaphor prevails.[16]

Many thought leaders join Neil Postman in voicing particular concern about how the entertainment industry in general, and television in particular, increasingly wields a dubious influence over our lives. Daniel Schorr, the noted journalist and senior news analyst for National Public Radio, serves as one example. Just about a month ago, on 5 October 2002, Daniel Schorr was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Using that occasion to comment on the present state of journalism, he said the following:

. . . having experienced journalism in its print, radio and television incarnations, I have come to mourn the way my beloved profession has become progressively oriented to entertainment, scandal and profit. I have become aware of increasing public hostility to an institution supposed to monitor the establishment but now itself a vast establishment. The public finds the media insensitive and exploitative and is no longer willing to forgive us our press passes.

Sometimes it seems to me that our whole profession is crowded into a small corner of a vast entertainment stage, obliged to borrow the tools and the values of entertainment and live by its standards.[17]

Neal Gabler asserts a far broader case in his 1998 book Life the Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality. Not just journalism, he insists, but almost all aspects of our culture have succumbed to an entertainment model. Consequently success is also judged by conformity to entertainment standards. While his book takes the stance of a report as opposed to a jeremiad, Gabler does assert that, “Many have deplored the effects of entertainment and celebrity on America, and there is certainly much to deplore.” He also describes our “entertainment-driven, celebrity-oriented society” as one “in which those things that do not conform—for example, serious literature, serious political debate, serious ideas, serious anything—are more likely to be compromised or marginalized than ever before.”[18] 

Already in 1985 Neil Postman wrote that

. . . our culture has moved toward a new way of conducting its business, especially its important business. The nature of its discourse is changing as the demarcation line between what is show business and what is not becomes harder to see with each passing day. Our priests and presidents, our surgeons and lawyers, our educators and newscasters need worry less about satisfying the demands of their discipline than the demands of good showmanship.[19]

We need only reflect on a few recent events to understand what these critics are driving at: O. J. Simpson; Monica Lewinsky and friends; live television coverage of U.S. troops landing on foreign shores in the very act of war. The screen tends to reduce the differences between soap operas and legal trials, sitcoms and private political lives, mini-dramas and the news. Postman points out that whereas “typography once dictated the style of conducting politics, religion, business, education, law and other important social matters, television now takes command.”[20]

Indeed for the past five hundred years typography, literature, the written word, has served as the most important mode of communication in the Western world. In the realm of legal affairs the written word has held precedence even longer. Postman explores this idea as it relates to education.

. . . that reading books and watching television differ entirely in what they imply about learning . . . is the primary educational issue in America today. America is, in fact, the leading case in point of what may be thought of as the third great crisis in Western education. The first occurred in the fifth century B.C., when Athens underwent a change from an oral culture to an alphabet-writing culture . . . The second occurred in the sixteenth century, when Europe underwent a radical transformation as a result of the printing press . . . The third is happening now, in America, as a result of the electronic revolution, particularly the invention of television . . . like the alphabet or the printing press, television has by its power to control the time, attention and cognitive habits of our youth gained the power to control their education.[21]

How might television be changing our cognitive habits? For starters, it encourages a short attention span. Everyone is familiar with the typical TV show’s eight-minute segments—discreet episodes capable of standing alone and rarely requiring the viewer to carry over a thought from one segment to another. Even educational TV has this same problem. Back to our anthropologist Bateson: 

Children prepared for school by children’s television arrive better prepared for the content of lessons but perhaps less tolerant of the rhythms of reflection and multiple return appropriate to gradual growth in understanding, for attention that is exacted tips over easily into boredom, while learning flourishes on the subtleties of recycled attention.[22] 

These observations appear during her discussion of “longitudinal epiphanies.” She describes,

A longitudinal epiphany seems like an oxymoron, for we are losing the capacity for epiphanies played out through time, like those that allow a man and a woman to enjoy having breakfast together day after day for forty years or to enjoy the leaves falling exactly as they did last year and the year before.[23]

Postman suggests three commandments that form the philosophy of the education offered by television: 1) No Prerequisites, 2) No Perplexity, and 3) No Exposition. According to Postman, television dictates the absence of exposition because

Arguments, hypotheses, discussions, reasons, refutations or any of the traditional instruments of reasoned discourse turn television into radio or, worse, third-rate printed matter. Thus, television-teaching always takes the form of story-telling, conducted through dynamic images and supported by music. . . The name we may properly give to an education without prerequisites, perplexity and exposition is entertainment. And when one considers that save for sleeping there is no activity that occupies more of an American youth’s time than television-viewing, we cannot avoid the conclusion that a massive reorientation toward learning is now taking place.”[24] 

Listen to Kenneth Myers speak to the same points. Both as a former editor of This World: A Journal of Religion and Public Life, and as a producer and editor for Morning Edition and All Things Considered on National Public Radio, he has kept a close eye on the effects of entertainment media. 

TV not only induces addiction to itself: it induces addiction to the sensibility of popular culture—the quest for novel, distracting, and easy entertainment . . . Parents should be eager to instill in their children the idea that enjoying cultural activity usually takes some work, but that the results are much more rewarding than those offered by instant entertainment.[25]

Cynthia Freeland, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Houston, recently published a lively introduction to art theory. In her discussion of the newest artistic media such as television, video, and the internet, Freeland examines the writings of several art theorists including Marshall McLuhan who believed that these new forms of communication would foster democracy and sharpen our perceptive faculties. McLuhan also suggested that these new media “offer an aid or ‘prosthesis’ that changes our senses and even our brains to promote non-linear, ‘mosaic’ thinking, as viewers must fill in the blanks in continuously updated inputs.”[26] 

Few writers since McLuhan, who died in 1980, have continued to suggest that television promotes democracy. But many of his other arguments remain influential, including the impact of electronic media on the human thought process. Because television’s manner of discourse is non-linear and fragmented, it promotes a manner of thinking and doing quite different from that encouraged by books. When confronted with disjointed images spliced together to create a bewilderingly fast montage, the mind must not, indeed cannot, move in a linear fashion. This begins to explain why electronic media promote neither expository thought, nor reaching a conclusion based on the inexorable weight of accumulated evidence and logic. To make its points electronic media rely instead on the power of emotion, on the persuasiveness of celebrities, and on the form of uncomplicated narrative. Marshall McLuhan coined the now-famous slogan that “the medium is the message.” By this he meant that “content matters less than the structures of media; they [the structures] shape human consciousness in profound ways.”[27] Kenneth Myers responds, “if media are messages, then how one teaches is as significant as what one teaches. Educators need to ask whether the critical reasoning skills they want to groom in their students are really served by the plethora of image-based educational materials, especially on television.”[28]

Because of its nature television also tends to diminish the importance of history. Postman notes that history

is of value only to someone who takes seriously the notion that there are patterns in the past which may provide the present with nourishing traditions . . .

But television is a speed-of-light medium, a present-centered medium. Its grammar, so to say, permits no access to the past. Everything presented in moving pictures is experienced as happening “now,” which is why we must be told in language that a videotape we are seeing was made months before. Moreover, like its forefather, the telegraph, television needs to move fragments of information, not to collect and organize them.[29]

Such devaluation of the past reminds me of the writing of the late scholar Christopher Lasch, who was still teaching at the University of Rochester when my wife and I were students there. Referring not to television specifically but to our society’s collective dismissal of history, Lasch writes,

Far from regarding it as a useless encumbrance, I see the past as a political and psychological treasury from which we draw the reserves . . . that we need to cope with the future. Our culture’s indifference to the past—which easily shades over into active hostility and rejection—furnishes the most telling proof of that culture’s bankruptcy. . .

A denial of the past, superficially progressive and optimistic, proves on closer analysis to embody the despair of a society that cannot face the future.[30]

In sum, our culture will jade us, if we let it, into needing ever more vivid diversions, especially as we blur the demarcation between entertainment and reality. The major shift from typography to electronic media, from word to picture, brings with it profound changes in our cognitive habits including short attention span, and impaired ability to deal with complex material not immediately accessible. Furthermore television, our culture’s primary means of communication, tends to abandon argument, hypotheses, and reason, in favor of simple story-telling relying on the power of emotion and the persuasiveness of celebrity. Finally, our culture tends to devalue the past, denying that history has lessons worth our learning.

A point of clarity: although I deplore the negative impact of entertainment in general, and television in particular, on modern life, I acknowledge that the clock can never be turned back. Our culture’s intertwining of entertainment and reality is, in Neal Gabler’s words, “something so gargantuan that it has slid beyond the borders of context and frequently beyond our powers of analysis.”[31] If Neal Gabler is correct, worship practices also will likely move, if they have not already moved, toward entertainment. I examine visual media in a discussion on worship because the forms of visual media are the most powerful expositors and propagators of our culture. Do I believe that television has impacted the way we worship? Well, yes and no. I believe that our culture has negatively influenced the way we worship. Insofar as television is the most pervasive voice of that culture, it stands implicated. Yet although I would encourage anyone to join the minority ranks of the TV-less, I know that no ground-swelling movement will turn our society around. 

But I regard the Church very differently: I am ready and, in fact, eager to fight for it. And if a grass-roots movement is necessary to preserve it from the desultory influence of our society, count me in. I agree with Postman who writes, “the danger is not that religion has become the content of television shows, but that television shows may become the content of religion.”[32] 

While we would profit from examining the mechanisms by which worship has fallen too much under the influence of our culture, our time tonight limits me to offer only a single observation. I believe that the marketing of the church, by writers such as George Barna[33], has reduced religion to a commodity and equated it with our culture, thereby robbing it of the ability to transcend that culture. True religion must always carry with it something counter-cultural, for the prince of this world is the enemy of God (John 14:30). “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2 RSV) 

With these thoughts in mind, we move to

III Part three, in which I Propose some Suggestions to Enhance Worship

In the recent Walla Walla College Collegian of 24 October 2002, Howard Vandermark, the religion editor, wrote, “Since the ‘60s. . . worship formats have changed, preaching styles have changed, the very approach to the gospel and the way it is conveyed have been formatted to the modern world. Perhaps music in worship has seen the most dramatic changes.”[34] While I agree with much of his statement, I believe that preaching has changed much more than has music; that changes to “the very approach to the gospel and the way it is conveyed” represent a far more fundamental change than moving from one music style to another; and that these changes in preaching style parallel in large part how our society has changed. Therefore, as I make some suggestions for our services of worship, I begin with some comments about preaching. Again, I direct these suggestions not to the College Church or to the Walla Walla College campus, but to every assembly of worshiping Christians. I have personally witnessed one or another of the following issues in Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopal, and Adventist churches in which I have worked. These issues are larger than any one denomination.

SUGGESTION ONE. We should focus on God’s Word both by reading it and by preaching on it. I find it puzzling and saddening that at the very time we witness increasing ignorance regarding the Word of God, we read it less in church. In discussing this matter, clergy have told me that ‘the sermon will deal with a biblical passage in such depth that reading it aloud would only prove redundant.’ I suggest that in such cases an accompanying, complimentary passage of scripture should be read aloud, for any topic worth sermonizing will suggest multiple scriptural references. After all, only a weak theology bases its conclusions on a single text. Furthermore, even if its reading proves redundant, there is special merit, I believe, in the public recitation of God’s word. There is power in the Word of God and it, of all things, deserves multiple readings, multiple hearings, even in a single worship service. 

I have one more objection to deleting the scripture reading. Removing the reading of scripture eliminates a unique possibility for the congregation to respond directly to God’s word. When the preacher reads the scriptural passage as part of the sermon, he or she breaks the passage into arbitrary units and immediately adds an interpretation. This is as it should be, for it fulfills the true role of preacher, and the best sermons are explications of the Word. But why must this worthy function come at the expense of the congregation’s opportunity to respond directly to the Word? We need both experiences in worship. I just suggested that the best sermons are exegetical in character, in other words, firmly based on and illustrative of, a specific biblical passage. Where such sermons are frequent, the congregation will grow in familiarity with the Bible, as noted by Marva Dawn.

We easily notice the ignorance of the Scriptures and biblical illiteracy that characterize the present Church, yet many [clergy] react ‘to cultural pressure by scaling down serious biblical reflection. They would sooner entertain their audiences than risk being criticized for being too serious, abstract and boring.’ This leads to sermons that might make people laugh or cry, but don’t necessarily enable them to know God better, think more clearly, or act in godly ways.[35]

SUGGESTION TWO. Preaching should be about real teaching, that is to say, about working oneself out of a job. The music teaching that I most respect is of just this sort. Any organ or harpsichord student who has studied long enough with me will have heard me say it: my goal is to teach myself out of a job. If, upon graduation, an organ student can only say, “Look, I learned these pieces with my teacher,” then I have failed them. Rather, I want to teach them how to approach a score; how to read between the lines and between the notes; what sorts of questions to ask and how to follow a lead to more questions along the same line. I also want to teach them how to go about finding answers to those questions; what sources to consider and how to find them. More, I want to teach them how to listen and be truly attentive to the music; how to hear it in their head and feel it in their body and how not to be satisfied until they hear that head music made audible through their own technique. In short I want to teach my students not just how to play notes, but how to think about, how to make, how to live music. This, in my view, is a truer education—the kind of liberal arts education this school was meant to provide. With any luck by the time I have accomplished most of my list, they won’t need me anymore, for they will have learned how to act as their own teacher. I will have worked myself out of a job. That is my goal as a music teacher, and that should be the goal of a preacher also. Sermons should equip congregants with the ability to themselves rightly handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15), which they can then use “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 RSV)

SUGGESTION THREE. The sermon should speak Truth whether or not the Truth is popular. The TV-culture is fully based on ratings or popularity, but this has never been the way to find truth. We could summarize this principle with the following question:

Do we value a sermon (or preacher) by the number of people attracted to the presentations or by the veracity of its thoughts and concepts? I know of no better summary of this principle than the episode found in John 6:63-67. Jesus had just delivered some hard truth centered on his repeated claim: “I am the bread of life.” We pick up the story as Jesus offers His final, clearest explanation.

It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him. And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father. From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him. Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away? (John 6:63-67, KJV)

Jesus knew that what he had to say would not be popular. He knew, moreover, that when he said it he would lose not just some but many listeners. Not lose just their immediate attention, but lose them period—they would walk out and leave behind an empty pew. But Jesus said it anyway because he found motivation in speaking the truth, not in winning popularity—in saving souls, not entertaining them. 

Walla Walla College students are already discussing these issues. Last spring the drama department produced a play by Bill C. Davis entitled “Mass Appeal.” Following a trenchant synopsis of the play Brian Bell, theatre reviewer for the Collegian wrote:

‘Mass Appeal’ raises poignant issues for our campus. There is the concern over whether to entertain or nourish church-goers. In our feel-good culture, it becomes the norm to expect to leave church feeling satisfied based on the pastor’s performance rather than content. Also, how does this church deal with sinners deemed untouchable? Do we comfort or confront? Ultimately, the play moves beyond the religious realm and shows us that we need to care enough about people to risk losing them.[36]

If the preacher measures up to these first three principles—if the preacher focuses on God’s Word, teaches the congregation, and proclaims truth regardless of popularity or its lack—then sooner or later the preacher will have to deal with the intricacies of belief, of biblical teaching, of doctrine, for what we believe is important, what we believe does make a difference. Such preaching, to be convincing, will necessarily rely to some extent on logic and analytical thought—the type of thinking TV tends to exclude. Such preaching will not focus solely on emotional appeals and the bathetic narration of stories. 

And this is SUGGESTION FOUR. Our services should return to a higher level of rational discourse. If we re-introduced more rational content into our worship services I believe that they would become more interesting, not less. I make this claim based on how our brains work. Research begun in the 1950s and 1960s established that a normally functioning brain has two hemispheres largely differing in function. According to the Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology, while both hemispheres engage in high-level cognition, the left-brain specializes in verbal and analytical functions especially involving language and logic. Meanwhile the right-brain specializes in thought processes that are rapid, complex, whole-pattern, spatial, and highly adapted for visual imagery and musical ability.[37] I find it fascinating that language skill and musical skill take up residence in opposite sides of the brain. The cool, rational, objective, analytical, abstract left-brain feeds on linear verbal logic. The passionate, irrational, subjective, intuitive, spatial right-brain feeds on non-linear logic and on emotive matter such as found in singing, art, and music. As language skill and artistic skill correspond to two of the most important aspects of worship—preaching and music—we could characterize the best worship as ‘whole-brained’ that is, an activity deeply satisfying to humans because it engages the entire brain.

Now language, either written or spoken, can take forms either more analytical, as in deep reasoning, or more emotional, as in story telling. What about music? Likely all of us have experienced its emotional power. But while music can also deeply satisfy the intellect, it can never reason, it cannot depict specific words or thoughts for it consists of intangible sound. Music itself can never argue theological concepts, doctrines, or specific ideas. Only the spoken word from the Bible or the preacher can provide this rational content, which music and other emotional elements of the service can then reinforce. This provides an example of why we must talk about worship before discussing music. If the “word” portion of the service lacks logical, rational content, our worship shifts dangerously toward the emotional, a tilt that musicians cannot counteract or correct. 

SUGGESTION FIVE. So now it is time for a word about music. Music may be largely emotional, but I believe that even within music, we must keep the pendulum balanced between the emotional and rational. The best music, in my opinion, always engages in just this dialectic—it calls forth the active participation of both head and heart, it appeals to both the intellect and the emotions. In such healthy, balanced music there exists plenty of nourishment, both for the analytical left-brain and for the sensing right-brain. I find this balance most consistently in serious music, especially the classical variety. This simple fact explains my career choice. 

Already in high school I learned to distrust popular music. Oh, it promised instant gratification and lots of friends. I always enjoyed a certain popularity because I could play anything off the radio or TV—top forty pop songs, rock, commercials, theme songs. But I learned to distrust this quick acclaim. As for the music, it was just too easy. Most popular music, both secular and sacred varieties, remains too childish to engage both sides of the brain. By definition, popular music appeals to the emotions—it is just this emotional pull that makes it popular. Occasionally the words rise above the puerile, but rarely does the music accomplish anything. While still in high school I had accompanied enough singer-wannabes to realize first hand the stultifying boredom of the music. As I saw it, I could choose popularity and boredom on the one hand, or obscurity and interest on the other. I turned toward classical music because it was real in a way pop music wasn’t. It demanded my attention and my hard work. I had to think hard about what I was doing, both to understand the music, and to figure out how to learn it. It was not easy, could not be faked, and it felt honest. Yet it provided lasting satisfaction both to my emotions and to my mind. The best music, the healthiest music, preserves this balance. 

Music such as Bach’s organ works. I think of the great Prelude and Fugue in E-flat. This prelude and fugue frames a set of chorale preludes sometimes called the German Organ Mass. The hymns on which the preludes are based trace the outline of a typical Lutheran church service. We could talk about the intricacies of these chorale preludes for hours. Instead, I will describe briefly the framing Prelude and Fugue. Bach chose the tonality of E-flat because this key contains three flats. The number three invokes the Trinity, the necessary framing for any Christian worship. But this is a surface detail. The mind becomes fully engaged only when we study the details of the music, such as the concluding fugue. This fugue is also in three parts, with three different themes or subjects. One in an antique slow-moving style representative of God the Father, one in fast moving quavers representative of the Holy Spirit, and a culminating fugue representative of God the Son that combines with the original subject. I would greatly enjoy explaining the details of this magnificent piece to you, or those of any number of other great works by similarly great composers, but that’s not why we’re here tonight. I could also demonstrate why these works are so difficult to learn, but so rewarding to play well but again, that’s not why we’re here tonight.

I do believe, however, that the strongly emotional tenor of our worship services makes it difficult to quietly meditate on complex music. The more flamboyant the emotion incited during the service, the more flamboyant music must be to hold attention. But such services diminish opportunity for longitudinal epiphanies, and possibly lead to boredom. I also fear that ultimately our church loses more young people by failing to engage their minds than by failing to excite their emotions or occasionally warm their hearts. How many times shall we expect a college-age young person to receive baby treatment before they conclude that there’s really nothing to the old stories, and quit? “For every one who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their faculties trained by practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:13-14, RSV). I pray we are teaching our students to distinguish between good and evil. If not, let’s get on with it and start drawing some lines. Then, let’s not any longer put off the complexities God has provided us; complexities that will stretch our mental capacities; complexities some of which are musical. 

SUGGESTION SIX is very short. Our worship must not devalue history nor pretend that the past never happened. For example, with two thousand years of Christian hymnody on which to draw, it makes little sense to conduct a service that includes music of only the last two or three decades. In his best-selling history, From Dawn to Decadence, Jacques Barzun states, “It is a false analogy with science that makes one think latest is best.”[38] Furthermore, we have a biblical imperative not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Hebrews 10:24). Why? Because there is strength in community. Let us never forget that the vast company of faithful believers from past generations forms a major part of the Christian’s strength community. When we sing a ninth-century hymn[39] we anticipate the heavenly gathering of the faithful from all ages, we identify with the saints from earlier generations, we draw strength from their strength. They have left us a powerful legacy in their gift of sacred song.

Again, I argue not for a pendulum swing but for balance. Contemporary creativity is vital, but it must be balanced with, and judged by, our heritage of creative spiritual masterpieces.

So what is God like? And how should we worship Him? My last item,

SUGGESTION SEVEN deals with the general nature of our worship. I believe that we should focus as much on penitence as on joy; on lament far more than on comedy or entertainment. During a trip to the Ukraine, the greatly loved spiritual leader Henri Nouwen found the services of these Eastern Christians uniquely and profoundly moving. He noted particularly the predominantly penitential nature of their spiritual experience with its emphasis on confessing human sinfulness. “There is a great beauty to this spiritual vision,” he later wrote, “because it can show God’s splendor and grace in the face of human depravity,” and he contrasted this Eastern experience with ours saying, “the awareness of human sinfulness is hardly existent in the West.”[40] 

Marva Dawn suggests that we in the West lack an awareness of human sinfulness “because we dumb down the truth of God in false efforts to feel better about ourselves. We do not have enough of God—especially the truth of his wrath in the midst of his love—to experience the exhilarating freedom of confessing our sin and the joyous beauty of forgiveness.”[41] Various scholars have demonstrated further the central role of penitence and lament in ancient Jewish worship. Claus Westermann, for instance, makes a strong case that “the lament is the basic form of psalmic expression, and that most other psalm forms are derived from or responses to the lament.”[42] Referring to the modern church’s neglect of these psalms of lament, Walter Brueggemann claims,

it is no wonder that the church has intuitively avoided these psalms. They lead us into dangerous acknowledgment of how life really is. They lead us into the presence of God where everything is not polite and civil. They cause us to think unthinkable thoughts and utter unutterable words. Perhaps worst, they lead us away from the comfortable religious claims of ‘modernity’ in which everything is managed and controlled . . . The remarkable thing about Israel is that it did not banish or deny the darkness from its religious enterprise. It embraces the darkness as the very stuff of new life. Indeed, Israel seems to know that new life comes nowhere else.[43]

Our worship needs to contain honest acknowledgment of our sinful human condition; an acknowledgment that will naturally lead to penitence. Only by first experiencing such lament can we move to the joy of God’s forgiveness and the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7). 

Again, I am not suggesting that each service must be a season of mourning. No, I am arguing for a balance, a turn from the current extreme swing of the pendulum in which we tend to make every service consist of only happy praise; which eventually becomes forced happy praise or, worse, comical happy praise. Why are we so afraid of somberness, of quietness, of silence? Speaking for a moment of the College Church, the pastoral staff always hears from KGTS, the broadcasting radio station, if more than fifteen or twenty seconds of silence intrudes into the service. But we need silence in this busy, noisy, often ugly world. Silence is where we hear the still small voice of God (1 Kings 19:12). Silence does not entertain; it is not funny. Silence makes us confront ourselves, and introduces us to God, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10 RSV). At times I have had an entire class sit in silence for four minutes to practice listening—initially it makes for quite an uncomfortable classroom atmosphere for silence is foreign to our culture. But Revelation 8:1 informs us that the angels in heaven include silence of up to thirty minutes in their worship and adoration of the Lamb of God. Do we need silence less than they? 

Indeed, we need silence in our worship for many reasons, and music is one of those reasons. John Ruskin, the nineteenth-century critic stated correctly that “there is no music in a rest, but there’s the making of music in it.”[44] Yes, we need silence in order to have music. At the start of this talk I mentioned my happiness and honor to be able to address you tonight. It also makes me sad because I anticipated, correctly, that you would listen politely, perhaps even attentively to my words. But I speak to this community at least twice a week through the medium of music. Sadly, not many people hear those messages because during the music an increasing number of people talk very loudly. Oh, I doubt that they purposely set out to act rudely, but sincerity does not alter or alleviate wrong acts. 

Without silence we can have only one type of music: very loud, very upbeat, very unheard. Without silence we really cannot have any music at all. I am arguing for some balance, for a pendulum swing back to where silence can again find a place in our worship. I debated performing some music tonight, but decided not to take advantage of this opportunity. Instead, I ask the following: next time you publicly worship, do not talk during the service music; rather, practice your listening. The famous pianist Alfred Brendel points out that ‘listen’ is an anagram of ‘silent.’ Silence is not something that is there before the music begins and after it stops. It is the essence of the music itself, the vital ingredient that makes it possible for the music to exist at all.

Indeed, for music we need silence. But we need silence for more important reasons also. We need to re-investigate the now unfamiliar culture of Divine Majesty, and we need to learn anew how to be silent in God’s presence. If we choose to allow it, music can help us do this.


Encountering the Divine—we need more encounters with the Divine. And that is why we worship: worship places us where we encounter God; worship brings us face to face with God. So it behooves us to study the immensity, the complexity, and the contradictions of who God is. It behooves us to consider who we are in relation to God. And as we enter the sacred presence we must take care that our attitudes and behaviors are appropriate to the terrible mystery of a God whose presence silences every tongue and sets every heart to singing.

Here, at the end of this evening, it is appropriate to let Alden Thompson have the last word concerning a pendulum point. Speaking of the great paradox in the divine-human relationship Alden writes:

As I now reflect on the grandeur and the nearness of my God, his holiness and his friendliness, I feel myself torn between two conflicting emotions. I am drawn by the force of his love, but am forced to my knees by the awareness of an awesome gulf between a God like that and a man like this. It is the tension between a Jacob who desperately clings to his Master: ‘I will not let you go except you bless me,” and a Peter, who falls on his face crying, “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.” 

But the Lord does not depart from people who pray such a prayer. That is news worth sharing.[45]

At the start of this talk I mentioned that I could not begin by discussing music, but had to start with worship. The other order would put the less important before the greater, the effect before the cause. I will close with a well-known Bible verse. This verse actually uses some of the key words we have investigated together, and it sheds some additional light on them. Revelation 14:6-7, RSV:

Then I saw another angel flying in midheaven, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and tongue and people; and he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, for the hour of his judgment has come; and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the fountains of water.”

The clause about judgment, although very important, forms a subordinate part of this angel’s sentence. The real thrust of the heavenly command contains three elements, in a specific order: 1) Fear God; 2) Give Glory to God; and 3) Worship God. 

Is music important? I believe it is hugely important. I could not give my life and time to something that didn’t matter or about which I felt no passion. But is music the most important thing? No. Revelation 14:6-7 lists the three items of greatest importance, and music makes the list only as a subset of item number three, worship. In truth the music we choose to employ in services will emerge from our understanding of true worship. “Fear God” and “Give Him glory”—the study of these powerful words changed my spiritual life many years ago. I believe that before we can truly worship God in the beauty of holiness[46] we must first understand what it means to fear Him, and then what it means to give Him glory. Only then can we worship Him aright.

About the Author

At the age of four, Kraig Scott began piano studies. At six, he begged to begin violin study, and at ten, he began organ lessons. Along the way he spent many years playing in a youth orchestra in Vancouver, British Columbia, and studying music theory and history with a private tutor. In the University of Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music program he completed many levels of examinations in both violin and piano, completing the Associateship diploma in piano at the age of seventeen. Much of his youth was spent performing music in church, first with violin and piano solos, and then serving as one of the regular organists at the New Westminster Seventh-day Adventist church from the age of twelve.

Following a few private lessons in Vancouver, Scott’s training on the organ continued with Melvin West of Walla Walla College. These lessons took place either when Scott could arrange travel to Walla Walla or during one of Dr. West’s regular visits to Seattle. Entering college in 1980, Scott continued his organ study with Lanny Collins while still working hard at piano under the tutelage of Leonard Richter. During his senior year, in addition to serving as assistant organist at the WWC church, he commuted to lessons with John Hamilton at University of Oregon. At this time WWC invited Scott to complete a master’s degree and return to join the music faculty, which he did in 1986.

Scott’s work in churches spans a wide diversity of SDA congregations, from large to small, from college settings to multi-cultural urban congregations. He has also spent a great deal of time as a musician for other denominations beginning with his role as organist of the Holy Rosary Cathedral (Roman Catholic) in downtown Vancouver in his late teens. Other appointments include two years as choir director and organist at United Lutheran Church in Eugene, Oregon; three years as organist and music coordinator for the First Church, Christian Science, of Rochester, New York; and for the last nine years organist and choir director for St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Walla Walla. His musical responsibilities in the Episcopal Church increased early in 2002 when James Waggoner, Bishop of the Diocese of Spokane, appointed him to the commission for worship and liturgy.

Scott’s academic credentials include a Master of Music degree in early keyboard performance from the University of Oregon, a Master of Arts in musicology from University of Rochester, and a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the Eastman School of Music where he studied with David Craighead, Russell Saunders, and David Higgs. His work at Eastman also included courses in church music with Richard Erickson, now director of music at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in New York City.

Honors received by Scott include two Close scholarships for music excellence from University of Oregon, half tuition scholarships through the organ department at the Eastman School, the Graue fellowship for outstanding musicological research at the Eastman School, the Zapara award for teaching excellence at Walla Walla College, a scholarship to attend the 1997 Aston Magna academy at Yale University, and the prestigious Performer’s Certificate in Organ from the Eastman School of Music. In the fall of 2001 he also served as a judge for the first round of the National Young Artist Competition in Organ Performance, the most important organ competition in the country.

Scott maintains an active organ studio of college and pre-college students, and teaches music history, advanced keyboard skills, and improvisation in his role as professor at Walla Walla College, and adjunct professor at Whitman College. He also maintains an active performing schedule that included, in the past twelve months, an organ concerto with the Walla Walla Symphony and recitals at Westminster Choir College, Princeton, NJ; Pacific Lutheran University; University of Washington; University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta; Canadian University College in Lacombe, Alberta; and Epiphany Episcopal Parish of Seattle. In addition he spent part of last summer at the International Organ Academy in Goteburg, Sweden studying improvisation before continuing to Germany and the Netherlands where he played a series of recitals that received acclaim in the German press as “virtuoso music . . . brilliantly played.”

When he isn’t performing, practicing or teaching, Scott enjoys time at home with his wife Julie, two sons Alexander and Andrew, and West Highland White Terrier, Mackenzie.


[1] J. N. Andrews, History of the Sabbath, chapter 27.  As quoted in Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1888, 1939), pp.437-8.

[2] Pointed out by C. Welton Gaddy, The Gift of Worship (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992), p.xi, as quoted in Marva J. Dawn, Reaching Out without Dumbing Down (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1995), p.80.

[3] In chapter five of her book Reaching Out without Dumbing Down, Marva Dawn deals in detail with the concept of keeping God the subject and object of our worship.

[4] Marva Dawn, Reaching Out, p.95.

[5] Marva Dawn, Reaching Out, p.96.

[6] Rudolf Otto, The Idea of the Holy, trans. by John W. Harvey (London: Oxford University Press, 1923) p.47.

[7] Moravian Daily Texts 2002, (Bethlehem, PA: Interprovincial Board of Communication, Moravian Church in America, 2001) p.268.

[8] Rudolf Otto, The Idea of the Holy, p.28.

[9] Rudolf Otto, The Idea of the Holy, p.13.

[10] Rudolf Otto, The Idea of the Holy, p.19.

[11] Rudolf Otto, The Idea of the Holy, p.19 and 20.

[12] Charles R. Hembree, Fruits of the Spirit (Baker Book House Company, 1969), as quoted in God’s Treasury of Virtues (Tulsa, OK: Honor Books, Inc., 1995) p.385-386.

[13] Isaac Watts, “Alas! And Did My Saviour Bleed?” Hymn No.124 in The Church Hymnal (Tacoma Park: Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1941) p.100.

[14] Isaac Watts, “At the Cross” Hymn No.163 in Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1985).

[15] Mary Catherine Bateson, Peripheral Visions (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1994) p.111-112.

[16] Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (New York: Penguin Books, 1985) p.92.

[17] Daniel Schorr, commentary read by the author on Weekend Edition Sunday, 6 October 2002, a production of National Public Radio.  Transcribed by The Transcription Company.

[18] Neal Gabler, Life the Movie (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998) p.8.

[19] Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death, p.97-98.

[20] Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death, p.92.

[21] Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death, p.144-145.

[22] Mary Catherine Bateson, Periperal Visions, p.112.

[23] Mary Catherine Bateson, Peripheral Visions, p.113-114.

[24] Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death, p.148.

[25] Kenneth Myers, All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Christians & Popular Culture (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1989) p.184.

[26] Cynthia Freeland, But is it art? p.189.

[27] Cynthia Freeland, But is it art? p.188.

[28] Kenneth Myers, All God’s Children, p.185.

[29] Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death, p.136.

[30] Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1979) p.xviii.

[31] Neal Gabler, Life the Movie, p.9.

[32] Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death, p.124.

[33] George Barna’s 31 books include titles such as Marketing the Church: What They Never Taught You about Church Growth (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1988); The Frog in the Kettle: What Christians Need to Know about Life in the Year 2000 (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1990); User Friendly Churches; What Christians Need to Know about the Churches People Love to Go To (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1991).

[34] Howard Vandermark, “Choir director vocal about worship” in Collegian; The student newspaper of Walla Walla College, (24 October 2002, Volume 87, Issue 4) p.7.

[35] Marva Dawn, Reaching Out, p.216.  In this passage she quotes Douglas D. Webster, Selling Jesus (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992) p.17.

[36] Brian Bell, “WWC Drama Play Massively Appealing” Collegian (18 April 2002, Volume 86, Issue 20).

[37] “Right-brain hemisphere” in The Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology, internet version located at


[38] Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence, 500 Years of Western Cultural Life (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2000) p.xv.

[39] To my knowledge the earliest hymn included in the Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal of 1985 is number 72, “Creator of the Stars of Night,” an anonymous Latin hymn from the 9th century.

[40] Henri J. M. Nouwen, “The Gulf Between East & West,” New Oxford Review 61, No.4 (May 1994) p.12.

[41] Marva Dawn, Reaching Out, p.91.

[42] As summarized in Walter Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 1984) p.18.

[43] Walter Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms, p.53.

[44]John Ruskin, The New Dictionary of Thought (Standard Book Company, 1961), as quoted in God’s Treasury of Virtues (Tulsa, OK: Honor Books, Inc., 1995) p.188.

[45] Alden Thompson, Who’s Afraid of the Old Testament God? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1989) p.168.

[46] A phrase appearing five times in the Old Testament: 1 Chronicles 16:29, 2 Chronicles 20:21, Psalm 29:2, Psalm 96:9, and Psalm 110:3.  Three of these verses contain the full command to “worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.”