Jonny Baker - Curating Worship

Published Tuesday 17th May 2011
Jonny Baker - Curating Worship
Jonny Baker - Curating Worship

RATING 7 7 7 7 7 7 7
FORMAT: Book General book
RRP: £10.99

Reviewed by Tom Lennie

The rather pretentious-sounding term "curating worship" - which involves bringing about a whole worship event from the initial stages of artistic imagining and planning right through to coordinating the various stages of the actual event - shows how seriously those involved in emerging churches regard their alternative worship functions and exhibitions. I have to say at the outset that this book is definitely not as accessible to the curious observer as The Art Of Curating Worship by America's Mark Pierson (see separate review), which goes further back to basics. Thus, this book is not an easy read. Written by London-based Baker (best known for overseeing the Grace event), it tends to assume an extant familiarity with, and perhaps even an active involvement in, alternative worship. Curating Worship consists essentially of a series of 12 interviews/conversations that the author conducted with like-minded dudes across the western world. These tend to be young(ish) professionals with a deep interest in the arts, many of whom are in arts-related professions. Thus, there's an architect, arts project manager, designer, psychotherapist, atmosphere architect(!), jeweller, sculptor, actor and musician! The whole language of the book strongly reflects both this semi-academic and/or creative artistic perspective, thus making the narrative tough reading for anyone outside the cultural milieu. The writers share their own diverse experiences in worship; so the reader is told about curating in public spaces (eg by turning beach huts into an Advent calendar, curating spaces in a city-centre car-park, in bars and on buses), creating worship space in a prison, and making a dramatic Easter service that included a huge floor-to-ceiling curtain suddenly ripping from top to bottom (symbolic of the Temple curtain splitting in two on the death of Christ). What comes over from reading books like Baker's and Pierson's is the disaffection some feel with standard evangelical/charismatic structures, where theological certainty seems a prerequisite and shallow triumphalism seems evident. Personally, I agree with some aspects of such criticism. In this book it's the emerging churches, where doubt is "embraced" and certainties questioned, which is put forward as an alternative. In emerging church circles weakness and failure are not seen as shameful. However, holding events on the theme of "God is in the shit" will surely seem, to most Christians holding to a biblical approach to their faith, a gratuitous response. Curating Worship quotes numerous artists, poets and writers, but none of them are evangelical believers and most are not Christian. In the world of the emerging church worshipper (or at least those in the Baker/Pierson axis) Coldplay are seen as relevant; so are U2, but anything connected to the worship leaders and musicianaries working in contemporary Christian music is discarded. Disturbingly, few teachings from Scripture are to be found in this book while the potential for direct communication with the Godhead through singing and spoken praise and through intercessory prayer is nowhere to be found in these discussions. Similarly, Spirit-baptism and the charismatic giftings are also ignored. In many other respects this is a thought-provoking and challenging read (which connects, coincidentally, with another controversial book I'm presently studying - A New Kind Of Christianity by the father of emerging church culture, Brian McLaren). What becomes clear through it all is that alternative worship of the sort set out here is little more than a cultural niche, comprising those right-side-of-brain people who are naturally creative and imaginative and who are much helped in their spiritual journey by the use of symbolism and metaphor. Others will find these forms of worship too abstract. And, while I'm not among their number, some old school evangelicals may even go as far as to suggest that some of the concepts here are borderline heresy.

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.

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