On May 8 I posted a piece regarding planning a worship service that I called Constructing an Experience. As I've been listening to the Stephen Prothero book, Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know and Doesn't, I've been thinking a bit about that blog entry. Is constructing an experience what I'm really doing each week... or should it be?
Prothero goes through the history of religious literacy in the United States and presents a model with a clear shift from head to heart over the years. He says that in the early days of the United States, sermons were doctrinal, almost like theological lectures. Faith included a serious helping of knowledge. Almost all early colleges/universities in the US were founded as training schools for clergy and the common schools and Sundays schools of the time, both aimed at educating the population, all taught religious doctrine. Being a Christian meant knowing a significant amount of material. Prothero says that there was a growing anti-intellectualism that really took hold during the 2nd Great Awakening in the early 1800's where illiterate preachers moved to the forefront and many leading evangelists bragged at their lack of education. Christianity moved from the head to the heart and sermons became more story based, aimed at getting an emotional response.
I don't know enough about the history of that period to know how accurate Prothero's take on it is, but I suspect there is a lot of truth in it. For me, it raises the question, what are we doing on Sunday morning? Is it an event aimed at encouraging a mystical experience? Are we trying to get an emotional response? change the way people live their lives? increase their knowledge? Is it a cultic event where we re-enact rituals? a private communion between individuals and God? And finally is there something that only can happen in this communal gathering or is it just an appendage to a private spiritual life? What exactly are we doing and what is the role of the pastor/leader in planning and facilitating that time together?
What do you think?