What is Worship?
Conversation with William Lane Craig
What is Worship?
Kevin Harris: Kids who are not Christians have been drawn into worship music and a worship experience. So worship is a big deal these days. A lot of people are saying there is a kind of a worship revival among the youth to worship God with a lot of energy and so on. But I want to talk about what it means to worship and see if you can give us some clarity on the concept of worship, why God is worthy of worship, and so on. How would you begin to unpack this whole concept of worship, Dr. Craig?
Dr. Craig: I think this is a wonderful question, Kevin, that gets right at the essence of who God is. I think that for too many Christians we have a defective concept of God, as sort of a big chap up there and we appreciate him and we look up to him and so forth, but I think we don’t really understand why we worship God which is to adore God as the supreme good. I think it is related to the moral character of God. God is, in the medieval theologians’ terminology, the highest good, the summum bonum. He is the highest good. He is the paradigm of goodness. That is to say, God’s nature defines what goodness is. It is not as though God lives up to some external standard and does a good job at being good. He is goodness itself. Therefore, he is to be worshiped and adored because he is the highest good.
Kevin Harris: I get the feeling that people do not understand this when they call God disparaging names like sky daddy, your sky buddy, your invisible friend, the flying spaghetti monster, and the invisible pink unicorn. All of which would be located, would be limited, and you are picturing a guy with a long, white beard.
Dr. Craig: Right. And the moral dimension is totally missing from all of those descriptions. The idea of God as holy and perfectly good and the paradigm of goodness. All of that is missing from that. Too many times I think people think of God as this sort of celestial Santa Claus who is up there making a list and checking it twice and is going to judge us to see whether or not we get a present under the tree. We don’t appreciate that God is absolute and pure goodness. He is the good and therefore deserves to be worshiped and obeyed.
Kevin Harris: I get the idea sometimes that worship has to be emotional in order for it to be really worship. Can you worship just maybe in a rational, non-emotional way? Or do you have to conjure up that emotion?
Dr. Craig: I don’t think that worship necessarily has to be emotional. In fact, I fear too often in some of our contemporary services that these are just emotional expressions of enthusiasm and sentimentalism and so forth. But very often not combined with a deep understanding of who God is and what he demands of us. On the other hand, though, I do want to say that cultivating the religious affections is part of a whole soul devotion to God. We aren’t devoted to God just with our minds or our intellects but also with our affections – that emotional side of our personality. So I think we want to worship God with both. We want to worship him with deep understanding of Christian doctrine – who he is, his nature and attributes. This will exalt our concept of God and our awe of his majesty when we understand his nature and attributes. But then at the same time we do want to fall in love with God. We want to have our hearts moved as we come to him with adoration and thanksgiving and deep gratitude.
Kevin Harris: It seems as though that would require some meditation and some thought and some dwelling on God in order to arrive at a sense of who he really is. We never really get there, that’s why we continually meditate.
Dr. Craig: That’s a really good point. I do think that it requires study outside the worship service so you come to the worship service with an understanding of who God is – as a necessary being, eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, all of these superlative attributes of God. You won’t learn about those in the worship experience. You need to bring that understanding to worship. So you are quite right I think, Kevin, in saying that this is to be gained in the study and in the personal devotional time outside the worship service. Then you bring it to the worship service itself. By contrast, I think in the worship service itself your heart can be moved through the music, and the testimonies, and other things to have that emotional affective side of your personality engaged. That does seem to be something that can happen right there. But this understanding, I think, needs to be brought into it.
Kevin Harris: Bill, one time a man told me that he had been going to some worship services and he would go in and he had been in a bad mood for about a month. He just couldn’t get any release so he said, “I didn’t even worship.” I decided when I heard him say that after thinking about it for a while that I was going to try to worship whether I was in the mood or not. You know? Maybe I wouldn’t get to tears, maybe I wouldn’t get emotional, or whatever, but I would still try to just contemplate and bask and love God whether I felt like it or not, rather than wait for some emotional release that may or may not come. That has served me well.
Dr. Craig: Good, and I think you are right in doing so. I know sometimes when I am in a worship service, there may be a song or a hymn that I don’t particularly like or that I am tired of. I sing it anyway because I am singing it to my Lord, and I do want to worship and praise him even if I am not particularly emotionally in the mood or moved by that. So I do think that there is a certain kind of decision of the will that is involved here and not just floating along with your emotions.
Kevin Harris: That brings up the issue of worshiping on Sunday. We say we worship on Sunday. Well, is that the only time that we worship? We have to think about worship as a lifestyle perhaps.
Dr. Craig: Yes, and I do think, too, that we should have personal times when we are in the Scripture and when we are praying and coming to God alone in prayer.
Kevin Harris: Do you see your work, your study, your writing, as a worship? Do you see it that way?
Dr. Craig: I suppose you could say that in some sort of an extended sense. I see it as service to the Lord and in that sense it is worship. It is presenting a sort of sacrifice to God, a sacrificial offering to God. So I present my service to him as something that is meant to be my offering. But it is still, Kevin, I think very different from when you enter into this kind of experience that we are talking about of singing and praying and approaching God in this very direct kind of personal face-to-face way that is involved in, I think, what should we call? Ritual worship or something. I think that adds a very different dimension than just serving God.
Kevin Harris: But there sure is something about getting together with other believers and worshipping corporately that you can’t do by yourself. Apparently, I hear you saying do both. There are times one-on-one with God but then the experience of being with other believers. That is what makes Sunday pretty important, I think.
Dr. Craig: I think it is important. I think corporate worship is vitally important because we are not called to be lone ranger Christians. Lone ranger Christians will tube out. It is vitally important, I think, that we be part of a corporate group, a body of Christ, which has been gifted by God with spiritual gifts from the Holy Spirit to function together as a unity. If you are not part of that kind of a local body you are impairing that local body by your absence, and you are also not being strengthened and edified and built up in the way that God wants you to be by being part of that body. So I am very concerned about a lot of our young internet Christians who say “I don’t need to go to church. I can just watch a service on the internet in the privacy of my room and that is my worship experience.” I don’t buy that for a minute, Kevin. I think that is a way of disconnecting and disassociating with the body of Christ that is quite contrary to the New Testament ideal.
Kevin Harris: Certainly makes you rather vulnerable, I think, in your spiritual life.
Dr. Craig: Right. That’s right. We need each other, and that attempt to go it alone weakens you and makes you vulnerable.
Kevin Harris: Let me throw a hypothetical situation to you. Suppose that a beautiful alien being from another planet landed on the White House lawn. This was a beautiful, powerful being. He solved the gas problem, all the war problems, and made sure that everybody had plenty to eat, and he was benevolent, he traveled around on a private spaceship visiting the countries of the world. Would he be worthy of worship?
Dr. Craig: Clearly not. This exemplifies what we’ve been talking about. Such a being would still be a finite being which does not serve as the paradigm of goodness to us. This would be at best a sort of beneficent benefactor to us. But while he would be worthy of appreciation and worthy of gratitude, he would not be worthy of adoration and worship.
Kevin Harris: That’s what we are getting it because there is something about worship that goes beyond anything finite, limited, and mere benefactor.
Dr. Craig: Yeah, that’s what I think, too. That is why I used the word adoration. I think that best captures the idea of worship. Worship is more than just praise, as though you were to praise God for doing a good job. We praise each other when we do well. Worship is far beyond just sort of praising God. It comes to this idea of adoring God. That is something that I don’t think any finite person or object can have a claim to from us – true adoration. Only God in his infinite goodness is truly worthy of being adored.
 Total Running Time: 14:12 (Copyright © 2008 William Lane Craig)