"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Grand Dame of Pittsburgh Makes Her Entrance

Recently I noted David Fagerberg's review of Edith Humphrey's new book, Grand Entrance: Worship on Earth as in Heaven. I asked Edith for an interview to discuss this most recent work of hers, and here are her thoughts.

AD: Please tell us about your background:

EH: I have served at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary since 2002, and as the William F. Orr Professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary since 2005. Before PTS, I taught at a variety of post-secondary schools in Canada, including St. Paul (Ottawa), McGill (Montréal), Regent College (Vancouver) and Toronto School of Theology.  I was also a founding member of Augustine College, Ottawa, where in my final year of teaching Scripture there I served as dean. Much of my study has centered around the literary and rhetorical aspects of the Bible, a continuation from my undergraduate work in English and Classics.  My writing includes  And I Turned to See the Voice: The Rhetoric of Vision in the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), Ecstasy and Intimacy: When the Holy Spirit Meets the Human Spirit,

the Sheffield Guide to Joseph and Aseneth, The Ladies and the Cities: Transformation and Apocalyptic Identity in Joseph and Aseneth, 4 Ezra, the Apocalypse and The Shepherd of Hermas, and Grand Entrance: Worship on Earth as in Heaven. I am a member of the Orthodox Theological Society of America, the vice-president of the Canadian Society of Biblical Literature, and an executive member of two seminars within the Society of Biblical Literature.

In popular and church writing, I have tackled the Jesus Seminar, the Trinity, sexuality and the human person, Christian spirituality and the question of Scriptural authority within the Great Tradition. (I am now completing a book tentatively entitled What the Bible REALLY Says About Tradition. I am, I think, driven to integrate my academic with my church life: no doubt this springs from my earliest formation in the Salvation Army (Toronto, Canada), a Christian movement that cares for the whole person.  In my earliest adult years, I trained and served with my husband Chris as a Salvation Army Officer, pastoring small churches and leading mission and social service work. Even during that time, I was intrigued by questions of ecclesiology, and read with keen interest such authors as C. S. Lewis, Chesterton and Charles Williams.  In 1984, under the influence of these authors, as well as contemporary friends and theologians (N. T. Wright and Oliver O’Donovan), my husband and I were received into the Anglican Church.  During the mounting crisis faced by that communion, I served in parish, diocesan, national (Canada, then the U. S.) and international venues, both as a musician and as a lay theologian and teacher. Finally, in Pentecost 2009, after over 13 years of inquiry, I was chrismated in the Orthodox communion, and am now a member of the Orthodox Church (St. George’s Antiochian Church, Oakland).  Retaining strong ties with friends in various settings, I am continue, with delight, to serve and speak at various church retreats, ecumenical conferences, and seminary events. For enjoyment, I sing in two choirs, play oboe in a symphonic band and practice piano concerti with a friend. Chris and I have a daughter who is in college, two married daughters and are expecting our sixth grandchild in March.

Tell us why you wrote this book:

Grand Entrance is the fruit of questions posed by Christian friends concerning worship, my own quest for the Church and my love-affair with corporate worship.  I would argue that ecclesiology is at least one of the major questions of twenty-first century Christians, if not the major concern, whether we are speaking of bodies with a self-conscious ecclesiology, mainline churches facing schism, or evangelical bodies searching for roots in a time of turmoil. As one with a varied experience of worship, I am dismayed to see Christian friends (both lay and ordained) at a loss to know what to do about the strife that has come to their congregation due to changes in worship style and differing views about the nature of the Church and the reasons for worship. Grand Entrance is an attempt to get behind the pressing questions of the worship wars—what kind of music?  What form of liturgy? What style of teaching?—to suggest that worship is not primarily about relevance, aesthetics or utility.  Rather, worship is a gift that involves God’s invitation—we are invited, with the whole of creation, to enter into worship together.

For whom was the book written—did you have a particular audience in mind?

I suppose that the most obvious audience for this book would be those who have been embroiled in the “worship wars,” or evangelicals who are seeking “an ancient future faith.” It is my hope that the book will open these friends up to those deeper parts of their worship that are in continuity with Scriptures and with the life of the entire Church, past and present, so that they will recognize how some habits of the twenty-first century obscure the call of the Holy Spirit that we join together in the “grand entrance.”  To this end, I have included both a “trouble-shooting” chapter as well as a one that “visits” a number of different churches, with an eye to the wonder of worship as entry into God’s presence. Beyond this, I hope that the book will also engage those who worship in a long-standing tradition (Roman Catholics; Anglicans, Orthodox, Eastern Catholic, and liturgical Protestant groups), but who can hardly avoid the questions of today regarding what makes worship Christian, and how they should respond to traditions other than their own.  When I consider the mutual questions asked by those who worship in either an Eastern or Western classical liturgical style, I yearn for my friends in these communities to recognize the family likeness of the other—even where serious theological and ecclesial questions remain unanswered. Especially it is important, I believe, for Roman Catholics to recognize Eastern-rite friends, and for Eastern Orthodox to accept those in their communion for whom arrangements have been made to worship according to the Western liturgies. Despite the differences, here are particular strengths to be valued in the liturgies of both East and West.  This should not be a surprise, since these liturgies find their inception prior to the time of the Great Schism, and have brought into the holy City of worship those riches of the cultures in which they were formed, and in which they developed. Fruitful discussion, whether liturgical or theological, can never occur in an atmosphere where Christian brothers and sisters caricature or dismiss what may seem “foreign,” when these worship moves have indeed been naturalized in Christ and in his Church, and actually constitute the casting down of crowns in adoration before the Lamb.

What about your own background led you to the writing of this book?

My earliest formation was in an ecclesial body that sometimes eschewed the very word “church” (the Salvation Army) and that did not practice the sacraments. This forced me to begin thinking very early about the nature of the church—at first, indirectly, but as the years passed, more and more actively.  The Army was a good place to learn who Jesus was, but it was, so to speak, a “hard case” scenario for anyone asking “where is the Church?’  When I became an Anglican, I was delighted by worship that was Trinitarian and God-centered (over against the introspection of my earlier worship experience).  However, the controversies over churchmanship (evangelical, charismatic, Anglo-Catholic), sacramentalism, church orders, and increasingly shrill revisionism led me to renew my questions with regards to the purposes of worship and the nature of the Church. My international experience in the rather broad Anglican fellowship brought me face-to-face with the diversity of approach and practice in that body.  In attending an unknown Anglican parish, I wondered: Would I receive an absolution or not?  Would we have communion or simply morning prayer? Would someone alter the name of the Holy Trinity for more politically-correct language? Would we sing hymns or praise songs? Kneel and bow as the cross processed or raise hands in adoration? Hear the words, “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us” OR “Christ our Passover has been sacrificed…” And on what basis were these decisions being made?  Recently I came across the plaintiff words of C. S. Lewis regarding “the liturgical fidget:” “if grave doctrinal differences are really as numerous as variations in practice, then we will have to conclude that no such thing as the Church of England exists” (Letters to Malcolm, ch. 1).  Now that discernment is certainly not mine to make, nor did I make it in entering Orthodoxy.  Such were the formal questions, however, that forced themselves upon me as I moved from a “dissenting” non-church ecclesial body, through Anglicanism, to the historic Eastern Church. As a musician and director of Church music, these academic questions took on a particularly acute form: how, in all this distraction and disarray, could I serve my brothers and sisters and at least help to clear the way so that we can concentrate on the “one thing needful”?

Were there any surprises you discovered in your writing?

I am not a liturgical specialist, but  biblical scholar, so there were plenty.  The first was to discover that the Western penchant for thematically-organized worship is not a novelty among evangelicals, but has its analogue in the classical Gregorian liturgy.  The second was to discover that it is not merely “relevance” that can distract from the major role of worship, but also an over-concern for aesthetics. I expected that the contemporary thief of authentic worship would come in the form of contemporary casual worship-songs, but saw that the problem was more deep-seated, and afflicted more high-brow congregations as well.

Are there similar books out there, and if so, how is yours different?

I am sure that there are.  I think of  Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. and S. A. Rozeboom, Discerning the Spirits: A Guide to Thinking About Christian Worship Today (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), T. Howard, Evangelical is Not Enough, F. R. Mitman, Worship in the Shape of Scripture and S. Chan, Liturgical Theology.  There are also wonderful monograph and collections on worship in the Bible, too numerous to mention.  My book tries to marry a biblical and historical study of worship with contemporary concerns, with a special attention to worship as entrance into the presence of God with the whole of God’s people.

AD: Sum up briefly the main themes/ideas/insights of the book

Here, then, is what I have hoped to accomplish, at least in part: I have tried to show the deep significance of the theme of “entrance” into cosmic worship in the Scriptures, and in key liturgical texts from the eastern and western Christian traditions. My deepest hope is that my readers will come to love the worship of the Church as I have, even where a specific tradition under study somewhat from their own. I have also tried to enter into and illuminate various expressions of contemporary worship, noting the importance (or absence!) of “entrance” in contemporary Christian understandings.  In this, I have given attention to music, lyrics, visuals, specific prayers, architecture, and the shape of the liturgies.  Throughout, my aim has been to show how biblical and traditional understandings of worship address points of contention concerning worship in twenty-first century settings. In this, I have been very specific, pointing to strengths and  problem areas in a variety of traditions. Above all, I have tried to encourage those engaged in worship to move beyond visceral reactions or personal preference towards a larger perspective (including temporal, geographical and inter-confessional insights) in their thinking about worship. Our Scriptures end in the Apocalypse, where all creations joins those adoring angels and prostrate saints who now see more than we do.  “More glorious than the seraphim,” lead our praises!

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