Monday, November 8, 2010

Emotional Engineering

What is “emotional engineering”...that is, when it comes to the Church..or to worship? My last two blogs have been critical of the current music scene as it is found in many contemporary worship services. I have literally found myself wanting to walk out of the service because of the bad theology and vain repetition in some of our current worship songs. How did all this come about? Who started this steady decline of dumbing down our brothers and sisters in Christ through such vacuous, empty, shallow, repetitive singing?

I had not encountered this word..”emotional engineering” until just recently, but when I read it I knew exactly what was being referenced. I have witnessed this process many, many times in many, many church services. Mostly found in Arminian based churches but certainly not exclusively and mostly occurring during what is known as “the altar call”..but not exclusively here either. Charles Finney (1792-1875) ministered in the wake of the 'Second Awakening,' as it has been called. A Presbyterian lawyer, Finney one day experienced 'a mighty baptism of the Holy Ghost' which 'like a wave of electricity going through and through me...seemed to come in waves of liquid love.'(1) He is known as the father of modern revivalism.(2) Charles Finney is credited with this quote regarding revival and conversion: “there is nothing in religion beyond the ordinary powers of nature. It consists entirely in the right exercise of the powers of nature. It is just that and nothing else. It is not a miracle or dependent on a miracle in any sense. It is a purely philosophical result of the right use of the constituted means as much so as any other effect produced by the application of means”(3) (my emphases) And that, I believe, is the basis of “emotional engineering”. This is exactly how products in the business world are emphasis on why not in worship?

I have heard of an evangelist who has claimed that he could be introduced to someone, have a fifteen-minute conversation and “get him saved”. Hallelujah, Finney lives! Who needs the Holy Spirit? I’ll just "betcha" he could also, just as efficiently, get him to buy life insurance policies or automobiles. Utilize the right formula, say the right words, make the right sales pitch and “voila”, revival. Now if you can’t get the job done in fifteen minutes there’s always the extended “altar” call. I have heard of a pastor in the Southwest whose altar calls are longer than his sermons.and his sermons are long. Twenty-five verses of “Just as I Am” and a pleading pastor ought to get some folk to make a decision to walk the aisle. Emotional Engineering at it’s finest via decisional regeneration.

In addition, there is the “ musical manipulation” that I mentioned in my blog in April 2008 entitled “Pickin’Nits”.  How much emotion should an emotional song emote? After all, we are emotional creatures. How can one help but be moved by certain musical masterpieces such as Handel’s Messiah Hallelujah Chorus? If one is not moved by that one, one is not breathing. So my question is really..”should the worship leaders purposefully manipulate the music or the message to obtain a desired emotional result? And that is exactly what I mean when I use the term “emotional engineering”. Whether there is a musical crescendo obtained by turning the electronic sound volume control to the right or whether a portion of the song is sung softly and a capella during an altar call thereby eliciting an emotional response...or whether the “sub-woofer” effect with deep-vibrating sub-sonic sounds pounding through the body moves this manipulation of the worshiper proper? worship leaders actually do that sort of thing, really? Does Pastor Paul love the mountains? (click link for an explanation of this truism)

On a positive note, in our worship services we need to “learn how to avoid the amatory, the sentimental, and the melancholy; or as the wag said “the erotic, the exotic, and the tommyrotic”.(4) Worship should appeal to both "head and heart", intellect and emotion without purposeful manipulation. We need to encourage our ministers to provide for the congregation music and messages that would cause the word of Christ to dwell in us richly;  that would help us to teach and admonish one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; that would cause us to sing and live with gratitude in our hearts to God for Christ’s finished work on the cross for us.(Paraphrase of Col 3:16)

1 The Legacy of Charles Finney by Michael S. Horton
3 Lectures on Revivals of Religion, Lecture I, page 12, Finney
4 The Fine Art of Public Worship, pg 96, A.W. Blackwood (1939)

Update Wed Nov 10, 2010
Speaking of being "moved" by Handel's Messiah..can you believe worshipers at Macy's?  Watch this:

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