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What Is Biblical Worship? Dr. Joe Crider

Phoenix Seminary
November 9, 2021



Dr. Arnold interviews Dr. Crider on worship.

Topics of conversation include:

  • The place of music in worship
  • Whether or not our worship methodology matters to God
  • Some dangers of the contemporary worship style
  • The importance of rooting worship in truth
  • The value of traditional hymns in modern worship
  • The role of a worship leader
  • Resources for further reading on this subject

Dr. Joe Crider serves as the dean of the School of Church Music and Worship at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of Scripture-Guided Worship (Seminary Hill Press, 2021).


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Intro (00:01):

Welcome to Faith Seeking Understanding, a podcast from Phoenix Seminary—helping Christians grow in their understanding of the faith, hosted by Dr. Brian Arnold, president of Phoenix Seminary.


Brian Arnold (00:16):

We were created to worship. God, out of his overflow, created humanity to be in relationship with him and to worship him. But the fall disrupted our unbroken fellowship and unmediated worship of God. Yet in his goodness, God made ways for his people to worship, from the tabernacle, to the temple, to the church. Worship is our response to God's goodness, from the heart that has been regenerated. But worship is more than songs. It is more than a one hour service on Sunday mornings. Worship is a way of life. It is giving God his due as God. Worship is at the center of the Christian faith. And as Christians, we should seek to worship God rightly. With us today to talk about worship, is Dr. Joe Crider. Dr. Crider serves as dean and professor of Church Music and Worship for the School of Church Music and Worship at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is passionate about training the next generation of worship leaders, and encouraging pastors and worship leaders to embrace the Bible as their guide for corporate worship. Dr. Crider is the author of Scripture-Guided Worship: A Call to Pastors and Worship Leaders, which came out this year and is the subject of our discussion. Dr. Crider, welcome to the podcast.


Joe Crider (01:26):

Thank you, Dr. Arnold. It's great to be with you. I appreciate it very much.


Brian Arnold (01:30):

So we always ask our guests one big question. And today the question is this—what is worship? That's obviously going to take a lot of different angles for us to answer that question. And I want to begin where you kind of set out in your book, and you frame it around the story of Uzziah and the Ark, from 2 Samuel 6. Why do you begin in that place to talk about right worship?


Joe Crider (01:53):

Well, first of all, let me just say this—I think that your opening comments about worship were spot on, and I was very grateful to hear those. I start there, because I think, one of the things, and this is an odd thing for the dean of a school of music to say, but what I tell our students, what I tell our churches, what I'm trying to really articulate in the book is that we really don't gather around music. And I don't think that God would have called his people to gather around something that changes so much with culture. And that's, certainly now, with every single person in a congregation—they all have their different playlists. They all have their different desires of what they hear and what they listen to. And I'm not saying that music isn't important, but I think it's important that if we can help our churches and help understand, from a Christian perspective, that God calls us to gather around Jesus Christ, who never changes, and his Word, that never returns void, then we've gathered around that, and who, that we've been called to gather around. And music then becomes even more important, because it's a part of our response to who God is.


Joe Crider (03:03):

And in that basic rhythm of what I call, in my definition of worship, I feel like it's a rhythm. It's a God-ordained, a God-initiated rhythm, of him revealing himself, as he's a self-revealing God. He reveals himself to us, and by faith through Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, we respond to him corporately, together. And God gave us music to do that. God gave us song to do that. And that's where music is a wonderful servant, but it's a horrible master. And unfortunately, I think in a lot of evangelicalism we've made music the master of our worship, instead of Jesus, who should be the primary focus of our mind's attention and our heart's affection.


Brian Arnold (03:48):

Well, we see the kind of conflict that it creates in churches when they put the music at the centerpiece of it all. That's created a lot of rupture in the churches in the last 50 or 60 years, especially as these styles have gone in divergent ways, instead of focusing on what worship is at its heart. And I think you've laid that out pretty well for us. Centered on Christ, his glory, the triune God, and that's unmoving, unchanging, not open to even cultural variation. It is the truth once for all, delivered to the saints in all time zones.


Joe Crider (04:18):

Amen. Amen. And I think, as we consider that, we realize that we, you know, worship is no more self actuated than salvation. We are saved by grace, and we worship by grace. And therefore, if we think that we can do something to initiate worship, or that there's somehow, there's some kind of magic guitar lick, or majestic organ sound that's going to get us into the presence of God, we've missed it. And we've, unfortunately, in that perspective, we've idolized music. And that's what I'm hoping to help. Just recalibrate our understandings of what it is. And you're so right—it's fractured our churches. And what God meant for us, what always meant to unite us, and to gather us together, so that we can lift our voices in unison together in song, I believe the Evil One's used to truly divide us. And that's what I'm hoping to help our worship leaders and pastors, especially, to see a different perspective on. On what worship is. And pragmatism, just what works, has been somewhat the theme in our evangelical churches.


Brian Arnold (05:39):

And I want to move into that. I want to talk a lot about, especially, that's your specialty. It's what you've taught for a long time. I think you have a good vision for what you want to see your students learn and then take into the churches. But then to just kind of reiterate, one last time, about worship as the totality of the life. You know, Paul talks in Romans 12 about our spiritual act of worship, and it's really our total selves, who we are, under the great command of loving God with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength, loving our neighbor as ourselves is worship. When we love God as he has revealed himself, and as we are called through the totality of our being, is worship. And so now I do want to talk about some specifics, because this has looked a lot different, even over your career and what churches are doing seems to be changing exponentially when it comes to worship. So one of the first questions you even try to answer in the book is—does our worship methodology really matter to God? So how do you help people think through that?


Joe Crider (06:42):

Yeah, thank you. So I think in that perspective, you know, and you mentioned the passage of Uzziah. And the Ark was captured by the Philistines, and it didn't go well for the Philistines, and they sent it back. They sent it back to the Israelites on a cart pulled by oxen. And David prepares, literally, an army of praise to get that Ark back to Jerusalem. And they begin the journey, and they totally disregard what God has said. Not only the way in which he is to be worshiped, but that he is the one to be worshiped. And they disregard in Leviticus that the Ark is to be carried on the backs of the priests, and they keep it on the cart.


Joe Crider (07:43):

And you know what? It was pragmatic, right? I don't know if it was too heavy. I don't know if it was just—hey, this worked for the Philistines, let's just do this. I mean, who knows why? But at the end of the day, it wasn't what God prescribed. And Uzziah reaches out to steady the Ark when the oxen stumble without a mediator. And he's killed instantly. And my point is, I'm not saying that, you know, doing worship wrongly, you know, there's, that there are strewn bodies all over. But I do think that when we don't worship the way God prescribes, that we don't worship in a response to him and his Word, I do think the spiritual health and vitality can diminish exponentially in our worship services. Because I ask our students, I ask worship leaders—if the Word of God is not proclaimed in the worship—in the time of music, because preaching, I think, is worship as well.


Joe Crider (08:46):

I think the entire gathering is worship. If we don't, if we're not responding to God, then who are we responding to? Are we responding to a great leader, a hip sound, a cool band, a technological light show? Who, or what, are we responding to? And that ends up being the question, because Jesus himself is the one who leads our worship. I think that we see that in Hebrews 2:12, and Jesus is the one who carries, he is the priest. He's the one who carries our worship. And we just, and that makes a big difference as we begin to see that, in a joyful way, of realizing—this is an incredible opportunity that we have to respond to God and who he is. And it's not done through a humanly mediated means. It's done through a triune God and the power of the Holy Spirit, through the work of Christ.


Brian Arnold (09:48):

I think that's a really helpful foundation for this, of thinking through God demanding to be approached rightly. As we flesh that out, you know, I think people are going to go to what their church is doing, and are they doing that methodology right? And kind of in the worship wars of the last 20 years, you get this response back and forth between contemporary and kind of more of a traditional approach to worship. You do see some potential problems with contemporary worship. What are those, and what do we need to be careful about?


Joe Crider (10:24):

Yeah, well, and I think they're more prevalent for us, and more seeable for us, I guess. They're more noticeable for us in that the darkened rooms, the blazing lights on the stage, the sound that is emanating from the stage—which is a stage, and all attention is on the people on the stage—and the realization that you can't really hear the congregation sing. Those are all problematic, because I think they're antithetical to what biblical worship and what Paul teaches throughout his pastoral epistles, I think, as we see, even in Old Testament worship, this idea of God's people responding to him together. And the same can happen—and I try to point this out as well—in even a more traditional worship, that is highly music, you know, the kind of art music that people would say—well, that was excellent worship today, because the organ prelude was so great, or the Bach prelude really set me into a right mindset.


Joe Crider (11:42):

I mean, the same problems occur. Now I'm not saying that there can't be music. Again, music's a wonderful servant, but it's a horrible master. And I think technology is a wonderful servant, but it can be a horrible master. When, what we tell our students, right, what I try to help our students realize, is that their responsibility is to facilitate a dialogue between the triune God of the universe and his redeemed. And to stay out of the way. And the best way to stay out of the way, is to proclaim the Word of God and guide the people in responding to who God is, and to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and to the reality of how desperately we need the gospel every day. And it's stepping into what's really real. It's helping our people. They've been bombarded all week by false views of themselves, by false views of God.


Joe Crider (12:42):

And in that time on Sunday mornings, in that time when we gather weekly as a corporate gathering, what we're doing is we're stepping into what's really real, and having our minds and hearts recalibrated to the truth of who God is and to the truth of who we are in our great need for Jesus Christ. And I think when we try to mediate that, when we try to take Christ out of the center, then we mediate it with emotional prompts through the technology and through sound and music and things...I'm not saying those are bad things, I'm just saying that we've supplanted, we've replaced our focus on Christ, our mind's attention and our heart's affection on Christ, we've replaced that with—hey, this is how I want to feel in worship, because this is all about me, and I'm the center. And if I don't feel it, then I haven't worshiped. And we've just unfortunately, and unwittingly somewhat, trained our people and conditioned our people toward that, because we've gotten away from the Word. And that's "worship on the cart of experience," is what we say in the book. That's another connection point to Uzziah—it's worship on the cart of experience, rather than worship in Spirit and in truth.


Brian Arnold (14:06):

So I think all worship leaders kind of in our space would want to avoid the manipulation piece of—we're trying to create a certain response. Maybe not all, maybe I'm being too generous there. But I think a lot of them would say, that's not really what we're trying to do. So if I can play devil's advocate for a minute and just say, you know, I could imagine worship leaders listening and saying, you know, that's not really the intention—it's actually to get them into a deeper encounter with the triune God. It's actually to get them to kind of, if I can say the words, "lost in the moment of worship," where they're kind of just enraptured with the Lord, and they are singing in a congregation full of people. That they're trying to achieve the same end through different means. How would you respond to that?


Joe Crider (14:49):

Yeah, well, I think that feeling lasts about as long as people can get to their car in the parking lot, because they've mediated a feeling. What I would use is, I would take a quote, I believe from Edwards, who would say, "I want to raise the affections of my hearers as high as I possibly can, provided those affections are rooted in truth." And if the Scriptures are proclaimed, there is no lack of emotion. There is no lack of power. There is no lack of...there's no lack, because that's where I believe the transformational power lies. And the power of the Holy Spirit is through the Word of Christ. It's as Colossians says, "let the word of Christ dwell richly in you, as you speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs." It's rooted in God revealing himself.


Joe Crider (15:52):

What I fear is yes, I think there are many well-meaning, Jesus loving, pastoral caring, worship leaders out there who think they have to get, they're the ones to get the response from their people. The problem is that they can never carry worship on their backs. And it's...this is a freeing thing for worship leaders, to realize that it's not up to me to make these people worship. I can trust in the authority and the sufficiency of Scripture, through the power of the Holy Spirit. And when I do that, then that's transformative worship. Otherwise we've placed ourselves and our people at the center of that, and how they're responding or feeling. And I think that's a dangerous place to be.


Brian Arnold (16:36):

Absolutely. I want to walk right into the lion's mouth on some of these discussions, because here we are talking about worship. One of the biggest questions that's being asked today is some of those contemporary songs versus some of the traditional things, songs. I was preaching at a church this past week in Phoenix, and this is pretty rare to have a church that has a traditional service—pipe organ, hymnals—and a contemporary service. I mean, I felt like it was more popular back east. That's not been my experience here in Phoenix. And I almost got a little teary-eyed singing "And Can It Be," by Charles Wesley. Because it dawned on me—my kids will not know a lot of these great hymns of the faith. Now I want to say this—I love my church. I am very happy with where we're at.


Brian Arnold (17:23):

My disagreements are not even that strong on where we're at on how we do, if I can say worship for shorthand, what we're talking about with the singing portion of a service. But as a church historian, one of the things I like to have people in the church have, is a succession back. When we're singing "Be Thou My Vision," that's what—an eighth century, ninth century hymn? When we're singing "A Mighty Fortress," you're singing Martin Luther, it's a 16th century hymn. You're singing the Wesley's. So there's something about that faith that's been handed down, even through song, that unites us to the faith of the past. That's how I feel about it. I would love to hear some of your thoughts. I know this is where people really want to center the debate, and it's probably not the best place to start. I'm glad we didn't start there, but I think people would be very curious about your thoughts on that.


Joe Crider (18:14):

Yeah. I think we have 2000 years of Christian hymnody that we have to choose from. Why would we say that...why would we only rely on what's been just written? I use the phrase in the book that I've heard so many pastors use with me— "we do the latest and greatest" And I want to stop them and say, just a second—I'm not sure that that really is that helpful. We sang "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," speaking of that, on Tuesday at our chapel here on Seminary Hill. And my daughter just went to be with our mission board, and there's that phrase, "let good and kindred go." And it hit me in an incredibly powerful way in that moment. I looked out and I saw my wife, and I saw her tears begin, and I barely could sing another note of the rest of that hymn. Because there' Matt Boswell said, who just came and spoke to our students the other day...he was a former student of mine.


Joe Crider (19:12):

But Matt said, we've got to be really careful in our modern hymn writing, because if they haven't written it before in the great hymns of the faith in the past, then there's probably something...there was probably a reason why biblical concepts or theological concepts haven't been written before. We really need to hold our modern hymnody, our modern songs, not only up to Scripture, through the rubric of Scripture, but we need to hold those up to the rubric of the great classic hymns of the faith over the last 2000 years. And I was really grateful for that, because so many of our hymns, the great hymns of the faith—a couple that you've just mentioned, are...they're written with such powerful connection to Scripture that I think there'll be, we'll still be singing them.


Joe Crider (20:03):

And I'm grateful for some of the groups that have somewhat modernized just the musical harmonic language, but have kept the melodies and kept the words exact. And so I really encourage the singing of great hymns...singing throughout the ages. And on Tuesday we use the organ, orchestra, and a full choir with a choral ending. And even some of the most young people in our chapel service were, I think, moved by the power of the text, in relationship to Psalm 46, which is where "A Mighty Fortress" came from. And that guided our worship. And again, it's, yeah, so I would line up very closely to what you've just articulated, because I think it would be foolish for us to lose those great expressions of faith.


Brian Arnold (21:00):

I appreciate what you just said. I'm probably not as much of a purist, if I can say it like that, but I really appreciate where you're coming from on these questions. They're just so important for how we're passing the faith on, even, and what could be connecting so many people who feel anchorless in this world to something that reminds them of the historicity of the Christian faith. Time is kind of starting to wind down on us. But I was wondering if you could speak to maybe a worship leader, or a pastor who might want to have a conversation with the worship leader. Just in about a minute or so, what is the role of a worship leader? Like what kind of encouragement, if you just had kind of the elevator ride with a worship leader, and you could speak into their lives of what they're meant to do, what would you say?


Joe Crider (21:49):

Yeah, thank you. That's a great question. And I would say this. And I tell our students this—if someone said, you've got to tell me what the role of a worship leader is in just a few sentences, here's what I would say. Worship leaders and pastors are charged, I believe, to help facilitate a dialogue between the triune God of the universe and his redeemed people. And to do that, we have to rely primarily on his Word, because that is...the Word is trans-temporal. It's efficacy is throughout the ages, past and present and future. It's transcultural, and it's transgenerational. And when we rely on the Word to help facilitate that dialogue, then people, I think, are responding rightly to our amazing, triune, self-revealing God. And worship leaders facilitate that dialogue on a weekly basis. And without the Scriptures, I think that dialogue is stunted, and we haven''s not only stunted, sometimes I don't think it exists.


Brian Arnold (22:58):

Well, we've talked multiple times now, even about Martin Luther in passing, "A Mighty Fortress," wrote other hymns as well. Great theologian. Obviously sparked the Reformation in the 16th century, but he was a hymn writer. And he said, let other people write the doctrinal treatises, let me write the hymns. Knowing that that's what's going to be inculcated into our people. But one of the things he famously said about the Reformation is—the Word did it all. And as we think about even the worship that he is...the songs that he's writing, the hymnity, it's still so Word-saturated, because it's the Word.


Joe Crider (23:32):

Yes. I had a pastor, Dr. Arnold, who used to say—all revivals are Bible revivals, at the end of the day. The ones that had the biggest impact. And you'll see that through Scripture as well. And I'm really, really grateful for the resonance that I hear from you. And so thankful for the work you're doing there.


Brian Arnold (23:53):

I appreciate that. Maybe you could give a resource or two, in addition. I want to remind everybody, you've written a book called Scripture-Guided Worship: A Call to Pastors and Worship Leaders. What's maybe one or two other books that are really helpful for people to think through for worship?


Joe Crider (24:09):

Yeah, I think Bryan Chapell's Christ-Centered Worship is an incredibly helpful book. If you want to go a little more in the full theological treatment, Allen P. Ross's Recalling the Hope of Glory is absolutely fantastic. And then Matt Boswell edited a book called Doxology and Theology that I think is fantastic. And Mike Cosper's Rhythms of Grace, I think are really fantastic books.


Brian Arnold (24:47):

That's a great lineup. So those listening—wonderful books that Dr. Crider's recommended. Well God is obviously worthy of all of our worship, all of our praise, not only in all of our life, but as we conduct our worship services, thinking through how we can best honor him. Dr. Crider, thank you so much for helping put in front of our eyes ways we can do this in such Christ-honoring ways.


Joe Crider (25:11):

Dr. Arnold, it's been a pleasure. And again, thank you so much.


Outro (25:16):

Thank you for listening to the Faith Seeking Understanding podcast. If you want to grow more in your understanding of the faith, consider studying at Phoenix Seminary, where men and women are trained for Christ-centered ministry for the building up of healthy churches in Phoenix and throughout the world. Learn more at


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