Several weeks ago I got a message from Thomas Terry (AKA "Odd Thomas" and member of Beautiful Eulogy) saying that he'd be in town this coming weekend and was looking forward to worshipping with us at Redeemer Fellowship. I asked if he would be willing to say something to us in the form of spoken word, and he kindly agreed. I know this will be a blessing to our people that will be received well. But I also know this may be confusing, if not concerning, for others out there who read this blog. Here, I'd like to offer a little clarification on spoken word and why we welcome it at Redeemer Fellowship.
What is Spoken Word?
Spoken word is a form of poetry meant to be verbally communicated. It is often aggressive and is meant to stir and challenge hearers. Glenn North, Poet in Residence and Education Manager at the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City, MO, says spoken word includes "heavy use of rhythm, improvisation, free association, rhymes, rich poetic phrases, word play and slang." If you've heard spoken word before you know it's closer to preaching than singing, more prophetic than romantic. Thomas Terry told me that spoken word "lends an opportunity to teach, challenge, and move its audience while helping them gain the artist's point of view."
Why Include It in Corporate Worship?
Though we have never done so before, Redeemer's elders are excited to include spoken word in our worship gathering this Sunday. The main reason we are happy to include it is because spoken word, in this context, is an earnest appeal to look to Christ. Thomas will bring a theologically rich, compelling, confrontational, message to God's people based on God's word. And the fact that it is poetic in nature is not a hit against it, but a strength. God loves poetry and has given us much of his word in that very form.
Additionally exhortation and encouragement take various forms in Scripture including formal preaching (2 Tim 4:2), informal words shared between Christians (Heb. 3:13) and even song.
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart... (Ephesians 5:18,19 ESV)
Just as we would be happy to hear one of our members share a testimony of God's grace in their life, we welcome this brother to testify to us this Sunday--even with some rhythm and rhyme. While spoken word cannot take the place of the exposition of Scripture, it can compliment it. I assure you Thomas Terry and the other artists at Humble Beast would agree.
A Few Questions
Isn't this just entertainment? The answer is an obvious "no," for entertainment aims at amusement, and spoken word, at least in this context, is aimed at arresting our attention and drawing our thoughts to the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of the Father. Like good preaching, or an excellent hymn, we may find it enjoyable, but more importantly it will prove to be spiritually profitable.
Isn't this merely trying to attract people through an act? Some churches may market themselves with a variety of appeals, but in our case we don't even do any real advertising. We have simply tried to be faithful to God, and fitting in our context. We don't try to entice people with a cool poet or a preacher, but with the truth about God's Son, our Savior. The simple answer to the question is, "no."
Isn't this worldliness? I suppose spoken word can go by a lot of names, but worldliness, in the sense the Apostle Paul used that word, is clearly inaccurate. Worldliness is the acceptance of the presuppositions and values of the world that stand at odds with the truth of God. What we will hear on Sunday from my friend in spoken word is the bold testimony of God's truth that conquers all falsehood in the world.
Ultimately, we aren't just talking about "spoken word," but spoken truth. Truth is meant to be spoken. The truth of God's word is meant to be proclaimed, sung, heralded. This is what's going on at Redeemer this Sunday, just like every Sunday.