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Sunday, January 13, 2008

dissertation finish line

I am excited to say that I have completed the full draft of my D.Min. project on worship and music. I have been working on the degree for 7 1/2 years, and writing the dissertation (technically, it's a "project") for 5 1/2 of those years, though significant portions of it began in studies and discussions 8 and 9 years ago at my previous church.

I still have to "defend" it before several professors and make any revisions they require, but the great weight has been lifted. Well, one interesting challenge remaining will be to condense the 320 pg. project into a 300-word abstract. I figure if I find one key word for each page I'll be close.

What is it about, you ask? Well thanks for asking!

It's about music and worship. =)

I'm going to write here instead about why I choose the topic of music and worship.

I have been musical all my life. I have played piano by ear since I was about 4. I took 14 years of classical piano and majored in music composition. I was a professional musician and songwriter for a while. I still have a small music studio that I use to help friends develop and record their musical ideas.

It has been clear to me for a long time that God made me to be creative and musical. And yet God also called me to serve and follow him as a child, and from my teenage years I began to sense a call to pastoral ministry. And I love being a pastor. I have been on this quest since I was a teenager to figure out how to integrate this pastoral calling and these musical gifts.

So I started studying and writing and playing and trying out the balance. And I found a doctoral program that allowed me to study the practical implications deeply, with the accountability to help me press through to completion.

The purpose of the dissertation is to try to establish the biblical purpose and function of music in worship. The topic addresses my own interest and need very profoundly, but I hope it will also be a resource to the church at large, for so many churches have been conflicted over music and worship.

I think I write from a unique vantage point. I am a pastor/preacher and a musician. I am classically trained (read music) and play/improvise by ear. I am right on the cusp between baby boomers and the so-called generation X, and feel like I have one foot planted in modernism and one in post-modernism. I understand both languages.

Anyway, I'm excited about it. I hope as I have opportunity to share the conclusions and contents with folks, they will be too.


5 comments:

Viola said...

congratulations Robert--I hope you will publish a book.

Ebenezer Erskine said...

Congrats. How do you integrate the RPW and NPW in the work?

robert austell said...

Hi Ebenezer. First, I'm amazed that someone in Scotland is reading my blog. I thought I had about 4 readers. :)

I interact with the regulative principle of worship throughout the paper. I am not familiar with the NPW acronym, but I'm guessing it is maybe the Lutheran counterpart to the RPW? I deal with that as well. There are two lengthy Biblical chapters - one on worship principles and one on worship application. In my history chapter, I deal entirely with primary source material from Luther and Calvin, who obviously set up a comparison between the two approaches to music. In a chapter on contemporary literature, I interact with Marva Dawn (who I describe as a contemporary Lutheran), Robert Webber (who I call a contemporary catholic in the sense of his wanting to restore 4th c. worship liturgy), and John Frame, who I see as one key contemporary Reformed theologian. Frame is also one of my professors and the one who graded my original biblical chapters.

I come out pretty close to Frame on the RPW, which is to say that I believe worship should follow only what is commanded in Scripture. Having said that, I (with Frame) interpret Scripture often in terms of timeless principles (of worship) with some occasional and cultural local application. If you are familiar with Frame, that probably makes sense. If not, there's only so much of a 320-page dissertation I can squeeze in a blog comment box. Hope I provided at least the beginning of an adequate response.

Out of curiosity, if you get back to see this comment, how did you find my blog?

Benjamin P. Glaser said...

Not to speak for Ebenezer but the NPW or "Normative Principle of Worship" is the Lutheran view. Thanks for this. While I may disagree with Frame on his interpretation of the RPW he is always a good read, quite provocative.

robert austell said...

Benjamin, I figured NPW was the Lutheran counterpart.

Certainly, if interpreting the regulative principle could be done with a one-line zinger, I would have. Frame spends a whole book carefully showing how his interpretation of Scripture fits within the definitions of the regulative principle. It's not like he (or I) are on one side of the fence and there's just one other option... for one, we are intending to uphold the regulative principle, and are thus to be found on a continuum of interpretation (of that principle) that includes folks who only sing Psalms, some who don't use instruments, some who use hymns, but only scripturally based ones, etc...

One of the reasons I thought I had something to contribute in the study of worship and music is that I think I offer a rigorous and faithful exegesis of scriptural teaching on worship that instructs how we are to apply a regulative principle.

Hopefully, the wider church will find it both faithful and useful.

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