Good Stuff Found by Norm – Those Buzzwords (Review of the Model Conference on Worship) by Phillip Magness

The following is an Issues Etc Blog of the Week and was written by BJS’s own Phillip Magness, Cantor at Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL.

It was found on the  Liturgy Solutions blog, “Fine Tuning”.

Phillip has other posts talking about the MtCow, as he calls it — the Model Theological Conference on Worship recently held in St Louis:

I know language changes. And some new words are helpful. “Trinity” doesn’t actually occur in the Bible. Neither does “Sacrament.” Those words were new at one time, and they serve the Church well. So some of the new buzzwords may be OK. Accordingly, I am going to withhold critique of “missional” as a buzzword, though it tends to irritate me. Certainly the book of Acts describes the mission of the early church, and we have always sent and supported “missionaries”. Church usage is normative, so I’ll agree with Dr. Gibbs’ assertion, made at the conference, that “God is in the gaps” between “Scripture and the Confessions”. He works through His church. Through working with the Word, the Church came up with “Trinity” and “Sacrament”. So maybe some of the new words like “missional” will turn out OK.

But given the frequency and novelty of some of these terms today, I think it is fair to ask whether the church being shaped by the world – rather than by the Word – when we use so many buzzwords that carry either modernist or post-modernist freight.

Sure, some of these words might serve the Church well. For example, there was much talk of “context”. Certainly there is much truth in the proposition that those who preach and teach need to be sensitive to the situation of their hearers. One does not preach in a language the hearers do not understand. One must teach at a level the hearers can comprehend. Properly used, “context” might become a 21st-century American English equivalent of the Lutheran theological Sitz im leben (‘setting in life”).

But “contextual” if often used in our culture to justify “whatever works”, or “what is true for me may not be true for you.” It is the way our public university English and History teachers speak. Accordingly, it has post-modern baggage connected to other buzzwords I heard often at the Conference and also at the regional “Blue Ribbon” gathering I attended in Madison: perspective, relative, impact, diversity, empower and community. None of these words are necessarily wrong when used carefully. But they all stem from the world of relativism. So careful use should also mean minimal use, lest the words echo in the body of Christ and overwhelm the commonsense, Biblical way in which the Church has historically spoken: see, confess, convict, nations, save, and communion.

Words matter. They define us. So I think we need ask ourselves a couple of questions. Are we sharing different glimpses of glory in a passionate way so that we can grow stronger by enlarging the numbers of our faith community? Or are we to share what we have seen with our neighbor, that they may know the truth, and be freed to join us at the Lord’s table?

The former is the way of organizations marketing themselves to religious consumers. The latter is what we read about in the Scriptures. Can we have it both ways?

About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord,, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

More of his work can be found at


Good Stuff Found by Norm – Those Buzzwords (Review of the Model Conference on Worship) by Phillip Magness — 9 Comments

  1. “Trinity” and “Sacrament” are persons or things. “Missional” is an adjective and, as such, is much harder to nail down. Perhaps that’s why it’s so attractive to some groups.

    In our context, the noun “mission” seems to imply a mandate for personal soul-winning (rather than the more biblical “confession” or “praise”) and institutional efforts at enforcing the same mandate among persons.

    (The institutional encouragement and support of marriage and larger families certainly would be more “successful” in the long run, but I digress.)

    Which is to say, “missional” certainly is not like “Trinity” or “Sacrament.” I can deduce the latter two comparing several Bible passages, but I can’t do the same for the former.

    Robert at

  2. Robert,

    Well put Robert. Missional is not in the same league as Trinity and Sacrament. I think Phillip knows that but is trying to find a loving way of saying it.

    If you have ever read anything by District President Newton (or listened to him speak), the LCMS king of “missional thinking” you will notice that it is not deductive reasoning that he uses but some sort of mystical, non-correspondence, magical logic behind his “thought” process. That is to say, it is not logical at all and therefore is beyond comprehension. You are correct – Trinity is deducible from Scripture, Missional is not!


  3. Interestingly enough, the word “mission” is not really a biblical word at all. It comes into Christian vocabulary from the latin translation of the word Apostle. The Jesuit “missions” were the Apostolic sending of priests to convert the heathen.

    If we rightly want to get our missiology nailed down, and get missional, then biblically speaking we are talking about the Office of the Ministry, the Keys, etc. This is a far cry from the word “mission” as generally bandied about, even in Lutheran circles 50 years ago. That, rather, is the “go” of Matthew 28, which has been expanded into an entire paradigm for hermeneutics. Ironically, the “go” in Matthew 28 is not even an imperative at all! It’s a participle, and thus has far more to do with “being ready to give an answer” wherever your vocation happens to leave you then with any mandate to “go go go go go.”

  4. How to Speak and Write Postmodern

    by Stephen Katz, Associate Professor, Sociology
    Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada

    ….Here is a quick guide, then, to
    speaking and writing postmodern.

    First, you need to remember that plainly expressed language is out
    of the question. It is too realist, modernist and obvious.
    Postmodern language requires that one uses play, parody and
    indeterminacy as critical techniques to point this out. Often this
    is quite a difficult requirement, so obscurity is a
    well-acknowledged substitute. For example, let’s imagine you want
    to say something like, “We should listen to the views of people
    outside of Western society in order to learn about the cultural
    biases that affect us”. This is honest but dull. Take the word
    “views”. Postmodernspeak would change that to “voices”, or better,
    “vocalities”, or even better, “multivocalities”. Add an adjective
    like “intertextual”, and you’re covered. “People outside” is also
    too plain. How about “postcolonial others”? To speak postmodern
    properly one must master a bevy of biases besides the familiar
    racism, sexism, ageism, etc. For example, phallogocentricism
    (male-centredness combined with rationalistic forms of binary logic).

    Finally “affect us” sounds
    like plaid pajamas. Use more obscure verbs and phrases, like
    “mediate our identities”. So, the final statement should say, “We
    should listen to the intertextual, multivocalities of postcolonial
    others outside of Western culture in order to learn about the
    phallogocentric biases that mediate our identities”. Now you’re
    talking postmodern!

    Sometimes you might be in a hurry and won’t have the time to muster
    even the minimum number of postmodern synonyms and neologisms needed
    to avoid public disgrace. Remember, saying the wrong thing is
    acceptable if you say it the right way. This brings me to a second
    important strategy in speaking postmodern, which is to use as many
    suffixes, prefixes, hyphens, slashes, underlinings and anything else
    your computer (an absolute must to write postmodern) can dish out.
    You can make a quick reference chart to avoid time delays. Make
    three columns. In column A put your prefixes; post-, hyper-, pre-,
    de-, dis-, re-, ex-, and counter-. In column B go your suffixes and
    related endings; -ism, -itis, -iality, -ation, -itivity, and
    -tricity. In column C add a series of well-respected names that
    make for impressive adjectives or schools of thought, for example,
    Barthes (Barthesian), Foucault (Foucauldian, Foucauldianism),
    Derrida (Derridean, Derrideanism).

    Now for the test. You want to say or write something like,
    “Contemporary buildings are alienating”. This is a good thought,
    but, of course, a non-starter. You wouldn’t even get offered a
    second round of crackers and cheese at a conference reception with
    such a line. In fact, after saying this, you might get asked to
    stay and clean up the crackers and cheese after the reception. Go
    to your three columns. First, the prefix. Pre- is useful, as is
    post-, or several prefixes at once is terrific. Rather than
    “contemporary building””, be creative. “The Pre/post/spatialities
    of counter-architectural hyper-contemporaneity” is promising. You
    would have to drop the weak and dated term “alienating” with some
    well suffixed words from column B. How about “antisociality”, or be
    more postmodern and introduce ambiguity with the linked phrase,

    Now, go to column C and grab a few names whose work everyone will
    agree is important and hardly anyone has had the time or the
    inclination to read. Continental European theorists are best when in
    doubt. I recommend the sociologist Jean Baudrillard since he has
    written a great deal of difficult material about postmodern space.
    Don’t forget to make some mention of gender. Finally, add a few
    smoothing out words to tie the whole garbled mess together and don’t
    forget to pack in the hyphens, slashes and parentheses. What do you
    get? “Pre/post/spacialities of counter-architectural
    hyper-contemporaneity (re)commits us to an ambivalent
    recurrentiality of antisociality/seductivity, one enunciated in a
    de/gendered-Baudrillardian discourse of granulated subjectivity”.
    You should be able to hear a postindustrial pin drop on the
    retrocultural floor.

    At some point someone may actually ask you what you’re talking
    about. This risk faces all those who would speak postmodern and
    must be carefully avoided. You must always give the questioner the
    impression that they have missed the point, and so send another
    verbose salvo of postmodernspeak in their direction as a
    “simplification” or “clarification” of your original statement. If
    that doesn’t work, you might be left with the terribly modernist
    thought of, “I don’t know”. Don’t worry, just say, “The instability
    of your question leaves me with several contradictorily layered
    responses whose interconnectivity cannot express the logocentric
    coherency you seek. I can only say that reality is more uneven and
    its (mis)representations more untrustworthy than we have time here
    to explore”. Any more questions? No, then pass the cheese and

  5. Henry @ #4: This is great stuff! Straight from one of Prof. Irwin Corey’s monologues.

  6. That’s a great piece by Stephen Katz. There is actually a much simpler way to speak “postmodern” (aka “pomoese”) and here it is. String along any number of words into sentences. What words you use don’t matter. Be sure the reader knows to deconstruct their own meanings for the words. Want to see how it works? Try it out on the following sentence, but be sure to use something like the Hegelian dialectic to determine its meaning in the context.

    Thesis: “Mickey Mouse voluntarily went to the barbecue shack for ribs.”

    Now to deconstruct an antithesis…

    “Minny Mouse was ticked off at Mickey’s patriarchal tone and kicked him out of the house at dinner time. That is why Mickey was at the barbecue shack eating ribs while crying over his beer in defeat.”

    Let’s put it together for our synthesis which is truth, well… is truth for me since in “pomoese” I provide the meanings to words and not the author. You will have to come up with your own truth. Sorry for the inconvenience.

    “Pluto ate the ribs Minny cooked, since he felt entitled to the food due to the oppression of the capitalistic giant mouse class and so wanted to rebel against the bourgeois running the kitchen. Minny got so angry she took out her butcher’s knife and threatened to cook ‘Pluto teriyaki’, but Mickey intervened, got her out of the house, and took her out to the barbecue shack for ribs and beer, where Mickey ‘cried’ tears because of how spicy the barbecue sauce was.”

    See how I could get those meanings out of the original sentence?


  7. The missional paradigm within the culture-sensitive worship experience context would indicate that a nuanced approach should be asserted in the homiletical task facing the communicator of whatever truth he/she may be attempting to convey to the listener. This leads us to the inescapable conclusion that such outmoded concepts as “sin”, “forgiveness”, and “salvation” be discarded in favor of more readily acceptable terms, for instance, “relational”, “satisfying”, “fulfillment”, and “effective.”

    Translated into the more direct, but less refined language of an earlier age, the above paragraph says:

    “People today don’t want to hear about sin, so just preach feel-good sermons, and you’ll pack ’em in.”

    Johannes, the word-meister

  8. If you want to hear this kind of rhetoric honed to a razor edge listen to the December 8, 2009 episode @ Issues Etc. ELCS Bishop Mark Hanson answers questions on homosexuality. Be sure to have a barf bag handy. Given what has happened in the ELCA you can understand why we get nervous when they are bantered about by the LCMS synodacrats.

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