SBTS plays host to historic course on ethnodoxology

Communications Staff — July 10, 2008

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary held its first ever graduate-level course on “ethnodoxology” last month.

A collaborative team from the International Council of Ethnodoxologists (ICE) developed and taught the historic course May 31-June 6. Attendees included students from multiple universities, worship leaders from across the nation, and musicians and missionaries from three different continents.

The ICE team crafted the course in consultation with Esther Crookshank, associate dean for professional studies in the School of Church Music and Worship at Southern.

“The instructional resources, passionate vision and networking connections that this teaching team brought to our campus was phenomenal,” said Crookshank, who is also the Ollie Hale Chiles professor of church music at Southern. “I can think of no better investment of our energies at Southern Seminary than to equip musicians, pastors and missionaries to facilitate biblical worship that connects with God’s people at the deepest level possible, whatever their cultural context.”

Ethnodoxology is a term coined by Dave Hall, a founder of ICE and founder of Worship From The Nations, a ministry of Pioneers. The term refers to the theological and anthropological study, and practical application, of how every cultural group uses its unique and diverse artistic expressions appropriately to worship the God of the Bible, according to the ICE website.

Paul Neeley, president of ICE, said ethnodoxology is important because it examines people’s worship and thus affects every area of their lives.

“Worship intersects with culture constantly: in congregational life, in our individual lives and in the way we live in our social settings. Ethnodoxology helps us think through some of these things,” said Neeley, who serves as teacher of ethnomusicology at Bethel University and Dallas Baptist University.

“What are some ways for biblical worship to be fleshed out in particular cultural forms that are appropriate, relevant and meaningful? Whether we are involved with worship ministries in multicultural congregations in North America or doing church planting among unreached people groups, we need to ask these questions and see the types of answers which those before us have reached.”

Chad Helmer, a recent M.Div. graduate from Southern Seminary, noted that many institutions offer classes in ethnomusicology, examining the music of different cultures, but no course has ever studied the musical worship of other cultures. Helmer said the class helped him identify the Western background and presuppositions he takes into musical worship.

“The class really helped to bring out a level of ethnocentrism that I had,” Helmer said. “I really believed that the things I was trying to do in our church (musically) were the best things we could be doing or at least that they were neutral. But music and the arts are never really neutral. It just depends on what context they are in and what they communicate.

“We often heard people singing in class, and we also watched several videos of different churches around the world. My first reaction, because it was so different, was resistance, but by the end of the week I was able to see that they were worshipping out of their hearts and instead of having a reflex of resistance I was much more excited to see people actually worshipping God in a place where they were once no people worshipping Him.”
Helmer and his wife are pursuing appointment with the

International Mission Board, and he said the class helped calm some of his fears about foreign missions.

“My wife and I are preparing to go overseas soon and one of the things I was scared of was how different the culture is going to be,” he said. “I may never become like the other people, but I still may have joy in seeing them worship God in the way that He has made them.”

In addition to teaching sessions, students participated in group projects, watched videos and participated in a global hymn festival, led by Southern graduate C. Michael Hawn, a well-known author and worship leader in world congregational song. The festival included music from several cultures — including South America, Africa and Asia — set to the theme of the Lord’s Prayer.

Chuck Steddom, pastor for worship and music at Bethlehem Baptist Church where John Piper serves as pastor, was one of the students in the class. Helmer said Steddom shared what Bethlehem Baptist is doing to encourage ethnically diverse worship.

A leader of the creative arts strategy team for IMB in the South Asia region, also took the class. Other attendees included students and/or professors from Liberty University, Asbury Seminary and Kentucky Mountain Bible College, Crookshank said, adding that the ethnodoxology course is designed to aid ministers in a variety of contexts.

“The course is geared toward anyone will be part of short-term missions, specifically the worship leadership in a church,” she said. “That would involve church planters, who very much need this training to know how to grow mature Christians in their cultural context. It is also geared toward anyone in a multi-cultural church here in the United States.”

Crookshank said the idea for the ethnodoxology class developed through Southern’s Institute for Christian Worship lectures, which has featured several ICE faculty. She said Southern is looking at the possibility of adding applied ethnomusicology as a degree emphasis in the School of Church Music and Worship beginning with the fall semester.

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