Up until relatively recently, when missionaries brought Christianity to cultures which practiced dancing, they discouraged, or even forbade, Christian converts to dance (cf. William Lucas). With the rise of Pentecostalism as well as a greater openness to enculturation by missiologists, in many locations in the world, dancing has become more central in church life and worship. However, while the practice of dancing among Christians has risen, a theological basis for dancing has been slow to develop among evangelical Protestants. Considering the role which dancing plays in many cultures, even majority world theologians can have a surprising reluctance to discuss it (e.g. Waje Kunhiyop; Conrad Mbewe).
This paper will fill the gap in scholarship by grounding dancing in a theological anthropology. Dancing is not primarily a reflection of the Trinity’s perichoresis (contra Karen Baker-Fletcher; Richard Rohr). Instead, dancing is an explicitly human form of worship both reflecting and contributing to a theological anthropology. This will be argued through contextualizing worship in the gift-giving economy of God and demonstrating dancing’s role in that economy. In worship, humans enter into the gift giving economy of God. The Father, through the Son and by the Spirit, create humans as physical, embodied creatures and shower them with gifts. Humans then take the received gift(s) and return it to the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit with thanksgiving. Dancing is directly an embodied expression of thankfulness. While other forms of worship can be disembodied or “spiritualized”, dancing is explicitly and directly anti-Gnostic, it requires the physical body. Dancing thus is grounded in a theological anthropology that acknowledges the goodness of creation, the necessarily physicalness of humanity, and ultimately looks forward to a resurrection. Through corporate repetition in the church, dancing reflects and contributes to the community’s understanding of anthropology. In ecclesial dancing, humanity displays itself as a dependent material creature which expresses its thankfulness to God as material creatures.