Displacing Deontology: Is Obedience Why We Should Worship?

This paper will challenge the common assertion of duty as a motivator for worship. Is obedience why believers should worship? This paper will argue that duty is not the ultimate motivator for biblical worship. The primary biblical motivator for believers to worship God should be their hearts: they should desire to worship God. Through an examination of Scripture and worship theology it will be argued that desire, rather than duty, should motivate believers in their worship of God.

First, this paper will explore how worship has been presented as a duty in worship theology, including a consideration of the biblical foundation for this perspective. A “deontological” approach to worship situates the activity of worship as the proper response to God’s revelation, arguing for obedience as the motivator for worship. Responding rightly to God’s revelation, in this perspective, is the worshiper’s duty. This paper will touch on several scholars who have taken a largely deontological approach to worship theology, including Wayne Grudem, D. A. Carson, and Vernon Whaley.

Next, the paper will examine the significance of affection in regard to worship. Does the heart matter in worship? Should believers desire to worship God? Or should they just worship God because that is what they are supposed to do? Jonathan Edwards wrote extensively on the significance of the heart—one’s affections—in worship. This significance of the heart in worship also emerges in work by David Peterson, G. K. Beale, Dru Johnson, and Esther Meek. After briefly considering these scholar’s insistence upon the significance of the heart in worship, the paper will re-visit the scriptures noted in the previous section to re-consider if the heart plays a more significant role in them than duty does.

Lastly, the paper will consider the practical implications for ministry. If the heart is supposed to be the primary motivator for worship, then a pedagogy of desire rises to the fore as being of primary importance. If duty is not the final motivator for worship, then blind obedience is unacceptable because it does not properly cultivate the heart. This final section will connect obedience to worship through epistemology. Proper obedience helps cultivate one’s heart and shape one’s desires. Obedience and duty can play a role in worship, but they were never intended to be a primary motivator for why people worship.

3 thoughts on “Displacing Deontology: Is Obedience Why We Should Worship?”

  1. Good potential for adding nuance to Revelation/Response
    This paper shows potential for adding nuance to Revelation/Response paradigm of worship.

    Based on my experience working with Zach, I expect that he will engage well with the literature.


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