Improv Worship: A Spirit-Led Model for Worship Improvisation

A common debate in ecclesiology, and more specifically worship, centers around what is and is not permitted in worship. Since the Reformation this debate has been framed either by the Regulative Principle or the Normative Principle. The regulative principle advocates that only what Scripture allows is permitted in worship, whereas the normative principle allows for anything in worship as long as it is not forbidden in Scripture. The nature of this debate often includes discussions surrounding the authority and sufficiency of Scripture but fails to take in account both the occasional nature of the New Testament as well as the active leading of the Holy Spirit. What if regarding worship, Scripture was to be understood and read more as a script? What if the Holy Spirit was understood as the director? What if the church was seen as actors following the Script and direction of the Holy Spirit with freedom to improvise? Kevin Vanhoozer in his The Drama of Doctrine describes this kind of improvisation where Scripture serves as the script. Vanhoozer argues our improvisation should both fit with the theo-drama as well as the contemporary context.

Utilizing Vanhoozer, this paper will provide a nuanced via media. I will argue that while Scripture is both authoritative and sufficient for worship, Scripture can serve as more of a script for worship. The church then has the freedom to improvise within the script as they are under the direction of the Holy Spirit. The nature of Scripture, in particular the New Testament epistles, will be discussed alongside the Holy Spirit’s role in the church. Finally, a discussion of what church improvisation looks like will be discussed. A model of Spirit-led improvisation will be offered at the conclusion. While there are implications for the Christian academy, this paper seeks to provide helpful next steps for pastors and churches seeking to be both obedient to the truth of Scripture and simultaneously open to the Holy Spirit’s direction.

3 thoughts on “Improv Worship: A Spirit-Led Model for Worship Improvisation”

  1. Seems more popular level that academic
    Would it be interesting to see where he goes with this– maybe. I’m not sure the proposal expressed the level of scholarship we would expect for our section. I agree with Joshua that his seeming sole reliance on Vanhoozer’s now nearly 20-year old work is not ideal.


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