Singing the Self: Theological Anthropology, Identity-Formation, and Biblical Worship

How does Christian worship influence identity formation? This presentation evaluates aspects of identity formation research, drawn from the social sciences, and interprets the findings from a Christian theological perspective. It argues that congregational songs play a unique role in identity formation in a postmodern society. Biblical worship provides believers, individually and corporately, with an avenue for identity-formation, for in worship Christians rehearse the past and hope for the future with a redemptive lens. Throughout, the presentation traces themes of self-identity in the most-used contemporary congregational worship songs (2005 – 2020).

The presentation begins by introducing Anthony Giddens’s concept of the “reflexive self,” which liberates individuals to construct self-identity apart from tradition and culture. Then, exploring the opportunities and limitations of reflexivity, it presents an alternative vision of reflexivity that locates the necessity for Christian gatherings, liturgies, and congregational singing. Drawing on the work by Jeremy Pierre, it argues for a robust role of faith in the reception and shaping of self-identity.

Next, the presentation engages with the works of Charles Taylor to trace the role of relationships in identity. Mapping relational practices within the liturgy, portrayals of relationships are also examined in Contemporary Worship Music (CWM) in three categories—God, others, and self. Then, the presentation surveys the work of Erik Erikson to trace the role of emotions in identity, exploring the liturgical implications, and proposing a taxonomy for evaluating “conflict” and “resolute” emotions in CWM. Finally, the presentation examines James Marcia’s work on the role of status, discussing lament and dedication as liturgical expressions of status, and proposing a taxonomy for evaluating “exploration” and “commitment” language in CWM.

The presentation concludes with implications for worship planners and suggested areas for further study related to this topic.

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